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Renewed special events bylaw to encourage business, clarify rules

Prince Edward County council examined work on a special events bylaw designed to encourage smaller events held on private property and clarify rules.

Private property events falling under cultural, religious, educational, artisanal gatherings and festivals are being recognized as desirable to the County’s economy and community fabric, but need parameters to avoid conflict with private land use permissions in current zoning bylaws.

The purpose of the bylaw is to allow landowners in residential and rural zones to earn occasional revenue and incubate new business and event ideas for temporary time periods. A draft presented at two public meetings last August met with concerns the needs of property owners and small businesses were not being met. Staff since reviewed the feedback and made changes to the document.

Scale and impact of events are characterized by frequency, duration, level of attendance, sites, impacts on noise from music, fireworks, speakers, traffic, parking and required co-ordination such as permits needed, police, fire and traffic re-routing.

A moratorium placed last year on enforcement of these events continues providing all other bylaws, such as noise, and burn permits are followed.

Robert McAuley, Commission of Engineering, Works and Development said when completed, a draft bylaw would again be put out for public input. He suggested it be available ahead of any public meeting at council to generate thoughtful conversation. Amendments or adjustments could then be made before it comes back to council.

A few councillors agreed with councillor Gord Fox, who raised concern that the bylaw enforcement office has more pressing issues and should not be burdened with more because it doesn’t have the staff or resources necessary.

Others sided with councillor Treat Hull, who noted the bylaw is an attempt to get ahead of the problems expressed through conflicts with neighbours, and contravention of bylaws, and also fix a process so that it is not arbitrary.

“If there were complaints, that would swamp bylaw enforcement because there are a large number of events that are actually contravening our bylaws,” said Hull. “The whole genesis of this was residential areas running commercial events and this is not allowed and is creating some use conflict with neighbours. Given the increasing numbers of activities this is expected to be a bigger issue.”

Hull noted he was glad to see a tiered approach as he saw the original proposal as a one-size-fits-all geared for the largest events that was onerous for smaller gatherings.

“This is not positioned as an attempt to restrict property rights and is, in fact, is an attempt to encourage activities that are not currently allowed if we were to truly clamp down.” said Hull. “This actually allows people to expand opportunities, not limit them.”

Councillor Kevin Gale furthered discussion on lack of staff in the bylaw department to enforce existing rules.

“We need somebody who just goes around and enforces bylaws. Picking and choosing is not right. We have people dumping truck loads of garbage, we’ve got people with washing machines and trucks in dooryards that offend neighbours and property values. We have a ton of bylaws and I don’t want to add more until we can find a way to enforce the ones that we have.”

McAuley said work on the bylaw was because of complaints to staff.

“This is not more regulation, this is less regulation. This is freeing up what is currently a problem” therefore allowing the bylaw department to focus on its current workload.

“I see this as freeing up resources to go after more important issues. As long as the people are following the parameters that the public will determine, we don’t have to become involved, so it is an easing of our resources. Status quo is not a solution and will just add to our regulatory problems… This is clearly an effort to get out of the way of the creative economy.”

Rezoning, he noted, is the only way currently allowed to have an event on private property.

“Currently, if I’m a landowner and I would like to earn some money by having one wedding every couple of months for commercial gain, I am not allowed to do that without re-zoning which attracts the costs and there will likely be restrictions imposed upon me,” said McAuley. “However, under the proposal here, the public might say it would be perfectly acceptable for me, on my rural lot if it is over two acres, to have weddings one per quarter for commercial gain as long as I advise my neighbours, emergency services and don’t congest the street…. That would be of no cost to the landowner. However, if I wanted to have one a month, then I would be exceeding the parameters given here.”

Following public consultation on the draft, it is hoped a bylaw could be in place by year end.

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