Jan. 13, 2006 For years, the territory's residents have had to put up with an increasing number of bars, taverns and nightclub around their homes, blaring music into the wee hours of the morning.
Now a group of residents, who have had enough of what they consider noise pollution, is fighting for a change.
Strength to Strength a community-based, cultural organization on St. Thomas held a meeting Friday evening to address the issue of noise pollution caused by the proliferation of bars, taverns and nightclubs in residential areas, particularly the historic neighborhoods of Charlotte Amalie, where most of its members live.
The meeting was hosted by the V.I. State Historic Preservation Commission at its office on Government Hill. Myron Jackson, director of the commission, said his agency held the meeting because of its role to maintain the territory's historic districts Charlotte Amalie, Christiansted, Frederiksted and parts of St. John.
"The loud noises have become a problem," Afreekan Southwell, member of Strength to Strength and a Savan resident, said.
Southwell said there is a bar directly across from his home and various others close to his home. He said the noise is a problem for everyone, especially the elderly and school children being disturbed from their sleep because of the loud music.
"We intend to keep up these meetings as much as we can, so that the issue can be put under control," Southwell told the government officials and the sparse crowd in attendance.
Southwell asked Jackson why the noise was allowed to continue if his neighborhood was an historical area. He said he did not understand why individuals were continuing to receive business licenses to operate bars and nightclubs in the residential areas.
"This is a matter that has been happening for years, but it is not steering itself where we can see results," Southwell said.
Jackson said that although his agency is responsible for maintaining the historic districts, his office was not made a part of the licensing process for businesses in these areas.
Ike Williams, who has been conducting research on the noise pollution issue for Strength to Strength, said many of the bars and nightclubs in the historic areas, particularly Savan, were not in compliance with the law.
As an example, Williams said the Deliverance Temple church on Regjerings Gade was "only 4 feet" away from a bar. According to the law, Williams said, bars must be 100 feet away from churches.
"There are about 20 bars and eight restaurants in Savan alone," Williams said.
He asked why the Licensing and Consumer Affairs commissioner was not following the law with respect to bars, taverns and nightclubs.
"It is Licensing and Consumer Affairs that has to deal with all the licensing of these establishments," Williams said, adding that the police could not solve the problem if Licensing and Consumer Affairs kept granting and renewing licenses for violators.
Deputy Chief of Police Elvin Fahie said "a lot of bars are in violation" of the law, in respect to proximity to residences and churches, but there was nothing his department could do about it if the businesses had a valid license from Licensing and Consumer Affairs to operate.
Fahie said he has spoken with Licensing and Consumer Affairs about the bars along Brookman Road, but the bars are still there. Previously the police had to sign off on licenses for bars and nightclubs, Fahie said, but not anymore.
"We have not for the last couple of years been included in the process, but we have to respond [to residents' calls]," Fahie said. "We're up against a rock and a hard place."
Fahie said even when they respond to calls about loud music, the bar owners usually turn it back up after they leave or are given a slap on the wrist by judges.
"Legislation that clearly state the penalties will assist rather than letting the judges decide the penalties," Fahie said. "Right now our hands are tied."
Sen. Liston Davis said he had an amendment coming to strengthen the current laws, but wasn't sure how soon it would come before the floor of the Legislature.
"I was hopeful that we were coming today to bring solutions to the table, but we're repeating the same thing," resident Maanazo Lamakalo. "I'm disappointed. These issues need to be addressed immediately."
Lamakalo said he has a problem with putting off the matter because they would not be able to act on it for 11 months if Licensing and Consumer Affairs was allowed to once again grant renewals to these businesses this month. He called for a moratorium on the granting of licenses for bars, taverns and nightclubs until a solution was put in place.
James O'Brien, St. Thomas-Water Island administrator, said the Turnbull Administration was going to launch a task force to deal with some of the noise pollution.
"The law as written is so vague," O'Brien said, adding it does not define clearly what is loud music and that creates a problem. "There should be some legislated standard that defines what is loud or nuisance music."
He added, "In legislating things we have to find ways where we can hold everyone accountable."
Fred Indiviglia said he hoped they wouldn't punish bar owners, like him, who were in compliance with the laws.
"We have to address who's doing the damage directly," Indiviglia said. "Not everybody should have to pay for broken dishes."
Jackson said the main issue to address is compliance, and the territory's residents need to decide whether there should be certain districts or locales specifically for bars and nightclubs.
"By bringing together [the various government] agencies, we can resolve the problem for the quality of life for our residents," Jackson said.
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