Public hearings on deck for updated ‘Special Events’ ordinance


GEORGETOWN – An updated ordinance proposal with enhanced definition and clarification addressing “special events” is bound for the public hearing process.

“We are trying to keep it simple and give some guidance and just clarify,” said Assistant Sussex County Attorney Vince Robertson.

The proposal, introduced at Sussex County Council’s Oct. 2 meeting, would amend current special events provision in the zoning code.

The draft ordinance heads to the county planning and zoning commission for a hearing Oct. 26, followed by a public hearing before county council in November.

The draft would provide a criteria list for the county planning and zoning director in considering an application for a special event.

Criteria consideration includes number of attendees, parcel size, parking requirements, roads/traffic, prior events of the applicant, noise, lights, odor and dust, hours of operation, number of consecutive days and others.

“Those are not mandatory things. Those are just a listing of items for the director to consider,” Mr. Robertson said. “What we were trying to do is come up with a balanced, basic approach that gives guidance to director of planning and zoning.”

The proposal was introduced by councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton, R-Lewes. He represents District 3 where there has been ongoing debate over an outdoor concert series staged at Hudson Fields. Several concerts there this year attracted approximately 4,000 people apiece.

“I think what we need to talk about is what this ordinance is not. And is not about a specific parcel of land,” said Mr. Burton. “There has been a lot of attention on a specific parcel on land. This is an ordinance for all of Sussex County. We have got to take that into account. This protects all of Sussex County.”

“We currently have a code for the special-use permit. It has outlived its effectiveness and quite frankly it was flawed from the beginning,” said Mr. Burton.

“In drafting this we essentially kept it the same as it is right now. It’s three special events during any calendar year,” said Mr. Robertson. “It does not include set-up or tear-down. That wouldn’t count toward your calendar days.”

Special events would encompass such events as circuses, carnivals, amusement parks, fairs, festivals, concerts, shows, marathon races, commercial sales and other events.

County code defines a special event is an event for limited duration that is not part of the property’s normal and customary use or are not otherwise permitted on the site.

Large-scale events would trigger a review by county emergency preparedness/public safety directors to determine if paramedics and dispatchers were required to be on site.

The ordinance draft maintains the same framework in seeking a special-events permit. One avenue is administratively, with over-the-counter approval from the planning and zoning director.

If permission is not granted, the applicant’s other route is to apply for a conditional use that would run with the property.

Councilman George Cole voiced several ideas and concerns.

“The (P&Z) director says ‘no’. Is there an appeal process?” said Mr. Cole.

Mr. Robertson said the options are to take it to the board of adjustment or go the conditional use route.

Mr. Cole suggested that an application with documented information be available to the public in advance. He also recommends that the application include a “hold harmless agreement” so that the county “does not get dragged into court.”

Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, echoed Mr. Cole’s safety concerns and pre-event application/document availability.

“I would like to see that disclosure,” said Mr. Arlett, who asked if the special-use permit application could be uploaded and attached to the pertinent parcel for public notice on the county’s website.

“I don’t see why it couldn’t be,” said Mr. Robertson. “Obviously, it wouldn’t stay on that parcel permanently.”

“I’m thinking it probably should be done prior to the granted approval of a special event. After the fact you can’t un-ring the bell,” said Mr. Cole.

Mr. Cole said he reviewed an application process in a coastal county in Florida similar to Sussex County. When events involved 200 or more people it was “required to go in front county council. There was a threshold when you had 200 people it became a major event. In that county it required the approval of their county council. …”

“What do you consider a major event?” asked councilman Samuel Wilson Jr, R-Georgetown.

“I am not saying 200 …,” said Mr. Cole.

“Who is counting people?” said Mr. Wilson, adding “I think we are already out of hand.”

“We should encourage simplicity and having events below a certain threshold, I don’t know that they should count,” said Mr. Burton. “I looked at the special events; 5K cancer runs. Why are we wasting time with that?”

“A 5K race, there are impacts,” said Mr. Cole, adding that the town of Bethany has proposed to limit such events to one per month. “There are impacts in certain areas. Most of these are in the coastal area.”

Sussex County Administration Todd Lawson reminded council that the agenda item was for proposed ordinance introduction and more detailed discussion would come at public hearings and council meetings.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.