Special event ordinance revision update draws support for Hudson Fields

GEORGETOWN – Special events are not one of a kind.

They come in different shapes and sizes.

A youth lacrosse does not stand on the same comparative playing field with a big-draw country music concert.

And so, the pot is being stirred with input and feedback as Sussex County gears to tweak, revise and add more clarity to its special events ordinance.

“We are taking the approach less is more, simple is better,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson during a July 18 update on the ordinance revision process. “We are hoping to streamline this process and keep it moving because we don’t want this to take an extended period of time.”

Lengthy discussion began in early June following county councilman George Cole’s comments regarding a caller’s questions and concerns about a series of spring/summer concerts at Hudson Fields between Lewes and Milton.

Alex Pires addresses Sussex County Council on the Highway One concerts at Hudson Fields.

Attorney/businessman Alex Pires, founder of Highway One and the Community Bank of Delaware, has brought Highway One Presents Hudson Fields concerts through a lease agreement.

Two country music concerts already held were sellouts each with about 4,000 attendees. A reggae event was held, another concert has been cancelled and a Sept. 15 Christian music festival remains on the 200-acre parcel between the Eagle Crest Aerodrome and Del. 1.

“Our events are very family oriented with very modest prices. Parking is free. Hot dogs are $2,” said Mr. Pires, adding a great deal of money is donated to charity/non-profit causes. “We’ve started to bid again for next year. It’s a very beautiful place for an outdoor event. We want to bring these famous folks that normally are in Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore … bring them here.”

Mr. Pires said all procedures with state agencies were followed and services such as state police, EMT/paramedic and fire department coverage were paid for and provided.

Next year Mr. Pires plans to realign the stage and have it go north. “It would be quieter,” he said, adding the goal is for events to end by 11:15 p.m. or at the latest 11:30 p.m. “I don’t want to have overnight events, nor multiple days in a row.”

In closing, Mr. Pires told council he spent $150,000/$160,000 on each show. “I’d like to be able to continue to do it,” he said. “I’d like to work with you.”

“Please don’t let a few negative commentaries ruin this great thing for all of the people in our community,” said podium speaker Amber Peck.

“I think we are fortunate to have someone for non-profits,” said county councilman Sam Wilson Jr.

“We have approved a heck of a lot of development. We are under a big building boom,” said Mr. Cole. “We have to take those people’s concerns in also. I ‘ve got a number of emails of concerns. So, don’t make it sound like it’s just all non-profits. It’s not the same. This ordinance hopefully will address of all it.”

By county definition, a special event is a substantial gathering of people held outside and located on unincorporated lands within Sussex County and for a limited duration where activities are not part of the property’s normal and customary use or are not otherwise permitted on the site. Special events may encompass circuses, carnivals, amusement parks, or midways, fairs, festivals, concerts, shows, marathon races, commercial sales and other events.

The ordinance will take into consideration location, size of parcel(s), road capacity, operating hours, state agency coordination, requirements of Sussex County’s Special Events Public Safety Policy and impact on surrounding properties including noise, dust, smoke or other nuisance-like factors, tents, camping, RVs for attendees. Additional requirements may be determined by the county.

“We need to let the state agencies that perhaps have jurisdiction and interest in these events know about them when the applications are made at Sussex County,” said Mr. Lawson. “We don’t have a very good coordination both internally and externally when it comes to these types of events. That needs to be improved.”

Mr. Lawson, Sussex County Planning & Zoning Director Janelle Cornwell, Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson and his office staff have been shepherding this effort through.

“Today, we are at a point where I want to at least provide some framework on where we are moving forward, get your feedback on where we go from here. And the next step would be to present an ordinance in draft form for introduction,” said Mr. Lawson at the county council meeting.

Among the proposed ordinance parameters:

  • No more than five special event days per calendar year;
  • Frequency or sequence of days of an event may be limited;
  • The property shall return to its normal and customary use within a reasonable length of time, and;
  • An event is counted as an operational day.

“An operational day is when the attendees show up and participate in the event,” said Mr. Lawson.

Mr. Lawson said nine municipalities in Delaware and Virginia were studied.

“Really, to summarize that, there is no real model that exists. I think each municipality or jurisdiction uses its own judgement in creating their rules or their parameters,” said Mr. Lawson. “And that’s probably what this council should do as well.”

Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson, flanked at right by County Attorney J. Everett Moore Jr., gives an update on the special events ordinance revision.

“One thing is very clear: not all events are the same. Not all events are in the same location, have the same type of impact,” said Mr. Lawson. “A lot of the events that may or may not take place in the county we don’t even know about because they are so small or don’t have any kind of negative impact on surrounding properties. “

So, the big question is: What’s too much? “When does a special event grow outside of special event and need to be reviewed by planning zoning commission, county council and gain what I would think would be conditional-use approval,” said Mr. Lawson.

Certain special events, such as the World Championship Punkin Chunkin held near Bridgeville, require an additional step: Special Events Public Safety Policy review.

“If the event is of some certain nature where it would trigger a review by our emergency preparedness and paramedics in the 911 center, the directors would review the event and determine if paramedics and dispatchers were required to be on site,” Mr. Lawson said.

Mr. Lawson added there are certain events that “have more of an impact on the property or the surrounding property that we should consider. These factors would be included in the ordinance, or a procedural policy that would develop from the ordinance and be administered out of the planning and zoning office.”

Christian Hudson of Hudson Fields cautioned council about over-regulation.

“What I am doing is I am cautioning you gentlemen because I think you’re going to have to do some heavy lifting,” said Mr. Hudson. “This is going to take a lot more than most anticipate so that it doesn’t anger the general public and discourage a lot of these festivals and fundraisers; all of the different things that are such a good thing for our community.”

Mr. Hudson noted 11,000 patrons attended the first three concerts at Hudson Fields. “When you have 11,000 people, and you have one or two or a dozen complaints, versus 11,000 people saying they like something, I think that establishes a public need and desire,” he said.

Attorney Steve Spence, head of the Atlantic Lacrosse League, said their recreational youth lacrosse league would probably not survive if not for the graciousness of the Hudson family for the use of their facility.

“That is a special event in my heart. I’m not sure what you would call it,” Mr. Spence said. “I don’t want to lose it.”

“There really is kind of a difference between Atlantic Lacrosse and the Dirty Heads; two different animals,” said county councilman I.G. Burton. “I think it comes down to – we have to encourage the Atlantic Lacrosse’s, the foodie fests, art shows. I really don’t want to discourage that as Mr. Hudson spoke. I don’t want him to have to choose between the two. I really don’t want to lose the graciousness that the Hudson’s provide to this area. There is a number that should be addressed and encouraged with concerts and events that are above a certain floor. We ought to keep this as simple as possible.”

As an amendment to Section 15 of county code the ordinance proposal will go through two public hearings, one at planning and zoning level and one at Sussex County Council.

County councilman Rob Arlett said the end goal is “to hopefully expedite the process as much as we possibly can. I think some people are waiting on our decisions. At same time, I think we should be very cautious and careful, not to over-regulate just because we can … in the spirit of Sussex County and the spirit of who we are as a county, and who we are as people and drive people away. That would be a concern.”

The Sussex County Post delivers news from Georgetown and southern Delaware. Follow @SussexPost on Twitter.

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