Festival amendments tabled

Published 11:42 am Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Cumberland County Planning Commission tabled a discussion concerning amendments to the county’s policies related to festivals. The proposed amendments are expected to be discussed at the next planning commission meeting later in March.

A discussion about the festival policy took place in part during the November Cumberland Planning Commission meeting in which Whitney Lipscomb, representative of The Barn at Timber Creek event venue, asked about an amendment that would allow up to 10 events per year with more than 300 attendees, citing that the venue hosts fundraisers and did not want to run out of festival permits in order to host them.

The proposed amended policy defines a special event as any gathering of more than 400 people at any given time or any outdoor gathering of more than 250 at any given time. A special event would take place over the course of one day.

A festival has a similar definition to a special event, except that the festival exceeds 24 hours.

Cumberland County Public Schools and other extensions of Cumberland County government are exempt from the amended code.

The code requires that applicants, or promoters, obtain a permit to hold a special event.

Application for a special event permit must be made in writing and submitted to the Cumberland County planning department at least 45 days before the date. A festival permit would need to be made in writing 60 days before an event.

County Planning and Zoning Administrator J.P. Duncan said if there are fewer than 400 people attending an event, and no alcohol is being served, the event is not considered a special event under the amended policy. If alcohol is being served, the limit is 200 participants.

“Essentially you can have an unlimited number of events, but keeping those parameters,” Duncan said.

Duncan also said if a business was interested in holding events, outlined its requirements in a conditional use permit, and if the permit was approved by the county, the permit would trump the amended policy.

One person spoke during a public hearing for the amendments. Doris Seal asked a few questions concerning the amendments, including if the government exemption would still apply if a government entity co-sponsored an event with a non-government organization. More questions include whether other government entities receive the exemption and if the size of the building should be the determining factor if a festival is held indoors. She mentioned the 400-person limit, but asked if that rule would still apply if a building had a maximum capacity of 200.

Commission members discussed the exemption of local government entities for the permit, including Cumberland County Public Schools.

District Two Supervisor Stephen Donahue contended that private business owners, government entities and corporations should receive equal treatment under the amended policy.

District Four Supervisor Hubert Allen made an opposing argument, citing that the school division hosts numerous events that hold more than 400 individuals.

“Would graduation constitute a special event? I think it would,” Allen said. “So you want to make the county school system come in and apply for a permit for a graduation exercise? It’s ludacris.”

Commission Chairman William Burger noted that government property is typically isolated. The limit in people count would more likely need to be addressed concerning private businesses in which traffic and surrounding residential properties would be most affected by a festival or special event.

Donahue said that private businesses would look to avoid the same drawbacks, such as unregulated traffic, as events led by government entities.

“I’m just saying there should be equal weight whether it’s private, whether it’s a corporation, whether it’s some dude on his property, or whether it’s a government agency,” Donahue said.

He argued that any entity has the capacity to cause harm and that equal regulation is necessary.

“My point is there is evil everywhere. There is evil in government. There is evil in private corporations. There is evil in individuals,” Donahue said. “We need to apply the law equally between all of them. The fact that because it’s government and can be exempt from the law doesn’t make any sense.”

Donahue asked whether special events could receive more than four permits a year. Burger noted the potential impact of more than four special events on surrounding residents.

“We have to take that into consideration, the people who live in the vicinity,” Burger said.