Saratoga gets eventful
Ordinance for special events elicits discussion at Saratoga Town Council meeting
October 28, 2020
A proposed ordinance to Saratoga Municipal Code failed first reading during the October 20 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council. Ordinance No. 858, unofficially dubbed the “Pesto Festo Ordinance”, was presented by Councilmember Jon Nelson and would have amended code regulating specially permitted events.
As was reported previously (see “Eventful changes for Saratoga” on page 2 of the September 23 Saratoga Sun), the intent by Nelson to amend the code came about following his nay vote in regards to an event application from the Saratoga Garden Club for their inaugural Pesto Festo event held in August. In fact, Nelson has been consistent in his voting on such applications if they are not submitted by the deadline put forth in town code.
Currently, 5.30.040 of the Saratoga Municipal Code reads “Any applicant requesting permission to hold a specially permitted temporary event shall complete and submit to the town clerk, a town of Saratoga special events application. This application shall be submitted at least thirty days prior to any Saratoga Town Council meeting where the applicant is requesting approval from the Saratoga town council.”
That same section of the code does state that the Saratoga Town Council may waive the 30-day deadline if the applicant can show extenuating circumstances.
Additionally, 5.30.010 of the Saratoga Municipal Code states, should an event anticipate less than 50 people in attendance, the application may be submitted to the town clerk who will provide the application to an employee or employees who have been designated by the council to review and consider approval of such applications. In the proposed changes from Nelson, it would be a member of the council that would be designated to review and approve special event applications for events with less than 50 people.
“My only concern with this would be the availability of a town council member to evaluate the permit in a timely manner whereas if we had somebody, let’s say the chief of police or the town clerk, review this and then pass it on to the town council at a later date,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Keel. “I guess that would be my only concern.”
When Keel asked Nelson for his reasoning behind the change, Nelson stated that he believed that whoever reviewed and approved special event applications should be someone accountable to “the electorate that they serve.”
“So there’s a direct relationship there between somebody making the decision and making the judgement call on whether it’s a permit worthy of other consideration, special considerations, or not on what class it falls under,” said Nelson. “My thought was keeping my decision as close to the people as possible was the right way to do it.”
Nelson added that, just because the first section of the code allowed for a designated member of the council to consider approval of the application, it didn’t mean that all applications for events with 50 people or less would or could be approved. The council member then referred the rest of the governing body to 5.30.060(B), which provides for additional conditions of approval of the application.
As discussion continued, Keel proposed that the designated council member be listed in the town code. With Keel first suggesting that it either be the mayor or mayor pro-tem, both Keel and Nelson agreed that it could be the council representative to town hall. However, Councilmember Judy Welton brought up the concern of a council member approving an application which the rest of the governing body would later disagree with. In response, the language was changed to state that all special event applications would come before the council.
The part of the ordinance that elicited the most discussion, however, was a new subsection added by Nelson that was unofficially termed the “Firewater Exemption” to the “Pesto Festo” ordinance. That new subsection read “Outdoor music events held on private property within the highway business or retail business district for which no tickets are sold or special admission fee (i.e. cover charge) is charged. This exemption shall not be construed as to create an exemption for any other law or ordinance including, but not limited to, noise regulations and/or 5.08.160 Denial of Temporary License.”
Nelson, using Firewater Public House as an example, stated that the language in the current code could be construed as such that owner Danny Burau would need to apply for an application anytime he expected in excess of 50 people to attend one of many music events held outside his establishment in the summer months.
“In the summer, you’d be in here every council meeting asking for a special event permit for your 50 plus person music event,” said Nelson.
Cindy Bloomquist, Saratoga resident and co-owner of The Yard, asked Nelson about his determination between a paid event and a free event. The Yard was, in fact, the catalyst for the creation of the special events applications following multiple discussions between Bloomquist, the council and residents both opposed to and in favor of the music venue.
“I don’t understand mandating business models between two businesses. I think Mr. (Tom) Thompson would agree this is a zoning issue. A permitted use should be added to retail business and highway business,” said Bloomquist. “Not in a permit.”
Legal counsel Tom Thompson appeared to agree with Bloomquist, informing the council that the current code came about as a compromise between The Yard and the Town of Saratoga.
“This was a compromise where the Town was able to go ahead and put conditions on those events, the public was notified of those events and had the opportunity to comment. I would agree with Cindy that there’s probably no logical reason to classify highway business and retail business for those who pay and those who don’t pay,” said Thompson. “I think you’re treating similar property owners differently for no real reason as to why you’re doing that.”
As discussion continued, Thompson advised that by putting in specific exemptions for outdoor music events with less than 50 people held on private property in either the highway business or retail business districts, it was changing the permitted use of the property without going through the zone amendment process. Currently, the only allowance for outside music in town code is in regards to a resort property, such as Saratoga Hot Springs Resort.
Thompson, again referencing The Yard, suggested that Burau could approach the governing body at the beginning of the summer season and request special events applications for every weekend.
“Mr. Thompson, I agree that it worked there (The Yard) but I also think that this more fluid kind of stuff that Danny does is very good for our town. We live in a mixed area with a couple of residences including us and Danny has a couple near him,” Bloomquist said. “I think the fluidity is important. We’re a little resort town.”
Keel proposed that Ordinance No. 858 be struck entirely and the issue of amending the zoning for highway business and retail business be sent to the Saratoga Planning Commission.
“I think we can all say that we want the music and the entertainment because that’s the kind of town we’re in but there are some people who don’t want the noise and the music, so we have to somehow find a balance and I thought we did,” said Welton.
“We did, but Danny has brought something very cool,” replied Bloomquist.
The next meeting of the Saratoga Town Council will be at 7 p.m. on November 4 at Saratoga Town Hall.