Ultra Music Festival

"Catastrophic Volumes of Noise": Downtown Miami Residents Sue the City Over Ultra Music Festival

Downtown residents have reopened the fight between them and Ultra.
Photo by George Martinez
Downtown residents have reopened the fight between them and Ultra.
Ultra Music Festival may have won back its place at Bayfront Park last year, but it appears now that the battle between the EDM festival and disgruntled downtown residents has entered a new phase.

Fourteen plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the City of Miami on Tuesday, January 14, in the 11th Circuit Court of Florida. The suit argues that the city is creating a public nuisance by allowing Ultra to "blast catastrophic volumes of noise into Plaintiffs' and other downtown Miami residents' homes depriving them of the quiet enjoyment of their homes," violating the city charter's guarantee against "excessive and unnecessary noise."

Several other allegations are made in the suit. The downtown residents purport the city is breaking rules on competitive bidding, independent appraisals, waterfront access, and other issues by allowing Ultra to take place.

"The suit asks the courts declare that the City of Miami violated its charter, the city code, and well-established case law requiring the courts to enjoin the government from allowing excessive and harmful levels of noise to be inflicted on residents," says Samuel J. Dubbin, the Coral Gables attorney representing the plaintiffs. "The record is irrefutable that the Commission voted to allow noise that far exceeds levels which cause hearing damage, as well as hypertension, anxiety, sleep deprivation, ischemic heart disease, tinnitus, disruption of normal sleep cycles, property damage, and severe harms to downtown residents’ ability to function normally in their homes."

Downtown residents have squabbled with Ultra for years over the noise issue. In 2017, over 1,000 downtown residents signed a petition demanding the city stop hosting any festivals in the park due to noise issues. At the time this included Rolling Loud, which was forced to relocate to Hard Rock Stadium after its 2017 edition in Bayfront. The complaints became so loud that they eventually drowned out the bass from the festival: The city exiled the festival to Virginia Key in 2019, but after a less-than-satisfactory showing at the new venue that led Ultra to terminate its agreement with the city, commissioners brokered a new deal, apparently deciding a massive, moneymaking festival was of better use to Miami than angry condo owners.

In a statement provided to New Times, a representative for Ultra said, "We are aware of reports that a group of neighbors once again filed suit against the City of Miami. The lawsuit filed raises almost identical issues to the lawsuits filed last year and, just like with those lawsuits, we fully expect the city to quickly prevail like it has in the past.

"We are grateful to continue partnering with the City of Miami, and we look forward to bringing a world-renowned event back to our home at Bayfront Park this March."

David Winker, an attorney who represented the Brickell Homeowner's Association last year in another legal action that attempted to remove the festival from Virginia Key, says this new suit is the result of mistakes by the city and festival. Winker, who is not providing legal counsel in the new suit, says that city attorney Victoria Mendez lowered the threshold of approval for the festival's deal in a city commission meeting from four votes to three "without a legal basis." He also believes Ultra failed to properly engage with residents over their issues with the festival.

"This lawsuit is yet another example of residents having no choice but to try to force their city to follow its own laws," Winker says. "The city charter contains the provisions that protect us from these terrible deals. The problem comes down to the city failing to enforce those laws."

Ultra Music Festival 2020 is currently scheduled to occur from Friday, March 20, through Sunday, March 22, in its longtime home of Bayfront Park.