The current noise ordinance provides for restrictions on noise between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. (later on weekends) and also provides that a “barking dog” shall be considered a nuisance if it barks or bays for a period of longer than twenty minutes. These are reasonable restrictions which prevent homeowners from leaving animals out to annoy neighbors all day, or keeping neighbors awake at night. This current code can be found online: Sec.30-60.29. Noises – [scroll down to (e)(5) Animals].
The proposed ordinance goes much further. The complete can be found online at: http://www.palmettobay-fl.gov/sites/all/files/documents/agendasminutes/item_12.a_0.pdf.
This is a proposed amendment to our Palmetto Bay zoning code specifically targeting barking dogs and someone’s new opinion about what constitutes a “public nuisance animal”. It provides for more stringent rules and puts only pet owners at risk for fines levied against their homes based solely upon subjective standards and the owner of any animal deemed a public nuisance animal, “… including barking dogs …” “shall be deemed to be in violation of this article regardless of the knowledge, intent or culpability of the owner.” (emphasis added - Contained in subparagraph (5). I was hoping that this was an April Fools’ Day prank, as it was posted to the village website on April 1st, but it is now April 2nd and it is still there.
This will have a profound and adverse impact on innocent dog owners and you need to be made aware of it. It is directly solely at property owners who have pets. The proposed process does not extend to any other items that people may complain of - loud parties or early morning noise in violation of the noise ordinance like lawn maintenance or construction that starts in violation of the noise ordinance. It doesn’t extend to repairing race cars in one’s yard or even mowing the lawn more than once a week. No, this ordinance is solely directed at pet owners. It essentially states that, should a neighbor claim that a dog is barking excessively (more than five barks per hour), a fine will be levied. It is not required that anyone other than the complaining neighbor hear the dog.
This will become a real tool for a vindictive neighbor who wants to target a pet owner, not to mention someone who simply has an unreasonable dislike for animals. And yet someone who does not want to be "a bad guy' by turning in the offensive neighbor will still have to 'suffer in silence.' My fear is that this process will in fact be expanded to other situations – thus setting up neighborhood feuds.
I was unaware as to how bad the living conditions must be in Palmetto Bay. Barking dogs are a crisis requiring drastic new rules? Can you imagine a senior citizen having to give up the family dog because their toy poodle happens to bark 5 times in an hour, more than once during a single month, thus facing a $500 fine? Do you want to tell your children that you have to get rid of the family pet because a neighbor has targeted you because your dog barks occasionally? Do dogs not occasionally bark? Mine does; especially when chasing balls or running with family members. Or when a neighbor lawn service starts up, or mango thieves enter our front yard (good dog!) or when another dog walks by (we are, or used to be, a friendly dog-walking community).
An occasional dog bark falls into the category of “normal suburban noise.” We do not live in the country, so occasionally, we will hear our neighbors talk, do yard work, start their cars, play with their children, splash in their pools, and yes, hear their dogs bark. By all means, dogs should not bark for an hour. But an occasional bark is a fact of life.
No more playing with the dog outside should it make noise? How is that family friendly? That is just sad. This is not the vision so many of us have for living as a functioning community in Palmetto Bay.
If such a law was really needed, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a provision in this law that protected pet owners from malicious or frivolous claims, to make you whole for costs (and potential attorney’s fees) you have to put out to defend yourself in the “Civil Citation Hearing Before Special Master [numbered subparagraph (2) of the proposed ordinance]? There is no intent to create a level playing field here. This is a dog silencing ordinance. It is interesting that there is no ability of neighbors surrounding the Thalatta Estate to seek similar redress when that place gets rocking each weekend.
Village leaders should not abdicate their enforcement responsibilities to residents. This power to initiate a fine levy will only led to spreading the current dysfunction on the village council into neighborhood dysfunction. This is why we hire professionals – our well-trained police and code enforcement officers to step into these situations and make trained judgments. They are impartial. If a police or code enforcement officer is called and hears a dog barking excessively, a fine will be levied under the existing noise ordinance. If the dog is not barking enough for the police to notice, this likely means that the barking is not excessive.
Has Palmetto Bay finally “gone to the dogs”? This is a bad proposal. As one of the village founders, we promised those skeptical of incorporation that they would not be subject to restrictive codes – “no Coral Gables type rules.” This proposal is much more draconian. This proposed ordinance can be seen as another covenant with the people broken by the current mayor.
Please respond to me as to your review of this proposal.