Events ordinance needs more time

Saratoga is growing.

This is a fact. Whether you look at the updated signs at Saratoga Town Limits, try to find a home to buy or place to rent the evidence is there. With growth also comes change.

Ten years ago, an agreement was reached between the Town of Saratoga and The Yard—a music venue owned by Cindy Bloomquist and Chris Shannon—in the form of Chapter 5.30 of the Saratoga Municipal Code. This chapter of the town’s code came as a result of a number of public meetings and discussions involving the community over a two year period. 

The final result was Ordinance 802, which passed third reading in September 2011. 

In the decade since the special event permit process was set, there has been what one may call an uneasy peace between the municipality and the music venue. In that same time, it can be objectively stated Chapter 5.30 has not been applied equitably. 

What may not be known, especially by those unfamiliar with this chapter, is that a number of seemingly innocuous activities actually require such a permit. These include farmers markets, car washes, Christmas tree lots, “retail encroachments into required parking” and temporary sales. All told, there are 19 different activities listed under Chapter 5.30 which are allowed “provided they receive the approval of the Saratoga town council” or a town employee designated by the council.

The question is; how many activities included within this list have taken place in the past 10 years without a special event permit?

If it sounds like we at the Saratoga Sun are advocating for stricter enforcement of this chapter of the code, we’re not. We do not believe the Saratoga Museum, for example, should have to get a special event permit for every farmers market held throughout the summer. Nor do we believe the local sports teams should need to apply for a permit to hold a fundraising car wash.

Rather, we are in agreement with a request made by Chris Shannon of the current town council at their May 3 meeting. Ordinance No. 862, which would amend portions of Chapter 5.30, passed on second reading despite concerns expressed by members of the public who were in attendance. Chris Shannon’s request, we believe, was logical; table the current ordinance and seek out involvement from the public. 

In the past two years, any potential changes to Chapter 5.30 have been raised by Councilmember Jon Nelson twice; once in October 2020 and again in July 2021. While discussion has taken place in meetings of the planning commission, it has only made its way to the council meetings in the form of changes proposed by Nelson.

We commend the council member for wanting to try and fix a portion of the town code which has been flawed since its passage.

Portions of the town’s code, however, are unwieldy and daunting for just one person. Despite the good intentions, there may also be unintended consequences. We would point to the need for a special event permit for a car wash or farmers market as an example of those unintended consequences. 

Additionally, many of these changes—much like the code itself—seem reactive rather than proactive. The intent of any ordinance is to improve town code for the betterment of the community. In that spirit, Chapter 5.30 and any changes to it should be focused on making it easy for those wanting to hold a special event while giving them a clear set of rules to follow. It should also provide a clear definition for a special event.

We at the Saratoga Sun encourage the Saratoga Town Council to consider tabling Ordinance No. 862 and actively seek input from the residents they were elected to represent.

We also encourage anyone and everyone who has proposals or suggestions for amendments to Chapter 5.30 to present them either prior to or at the May 19 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council, when Ordinance No. 862 will have its third and final reading.


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