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Drum circle upsets nearby condo dwellers, city might step in


MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Every Sunday evening, as the sun sets and cruise ships float out to sea, people gather at the southern tip of Miami Beach to dance bachata, do acrobatic yoga and bang on drums.

The crowds sometimes swell to the hundreds. Some people roller-skate. Some balance their way across a slackline. Others simply watch and dance to the thumping rhythms provided by as many as two dozen percussionists who bring a variety of Brazilian, African and Afro-Cuban drums to South Pointe Park.

"It's just this organic gathering," said Miami Beach resident and drum circle advocate Raquel Pacheco. "It's really inclusive, it's all different ages. It's a wonderful event."

High above it all, in luxury condo towers, some residents cover their ears.

The loosely organized drum circle has become the latest flash point in the Miami Beach culture wars, which have pitted residents' quality of life concerns against just about anyone making noise. Other recent inflection points: last call for alcohol, party boats and hookah bars.

Some residents in the South of Fifth neighborhood say the drum circles have grown in size and volume since they became a regular occurrence last year.

They want the city to do something about it.

"A balance is needed between public use of the park and residents who deserve peaceful enjoyment of their homes in a residential neighborhood," said Alyson Herman, president of the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association.

She added that the drumming sometimes goes past 10 p.m.

"To show good faith, drummers should reduce their noise level and limit drumming to an hour before and an hour after sunset," she said.

Others have aired their grievances in emails to city officials, including a condo board member at the 44-story Portofino Tower who told Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez that many residents are unhappy.

"The issue really is the noise," Nick Tannura said in the email. "It is loud and there is constant drum banging for 4-5 hours every Sunday."

Another South Beach resident told Rosen Gonzalez by email that it "feels like an invasion" — and that the backlash is leading to some charged discussion online.

"I am disturbed by the hostility of the discussions on resident chat groups about the circle — class warfare, hostility towards rich people, part-time residents and (the South of Fifth neighborhood) in general," Lisa Napolitano wrote. "It's as if they enjoy coming in here and disrupting life."

Others say there's no issue to speak of. The drum circle typically ends shortly after 9 p.m., they say, and attendees always clean up after themselves.

Pacheco, a former candidate for Miami Beach City Commission and state Senate, started a petition to save the drum circle that has about 2,000 signatures.

She admitted it's not her usual scene — an "indie kind of crowd" — but said all feel welcome.

"It's zero drama, no alcohol, no fighting, no police, no guns, no violence of any kind," she said.

One of the drummers, who asked to remain anonymous, said he wouldn't mind stopping the drumming earlier out of respect for nearby residents. But that would be hard to guarantee every week, he said, because the gatherings bring together various artists and residents and don't have a single leader.

"It's not just us," he said. "Sometimes if I'm not there, another drummer arrives from another (group)."

The drummers "are not on any kind of political side," he added.

"We just want the freedom of public space," he said.

The city gets involved

The Miami Beach code, parks and police departments haven't issued any violations for the drum circle, according to city spokesperson Melissa Berthier.

But resident complaints have caught elected officials' attention — meaning the future of the drum circle may now run through City Hall.

At a commission meeting earlier this month, Rosen Gonzalez said the city needs to move the gatherings out of South Pointe Park.

"The sound is traveling directly upward," she said.

Commissioner Alex Fernandez agreed something must be done.

"Certainly, no activity in South Pointe Park should include music that is so amplified as to affect the quality of life of the residents of that area," he said.

In response to the complaints, the city plans to send code officers to a nearby condo tower during an upcoming drum circle to decide if a noise violation is warranted. Those determinations are generally based on whether sound can be heard from inside a building with the windows and doors shut.

"The most obvious line of attack is the noise ordinance," Assistant City Attorney Rob Rosenwald said at the Feb. 1 commission meeting. "We're going to try that first."

Alternative location proposed

A proposal will also be introduced at a Feb. 22 commission meeting to relocate the drum circle to Soundscape Park at 17th Street and Washington Avenue, next to the New World Center.

The idea is to recast the gathering as a permitted event to coincide with an expansion of the city's outdoor music program, which came under scrutiny last July after police handcuffed and removed percussionist Jackson Strong from South Pointe Park when he performed without a permit and refused to show identification.

Musicians who want to perform in South Beach must apply for a permit through a quarterly government lottery, with permits available at designated locations south of 24th Street on Lincoln Road, Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive. South Pointe Park isn't among them.

The city's proposal would add four performance locations in Soundscape Park on Sundays between 5 and 8 p.m., aimed at least in part at hosting the drum circle group.

But participants and supporters say that's unlikely to fly.

The South Pointe Park location is intentionally held at a scenic location near the water, they say, and part of its beauty is that it's organic — not a formal "performance" regulated by the city.

"My concern is the city intervening in an organic event like this that was created by the people of our community," said Max Kaganov, an attorney and Miami Beach resident who is advocating for the event to remain in South Pointe Park. "It's up to the community to decide how to proceed, rather than the city instituting a top-down solution for us."

North Beach drum circle has longevity

Another drum circle in Miami Beach, which takes place monthly on the sand in North Beach during each full moon, has been ongoing for more than 15 years with limited city intervention.

But if Miami Beach officials' handling of other quality of life concerns is any indication, the city is unlikely to take a hands-off approach with the South Beach version.

South of Fifth residents don't take those issues lightly.

At a neighborhood association meeting last Thursday at which the drum circle was on the agenda, residents yelled "Stop the train!" and "Shame!" at Miami-Dade County Commissioner Eileen Higgins during a presentation about a proposed Metromover extension to South Beach.

Supporters of the drum circle say politicians shouldn't cater to those residents.

"Why are our elected officials putting the interests of part-time residents and millionaires ahead of the entire community?" Pacheco said. "We have to coexist. You can't just decide what works for you and then impose your will on everybody else."

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