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Council unanimous voting down ‘extreme’ changes to special events bylaw

Proposed changes to the special events bylaw that were identified as allowing the county to be ‘party central’ were soundly defeated by council.

The municipal staff recommendation presented at a special planning committee meeting Wednesday, would have permitted tourism businesses to hold multiple special events during the tourism season, without contravening the zoning bylaw which only permits one special event per season (i.e. in summer).

The proposed definition would have permitted a special event for a limited duration of three consecutive days, within any six-day period.

“This would permit an event to start on a Friday, end on a Sunday, and then have a minimum of three days before another event could take place,” explained Michael Michaud, manager of planning.

“This spacing of events attempts to find a balance between the holding of an event and the quiet enjoyment of nearby properties. Some in the business community indicated that three consecutive days in a seven-day period would be preferred,” he said. “However, staff feel the six-day proposal provides more flexibility for scheduling events.”

Several councillors had difficulty with the concept allowing special events for three days out of every six days throughout the year.

“To go from one per season to three every six days seems like a pretty drastic jump,” said councillor Janice Maynard, adding it would be untenable for anyone living in close proximity to one these commercial venues.

“I get that we are trying to help the businesses out, but at what cost to their neighbours?” she said. “Three every six days is way too excessive.”

Councillor John Hirsch agreed with the sentiment, and asked what the reason was for the urgent need as indicated in the staff report.

“This was an excessive move toward allowing the County to become party central,” Hirsch said, adding he would prefer something along the lines of site-specific, temporary zoning bylaws to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

Hirsch also stated the setbacks proposed were also inadequate for neighbours to have a peaceful life.

“We found from a number of businesses that they had already established their programming for the summer in terms of, in contravention of the zoning bylaw,” said Michaud. “This is an opportunity to help them, so they can hold the events that they have already booked and advertised.”

“That’s rather a poor reason for us to be considering this,” replied Hirsch.

Councillor Stewart Bailey spoke to liveable communities, noted excessive noise, drunkenness, etc., including the potential devaluing of neighbouring properties.

“The suggestion that a whole bunch of people had already booked events without having the proper authority to do, that doesn’t cut it.”

CAO Marcia Wallace noted that staff are working on proposals to consider a licensing for events.

“Right now, we have a strange system in the County where we licence an event through planning,” she said. “It’s an activity, but we regulate it like a use, and that’s unusual.”

In 2017, a zoning bylaw amendment passed by council defined a special event and standards in an attempt to fulfill the need to permit and regulate events at tourism-related businesses, such as wineries, campgrounds, etc.

“The popularity of holding special events has now outgrown the provisions that were originally put in place to regulate them,” explained Michaud. “Ideally, special events would be regulated via its own bylaw and administered through the corporate and legislative services department.”

Michaud noted the current timing and urgency will not permit staff to undertake the necessary work to create a special events bylaw, so staff were looking to eliminate and replace the existing bylaw with one more in tune with current practice and needs.

It is noted the proposed special events bylaw would have continued to permit events through a temporary use bylaw that may not conform to one or more of the provisions.

“If a temporary use bylaw is applied for, council will then have the opportunity to discuss the non-complying standard and decide if it is something they are satisfied in supporting,” explained Michaud.

An example would be a temporary use bylaw for excess parking at a lot that is not adjacent to the event property. Should the event exceed the conditions, it would require a temporary zoning bylaw, as exists today.

Michaud noted the changes were proposed to be put in place until such time as a special events licensing bylaw is created to govern and support this use outside of solely utilizing the County’s zoning bylaw.

“The holding of special events has greatly grown in popularity since the 2017 regulating bylaw,” stated Michaud in his report. “As a result of this unanticipated level of growth, the original definition of, and provisions for a special event, are no longer an appropriate method to regulate special events.”

Michaud noted the original definition is now a “hindrance” to the provision of such special events as music, cabarets and variety shows at tourism locations throughout the County.

Other proposed changes to the new special events bylaw increase the number of zones that will not permit special events.

For example, urban and rural residential zones would not be permitted any special events unless they are associated with specific circumstances as found within the special event definition, such as a family-related activity.

A further change proposed that any stage or the main location of the special event must be set back a minimum of 50 metres from any adjacent residential dwelling on an adjacent lot, Michaud stated.

The proposed changes included capacity limits on what is allowed without the need to apply for a temporary use bylaw.

Events would have been allowed in existing zoning provided they are below 500 persons in rural areas and 30 per cent of lot area, up to a maximum of 250 persons in settlement areas.

Changes would also have allowed up to three food trucks – considered a flexible option than the current food truck licensing bylaw which permits just one. However, te, the current food truck licensing bylaw is undergoing review and is expected to be brought back to council in 2023.

“I think the pendulum swung too far,” said councillor Ernie Margetson. “To have three consecutive days of an event in any six-day period is too much, so that’s all year basically.”

Margetson also took issue with the 50 metre setback for the stage from a residence.

“It’s not even from the property line; but from the residence is too close when anything else associated with a 500-person event in a rural area can be right up to the property line,” he said.

He also said three food trucks would mean a lot of people would be present.

“Perhaps one per season is not enough, but this is too extreme.”

A small-scale special event refers to an outdoor sporting, cultural, business or other type of unique activity, hosting a gathering of persons for a limited duration of a maximum of three consecutive days, occurring no more frequent than once per season of the calendar year, located on a single lot, but which excludes construction-related activities, farm-related activities, family related activities, or film production.

“Having an event three dates per week unlimited, I would not want to live next door to one of those venues,” added councillor Phil St-Jean said.

St-Jean also noted the proposed amplified sound ‘shall not be cause to exceed 60 decibels between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m.

“I don’t think I’d want that going on in my neighbourhood until 2 a.m. with 500 people next door just 50 metres away,” he said. “It goes way too far.”

“We have to think about fostering a liveable community; if this was next door in my community, my community would not be liveable,” added St-Jean.

Councillor Mike Harper also added the pendulum had swung a bit far.

He asked for further explanation on the three days out of six days concept, as well as how many events were anticipated.

Michaud confirmed the events going on ranged from four to 10, depending on the type of business. He said some businesses had four events planned over the summer, others were every week.

“I would suggest that the business that have not taken the time to know what they are allowed to do, that they be encouraged to apply for a special event permit,” said Maynard. “This is just a no-go.”

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  1. CountyProud says:

    Thank you Councillors for speaking up regarding this “potentially horrifying” suggestion. Let’s not reward people for trying to break rules or get away with “oh gosh, I didn’t know”.

    I would hope that going forward when the approval process takes place it is not done on a micro level – simply looking at the one location on a specific date. Approvals need to consider everything going on in a set geographic area at those same dates. Especially in rural areas where sound travels great distances, there is nothing worse than having 3 different concerts going at the same time in different locations. And given how late they are allowed to continue into the evening, it can be disturbing to young children sleeping, farmers and older residents who don’t necessarily stay up until the wee hours of the night. There has to be a respectful happy medium for full time residents and providing entertainment to the visiting crowds.

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