Orlando officials, residents bemoan noise, lawlessness, unsafe feeling in downtown

Orlando City Council members complained of a feeling of “lawlessness” in downtown Orlando before voting to approve an ordinance aimed at implementing changes in the area.

During Monday’s meeting of the Orlando City Council, commissioners unanimously passed ordinance no. 2022-46, which further regulates late-night behavior in the downtown area.

The approval came after a brief discussion between council members and residents about the perceived problems in Orlando’s Central Business District.

“I was downtown Saturday night and I wasn’t impressed. I was frightened walking back and I’ve never felt that before,” said District 4 Commissioner Patty Sheehan, who represents a large part of the downtown area.

Sheehan spent a few minutes during the meeting addressing what she calls a “feeling of lawlessness” that accompanied her visit. She made special note of a group of “mean preachers” who she says were ignoring the city’s noise ordinance rules.

“They have every right to do their preaching, but not in a megaphone that you can hear six blocks away,” said Sheehan, adding that businesses in the area were increasing the volume of their music to “drown out that foolishness.”

Sheehan went on to suggest that there have been more assaults on “LGTBQ people,” saying they “don’t feel comfortable coming downtown” because of the alleged assaults.

She stated that despite having rules to prevent loud noises and violence, those rules weren’t being enforced adequately.

“This cannot be something that we allow downtown,” said Sheehan.

Commissioner Jim Gray of District 1 echoed Sheehan’s concerns.

“If you don’t consistently enforce the rules, then people start taking advantage,” said Gray. When told that the amount of code enforcement officers was being increased from two to four, Gray expressed disbelief that four code enforcement officers, including one supervisor, could handle the 100 bars that comprise downtown Orlando.

“Something tells me that may not be enough,” said Gray.

According to the most recent data available, during the month of August, Orlando Police Department officers responded to several hundred calls for service in the districts in and around downtown Orlando, including the Central Business District. Those calls ranged from petit theft to assault, including a collection of shootings that have sparked concern from commissioners and residents alike.

A few residents who spoke on record painted a similar picture of their experiences downtown.

Shawn Rader addressed concerns with protesters that he believes are ignoring the noise ordinance, as well as individuals who are racing their vehicles at high speeds through the downtown corridor.

Rader, who lives in the Paramount building downtown, said that protesters who gather every Friday and Saturday night across from the Waverly on Central Boulevard, are yelling, chanting, and blowing horns until at least midnight.

“It’s impossible to sleep. It is very intrusive,” said Rader. Rader, whose family has called Orlando home for over 60 years, said his sister was scared during a recent visit to downtown, a sentiment echoed by Commissioner Sheehan.

Dr. Eric Mason, who works at Orlando Regional Medical Center, stated that he sees and treats many of the assault victims and officers who are injured during downtown incidents. Mason, who is a resident of downtown, says that even with triple-paned windows, brick walls, and noise-canceling headphones, he can still hear the bustling nightlife.

“When the rubber hits the road, on any kind of enforcement, that’s where we lose traction,” said Mason. He said that the officers he regularly meets and speaks with all say that their “hands are tied.”

“There’s no reason that the noise needs to impact other individuals when it can be inside…We’re just tired of seeing it, and it’s gotta change,” said Mason.

The new ordinance provides for new safety enhancements across surface parking lots, a new noise report process, and adds a special use permit requirement for new businesses seeking after-midnight uses in downtown.

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