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CB Council struggles with Major Special Event ordinance

Expecting some unintended consequences—but… 
A public hearing about a proposed ordinance dealing with new permitting requirements for “major” special events in Crested Butte drew zero public comment but plenty of Town Council discussion Monday night. 

The council struggled with the idea of passing an ordinance that would result in “unintended consequences” for future special events in town but most of the council members felt they needed a process in place to facilitate what they generically referred to as a “major special event on the horizon” (MSEOTH). In the end, they passed the ordinance but included a sunset provision so that the ordinance would essentially be repealed by December 31 if the council takes no action. The specific details of the MSEOTH remain publicly shrouded in mystery since the national company proposing the MSEOTH hasn’t formally signed a contract with the town of Crested Butte. The company has requested anonymity but it appears the company plans a major extravaganza in September. The core of town would likely be heavily affected and the production company has reached out to several Elk Avenue businesses. Negotiations are taking place between the company and the town staff concerning compensation and details of the event. “With a major special event on the horizon, there is only one sentence in the town code that currently addresses major special events,” explained town attorney John Belkin. “That’s where this is coming from.” “I’m struggling with why this is necessary,” said Councilperson David Owen. “We’ve been doing special events for a long time and letting the staff review them administratively. That can happen with the one on the horizon.” “Without adopting this, the event on the horizon may not be able to do some things they want to do,” responded Belkin. “This will allow the town to manage it all better. It is a tool. There will be sections of the town code you’ll effectively be asked to grant variances to with certain conditions. There is no process in place to do that right now.” “Is this the only way to accomplish that goal?” asked Councilperson Shaun Matusewicz. “It’s the best way,” said Belkin. “Making a permanent long-term change for a single special event gives me heartburn,” said Matusewicz. “We’re talking about a major special event permit and we don’t even know what that application could look like.” “This asks for a lot more information than we currently do,” said Councilperson Jim Schmidt. “I think it would be a helpful tool. It gives direction to the town staff on what we as a council want to look at. It would still come back to the council for final approval.” “It provides the opportunity for a framework of findings and reasoning that we can cite in our decision,” added Councilperson Glenn Michel. Mayor Aaron Huckstep had a major issue with the definition of what would qualify in the proposed ordinance as a major special event. One of the triggers in the proposal was an event that included more than 1,000 people. “If the objective is to address major special events with major impacts to town, why is there an exemption for non-profits?” he asked. “The council concern at the last meeting seemed to be that this shouldn’t impact events that are already part of the town annual schedule—Vinotok and Big Air on Elk for example,” said Belkin. “You didn’t want them to go through this process.” “My impression is the council wanted to grandfather in events we’re familiar with but a new major event could come in under a nonprofit entity,” said Huckstep. Matusewicz questioned the need for a more bureaucratic process. “To what end? For more paperwork? The Chainless might have to go through this process since more than 1,000 people are participating or watching,” said Matusewicz. “Would the Chainless have to do a traffic study or supply an electric plan? It makes sense for some things but not others. I am really worried about the unintended consequences.” “That is my concern too,” said Owen. “My overarching concern is that we’re creating a permanent thing that will live on beyond this council and future councils will have different interpretations and it is really geared to one event,” said Matusewicz. “Maybe we put a six-month sunset clause on it,” suggested Schmidt. “Then we can see if it works. Big Air, Vinotok, even Alpenglow tonight all had more than 1,000 people attending. I think we need something for this possible event coming up so let’s put a sunset on it and move on.” Huckstep pointed out that some of the deadlines for applications included in the proposed ordinance would not meet the MSEOTH. The ordinance lets the town manager waive the deadlines, pointed out Schmidt. “We as a staff have some concerns about ongoing impact on future special events,” town building and zoning director Bob Gillie reported. “How will the tool be wielded in the future? What are the trip wires in this that cause it to go right or left?” Town finance director Lois Rozman said the trip wires seemed to center on requests for variances to the town codes. “Maybe that’s what triggers it,” said Huckstep. “When you ask for a number of variances, you would have to go through this more detailed process.” “Can the current town process capture the things we’re trying to capture with the upcoming special event?” asked Owen. “I don’t know,” said Gillie. “The texture of this seems to be a little different.” Town planner Michael Yerman said there were provisions in the proposed ordinance that might be seen in an annexation agreement that held the promoter responsible for major deposits, insurance and financial guarantees. “It’s an event having to pay its own way,” he said. “We’re ‘what-iffing’ a lot of this,” said Michel. “There probably will be some unintended consequences. But we need a tool for a potential special event coming up. We can review it thoroughly in October or November.” “Not one councilmember has said this is a good ordinance,” said Matusewicz. “I think we need to take more time. It is irresponsible to pass this right now.” “We should act sooner rather than later,” said Councilperson Roland Mason. “I like the sunset with an opportunity to review it. It addresses my major concerns with a major special event.” Huckstep suggested changing the definition to include a provision that if an event asks for two or more variances to the town code, that would be part of the trigger putting an event into the “major” category. The council included a December 31 sunset date and promised to review the ordinance’s effectiveness before then. The council then passed the ordinance after an hour and a half of discussion. “We created a camel,” quipped Matusewicz.

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