By Dan Moffett 

    Hardly anyone in Delray Beach thought the first test of the city’s new noise ordinance would come in the form of a Zen riddle.

    But city commissioners found themselves trying to unravel a decibel mystery that seemed every bit as perplexing as the sound of one hand clapping or a tree falling deep in the forest: Is a disc jockey without a microphone an entertainer, or merely a human extension of a recorded music system?

    Tom Graham, the general manager of the Sandbar tiki bar, argued the latter when he appeared before commissioners on July 25 and asked them to approve a conditional use permit to allow his business a DJ to select the music it plays outside.

    “The DJ has no equipment,” Graham told the commission. “I am ultimately responsible for the music. The DJ can’t turn it up.”

    Graham’s position was itself complicated, in that the DJ in question is his wife, Cheryl. She told commissioners she had “20 years” experience doing corporate events, but was not an entertainer and would not be trying to incite bar patrons into raucous behavior but rather “just give them the kind of music they want to hear.”

    As Alan Ciklin, the Sandbar’s lawyer put it, “She is not a performer. She is not a cheerleader. The DJ operates without a microphone and is not amplified. She maintains the music so if you had a Frank Sinatra crowd you don’t get the Beach Boys.”

    After two hours of debate, comment and reflection, commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the DJ permit for the bar, with Mayor Cary Glickstein dissenting.

    Glickstein said the request was “pushing the envelope of acceptability” for the noise ordinance and area residents’ desire for peace and quiet. “My job is protecting the reasonable expectations of people who were there first,” he said.

    Commissioner Al Jacquet said his vote for the DJ was predicated on conditions the commission also approved. If the city finds the bar guilty of three violations of the noise ordinance, then the permit can be repealed.

    “This is more of a noise concern than it is a DJ concern,” Jacquet said. “I do agree with the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule.”

    Also, the approval makes Ocean Properties, the owner of the bar, ultimately responsible for any noise problems and requires the owner to install an acoustic wall to deaden the sound. The music must cease at 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

    More than a dozen nearby residents told the commission they opposed allowing the DJ. Dennis Rooney said the plan “was sure to make Delray Beach more of a party town” and that the bar’s request “serves no public benefit.”

    Genie DePonte questioned the bar’s motivations. Why was it going to the trouble to launch an advertising campaign to promote the DJ’s appearances, if in fact she was insignificant and had no role other than selecting music? “If the DJ’s just changing records, why advertise that?” she said.

    Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said, “I believe a DJ is live entertainment,” and she worried that the city was “opening a can of worms” by allowing the exception. But in a fittingly perplexing end to the highly conceptual debate, she voted for approval anyway.

    In other business, the commission voted 5-0 to approve a proposed total tax rate of $7.79 per $1,000 of assessed value for the 2014 budget year. The city’s proposed operating millage is tentatively capped at $7.45 and the debt service is at $0.35.

    The proposed total tax rate is down 0.034 from last year, according to city Finance Director David Boyd, who said property values in Delray Beach had risen about 6 percent across the board. 

    Under the proposed 2014 tax rate, residents will pay about $779 in city taxes for every $100,000 in assessed property value, or pennies less than last year. The 2014 budget totals about $49 million, compared with $47.4 million in 2013.

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