Bass-infused paint party fuels fairground noise concerns


Published: Friday, February 15, 2013 at 2:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 at 2:27 p.m.

One night in September, the Alachua County Fairgrounds erupted in a tsunami of sound, lights — and paint — as Life In Color took the stage.

The event, called a touring paint party, featured heavy electronic music punctuated by thunderous bass while hundreds of mostly college-aged people jumped, shouted and smeared bright paint on each other.

By all accounts, and judging from an online video of the event, a good time was had by all.

Everyone, that is, except for the people living in the neighborhoods near the Waldo Road and Northeast 39th Avenue intersection who were trying to sleep.

Eva Squires lives about two miles from the fairgrounds. During the concert, she wrote an email to the Alachua County Commission describing her situation at 1:45 a.m.

"I wish you could sit here on my bed and feel the vibration of the bass hum through the windows of my cement block home," she wrote. "That a permit can be issued for noise to continue until 2 or 3 a.m., so close to working residential areas, is so shockingly rude and inappropriate it is difficult to express myself politely."

Squires is among a number of residents who have complained about the noise from various events at the facility. The complaints have raised questions recently about how much noise is allowed and how late, what restrictions are in place and who enforces them.

The County Commission is looking to put in place new rules to limit when loud concerts can be held at the fairgrounds. But the unusual nature of the facility is complicating the discussion.

The fairgrounds are within the Gainesville city limits, but being the property of the county, the facility is subject to overlapping jurisdictions, said Officer Ben Tobias, spokesman for the Gainesville Police Department, which enforces the city's noise regulations.

"The fair (grounds) is such a funny animal," he said.

Noise permits and ordinances are the domain of Gainesville, not the county, noted County Commissioner Susan Baird.

Reacting to resident complaints, however, county commissioners addressed staff at a Feb. 5 meeting about whether they could tack any county ordinances onto the city's rules.

County Attorney Dave Wagner suggested that as the venue's owner, they could ban amplified music after midnight as a provision in the contract to rent the fairgrounds. This would be a contractual action, not a regulatory one, he said.

The commissioners seem to favor a rule forbidding amplified noises between midnight and 7 a.m. throughout the week, Baird said. Staff will bring recommendations to a future board meeting.

Gainesville's ordinance governing permits for commercial entertainment events limits noise to 70 decibels from 200 feet away from the venue, Tobias said. That's about the volume of a vacuum cleaner.

The ordinance also states that the events must be held between 9 a.m. and midnight. However, it is possible to get an exception in the permit exempting an event from these rules, County Manager Rick Drummond said.

Tobias said the Life In Color event was not granted an exemption to the noise or time limits, but Squires' email indicated the loud performance went on past midnight anyway.

"I've been informed by the GPD officer to whom I spoke that a permit allows their racket until 3 a.m.," she wrote.

The company behind Life in Color had not responded by Friday to an email sent by The Sun seeking comment. The company's website says the event began in 2006 on college campuses in Florida and now has reached hundreds of thousands of attendees.

Tobias observed that the handling of the event would not reflect well on local government, in some angry residents' eyes. "This is probably going to make us (in the city and county) look like idiots," he said.

Rob Avery, the fairgrounds superintendent, said he received a handful of complaints about the event, noting that this one and a performance on Sept. 24, 2011, by the Dutch DJ TiŽsto have generated the most angry calls and emails in recent years.

Avery wrote in an email that he was not informed of any action taken by either GPD or the Alachua County Sheriff's Office to address the complaints at the Life In Color event.

There is no debate, however, that the noise from the performances extended far beyond the boundaries of the fairgrounds.

Isa Betancourt, 20, a zoology student at UF, went to the TiŽsto concert. "You could hear it walking two miles down the road," she said.

William Brand, 22, who lives about three miles from the fairgrounds, said he heard the Life In Color show before heading to his job at a nightclub.

"I was trying to take a nap before work," Brand said. He couldn't. The sound from the paint party penetrated his usually soundproof concrete house, he said.

"I could actually make out the words (to the song)," he said.

The problem might resolve itself as plans proceed to move the fairgrounds farther out of town, near the Gainesville Raceway.

But Baird said that in the meantime, the commissioners don't want to wait for the noise to become an even larger problem.

"The one time they do it, it annoys you so much," she said. When a local resident is kept up at 4 a.m., and has to get up for work at 6, she said she thinks it isn't much comfort to know that these events are infrequent.

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