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Latest Special Events Law overhaul needs more work, input from police chief and fire marshal, councilman says

Latest Special Events Law overhaul needs more work, input from police chief and fire marshal, councilman says

A pending overhaul of Riverhead Town’s special events law that would substantially reduce regulatory requirements for event promoters, is going back to the drawing board.

The proposed amendments, the subject of a town board public hearing last week, would slash the time town officials would have to review and approve special event applications and drastically reduce the amount and type of information required to be provided by event promoters in their permit applications.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said in a phone interview Tuesday.

The revisions were developed last year by a Riverhead Business Advisory subcommittee, an effort led by then-president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce Bob Kern, entertainment venue operator and event/festival producer Dean Del Prete, (Cousins Paint Ball, Long Island Sports Park), and event planner Monique Parsons, co-owner of North Fork Event Company. The trio presented the proposal to the town board at its July 1 work session.

Hubbard said the Riverhead Fire Marshal was not involved in developing the pending draft revisions and, after last week’s public hearing, raised concerns about some of the changes proposed. Hubbard said the police chief has also raised some concerns.

Riverhead Fire Marshal Craig Zitek did not return a phone call seeking comment.

“Some of the time frames are too short,” Police Chief David Hegermiller said in an interview today. He said he and the fire marshal were not involved in the proposed revision and weren’t given copies of the proposed law prior to the hearing.

“I just saw [the proposal] and only had time to go through it quickly,” he said. Hegermiller said he’d be sitting down with Fire Marshal Craig Zitek to review the proposed amendments.

“I don’t even know who did it,” Hegermiller said. “But we should have been a part of it. The committee should have been more balanced,” he said.

“The purpose of this law as far as we’re concerned is to make sure we have a safe event,” the chief said.

The draft revision adds a “Purpose and Intent” to the Special Events law that doesn’t mention public safety, but speaks only of promoting economic development and cultural tourism, “to generate foot-traffic and attract tourists and patrons.”

That’s all well and good, the chief said, but “the overreaching goal is that we ensure public safety.”

Hubbard, one of the two town board liaisons to the town’s code revision committee, agreed.

“The fire marshal was part of this when we did it in 2018,” Hubbard said, referring to a code revision process that culminated in amendments adopted in December 2018. “When the business advisory [committee] redid it, they submitted their final revision to the board and everybody around got it, except for, apparently, the fire marshal.”

The Greater Jamesport Civic Association, in written comments submitted to the town board in advance of the April 5 hearing, called the proposal “unduly risky and an abrogation of the Town’s responsibilities.” It also questioned “whether the sponsor of the proposal conferred with and sought input from the Police, Fire Marshall and Code Enforcement agencies.”

The proposed amendments would place event attendees and the surrounding community at increased safety risk, according to the civic association said in the letter. It expressed specific opposition to the elimination of existing application requirements, including site plans, fire safety plans and parking details.

“It won’t be put up for a vote anytime soon, certainly not at the next meeting,” Hubbard said Tuesday.

Members of the business community and others involved in event planning and production in Riverhead had been extremely critical of the December 2018 amendment of the special events code. The 2018 amendments established much longer deadlines for special event permit applications, increased application fees and imposed late fees for applications that don’t meet the deadlines.

The 2018 revisions came after discussions of the burden on town staff resources caused by an increasing number of special events in Riverhead — especially during peak summer months — as well as the traffic impacts on town roadways.

Various town departments are responsible for reviewing different aspects of special event permit applications prior to town board approval of the permit, including the town clerk, town attorney and fire marshal’s offices and the police department. Staff members told the town board during work session discussions that the permit application deadlines in the existing town code did not leave adequate time for review.

The special events code in effect in 2018 was largely unchanged from its original form when it was enacted in December 2003. It set application deadlines (and other requirements) based on the size of the event being proposed. For events expected to draw fewer than 1,000 attendees, applications were required to be filed at least 40 days in advance of the event date. Events expected to draw 1,000 to 4,999 attendees were required to have applications filed 120 days prior to the event. Those expected to draw more than 5,000 attendees had to have applications filed “at least” 180 days prior to the event.

The December 2018 revisions lengthened the lead times for town staff review and also adjusted the spectator numbers. The change established a 90-day lead time for events expected to draw up to 750 attendees, a 180-day lead time for events expected to draw 751 to 2,500 attendees, and a 270-day lead time for events expected to draw more than 2,500 attendees.

The 2018 revisions included a new section that allowed the town to consider “possible conflicts with other events and seasonal demands which may overtax or cause an undue burden on town services” when deciding whether to approve or deny an event application.

The 2018 revisions also: required the applicant to submit a certificate of insurance to the town clerk 30 days prior to the commencement of the event; pay a nonrefundable application fee; established a late application fee of $20 per day beyond the submission deadline; established a fee for amending the permit application equal to 25% of the application fee; and increased the penalties for failure to obtain a special event permit.

The 2018 amendments did not provide for a transition period, so some event sponsors planning events in 2019 found themselves unable to meet the filing deadlines contained in the new law. After complaints from those sponsors, the town board in April 2019 adopted an “amnesty” provision, delaying the effective date of the 2018 revisions to June 18, 2019. In August 2019, the board again extended the amnesty period to Dec. 18, 2019.

During that amnesty period, town officials, with input from the Business Advisory Committee, set about to amend the code again.

The town board on Dec. 17, 2019 adopted a new set of sweeping revisions to the Special Events code that rolled back some of the changes made a year earlier.

It increased the thresholds for “large” and “mass” gathering events, which are subject to more regulation. It also shortened the lead times for applications adopted a year earlier, reducing the lead time for large gathering special events (1,001-4,000 attendees) from 180 days to 120 days and reducing the lead time for mass gathering events from 270 days to 180 days.)

The board also eliminated the $20 per day late fee, changed the application amendment fee from 25% of the original application fee to a flat fee of $150, and deleted the new provision that established “possible conflicts with other events and seasonal demands” as a potential ground for denial of a permit.

The 2019 amendments also revised or entirely deleted a host of special events law provisions that had been in effect since its adoption in 2003.

The current set of proposed amendments seeks to simplify and streamline the application process even more and ease restrictions on event producers.

Kern, who was elected to the town board in November and took office Jan. 1, spoke out at the hearing in support of the need for further amendment of the law.

“Even though it’s been amended, I can tell you that it’s still more onerous than other towns,” Kern said.

“I think people have this fear that this is Back then in their neighborhoods, most of these larger events don’t take place anywhere near anybody’s homes,” he said.

“The economic development benefit is incredible to businesses in this town — and also, we compete with other towns in terms of events,” Kern said.

“In addition, I’ll say this, the town square is going to be a hangout if it’s not activated every single weekend with events,” Kern said. “We need to be friendly to the people that produce events, and be welcoming to people that want to bring events to our town,” he said.

The proposed revisions shorten the lead times required for applications that were adopted in the last two revisions. The lead time required for small gathering events (100-1,000 attendees), which was increased from 40 days to 90 days in 2018 (and left unchanged in 2019), would be reduced to 45 days. The lead time for “large gathering” events (1,001-4,000 attendees) increased in 2018 from 120 days (set in 2003) to 180 days and rolled back to 120 days in 2019, would now be reduced to 60 days. The lead time for “mass gathering” events, which was increased from 180 days (set in 2003) to 270 days in 2018, then reset to 180 days in 2019, would be reduced to 90 days under the proposed amendments.

While the existing code states that applications filed within 45 days of a “small gathering” event or within 60 days of a large or mass gathering event will be denied, the proposed revisions allow allowed the applications to be filed five to 15 days beyond the new application deadlines upon the payment of a late fee (to be determined by town board resolution.) This means that “small gathering” event applicants could file 40 days before the event date, “large gathering” applicants could file 45 days prior to the event date, and “mass gathering” applicants could file 75 days before the event date.

The proposed amendments would eliminate application requirements for:

  • a plan and drawing, drawn to scale, showing the property where the event will be held and the locations of proposed stage, tents, exhibition areas, vendor areas, spectator seating areas, fire extinguishers and temporary utilities;
  • a parking are plan showing means of ingress and egress as well as a minimum number of one parking space for every four people expected to attend, and compliance with the fire marshal’s setback guidelines;
  • an environmental impact study;
  • the name, address and phone number of people who will sell alcoholic beverages at the event;
  • a copy of the State Liquor Authority permit(s) for the sale of alcoholic beverages at the event;
  • a plan for the use of live music, loudspeakers, showing type and location of speakers and other audio equipment;
  • a description of fire protection and a map specifying the location fire lanes and water supply for fire control, subject to the approval of the Riverhead Fire Marshal and fire department chief;
  • a description of tents or other temporary structures and a plan showing the intended number and placement, compliance with the requirements of the National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code, NFPA requirements for tents, and the N.Y. State fire code;
  • a communications plan for command and control of all routine and emergency activities related to the event subject to the approval of the chief of police and the Riverhead Fire Marshal;
  • information about animals and animal handling at special events, including the handling, storage and disposal of animal wastes;
  • information about the nature of the event and activities to be carried on at the event, the admission fee, if any, to be charged, and the name of the group, organization, charity or individuals to benefit from the proceeds of the event;
  • a nonrefundable administration fee for any application not accompanied by a certificate of public liability insurance.

Kern said at the hearing that things were left out of the code “not on purpose” — including a sitemap requirement a hold harmless requirement, and a public safety plan, which he said must be submitted with the application.

“It was just a slip-up and is now back into the code,” Kern said. “Maybe a couple other minor things.”

Jamesport resident Barbara Blass, who was a member of the town board when the 2003 Special Events law was adopted, said the town should not eliminate the need for environmental assessment of all special event plans. “I do believe a short-form EAF should be required for all special event permits,” Blass said.

“There’s a statement in the code that says the town board will assess whether the event impacts general health, safety and welfare of the town as identified through SEQRA [the State Environmental Quality Review Act] pursuant to Part 617,” Blass said, referring to state regulations pertaining to environmental quality review. “And I wonder how you get there, if you don’t have an environmental assessment form to evaluate.”

Blass also pointed out that the hearing notice contained an inaccurate reference to the name of Chapter 255, “Parades, Assemblies and Special Events.” The notice said the hearing was about amendments to “Parades and Assemblies,” which is the name of Article I of Chapter 255. Article II is titled “Special Events,” and the bulk of the revisions in the proposed amendments affect the Special Events law, which is Article II.

“I’m sure it was not intentional,” Blass said at the hearing.

“It wasn’t intentional,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar replied. “A parade is a special event,” she said. “Let’s just go forward we got that. It was to address 255 and that was the title, they left something out. We got it. We’ll move forward. Thank you.”

Blass said afterward she raised the question because a lot of residents are interested in the regulation of special events and might not have realized from the way the hearing notice was written that it had anything to do with special events, since it only mentioned parades and assemblies. “I think it was a little misleading,” she said.

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