County considers options for special event permit regulations
September 24, 2014
The aftermath of a large private wedding held in Little Annie Basin in June is still being felt. On Tuesday at the Pitkin County commissioners work session, the board began considering options to revise special-event and temporary-use permit regulations in rural and remote areas of the county.
On June 18, the commissioners adopted a resolution that set a moratorium on the construction of temporary structures on land zoned as rural and remote until March 18, 2015. The moratorium was adopted as a result of the June wedding, which wasn't required to attain a special-event permit.
The June wedding had a temporary chapel built along with a 27,000-square-foot tent, scaffolding, flooring, multiple service tents, a dance floor and several other temporary structures. Because the event was free, which constitutes no commercial activity, there was no need for a temporary commercial permit.
The county's Community Development Department hired consultant Alan Richman, owner of Alan Richman Planning Services Inc., to better understand how the land-use code could change to more effectively address special events and temporary commercial uses while closing the loophole for larger private events.
Richman has been researching the current Pitkin County code and various jurisdictions' approaches to special event permitting processes.
"We did research that shows what the county regulations say today and what they don't say," Richman said. "I've also been looking at how other communities process their land-use special permits. We now need some decisions to be made, some policy direction to be given by the board, so that we can move to the next step of the process, which is coming up with a draft of the regulations."
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Richman brought forward four key decisions that will need to be made before the new special permitting regulations can move forward. The first asked what the scope should be of the new regulations. Three options were brought forward: drafting new provisions that would apply solely to rural and remote areas; drafting new provisions that apply countywide; or taking a hybrid approach and drafting distinct regulations for urban, rural and rural/remote areas. The commissioners favored the hybrid option.
The second key decision asked if the new regulations should use a threshold approach to trigger when a permit is required. Richman gave two options, with the first adopting a minimum attendance threshold for when a special-events permit is required. The second option would identify the characteristics of the event and classify it into one of three categories: permit not required, administrative permit required or special-use permit required.
The third key decision asked if the county should limit the number of times per year a property could obtain a temporary-event permit. The fourth key asked if some sort of public notice should be given to neighbors when an administrative temporary-use permit is awarded.
Restricting the number of times a property can obtain temporary-events permits could help put an end to properties that have many seemingly commercial events per year while being located in a residential area.
"We're concerned about events happening in the rural and remote areas where there are no regulations at all," Richman said. "But the problem is larger than rural and remote. The problem crops up throughout the county, so the board talked about the scope being countywide and having regulations tailored to different portions of the county. Urban, rural, rural remote — they also said the exemption should be based on the size of the event, not who's running the event. Whether it's public or private, whether it's commercial or noncommercial, that's not the basis. … The basis is how big of an event. The 'how big' could be different in the rural area versus the urban area. Some number of people getting together in the urban area might not be a problem, but that same number of people getting together in a rural area might be quite impactful."
Commissioner Steve Child echoed the sentiment of several of the commissioners and Richman when he said he didn't want to see the county trying to prohibit private parties but wanted to make sure safety was a paramount concern.
"If an event gets above a certain size, even if it's a private party on private land, that event needs a permit," Child said. "It has impacts on the road, noise impacts in the neighborhood and safety impacts because of the size of the crowd. That's why I like the hybrid approach. We really need to have the guidelines for the whole county, but they could be different thresholds and standards for different zone districts in the county."
Richman said the main point on Tuesday was setting the scope to move forward with the new regulations and who, if anybody, will be exempt from the regulations. He said the goal is to have the new regulations completed in the next few months.