Committee discusses ‘major event’ ordinance

Bikes, Blues & BBQ closes Dickson Street and other public areas to vehicular traffic each year for the annual motorcycle rally.

File photo

It will be at least another month before any specific changes are made to a proposal that would alter the way Fayetteville approves large events and festivals.

An ordinance proposed in mid-February would change the approval process for event applications that request closure of city streets or parking lots in the Entertainment District for more than two days. Currently, festival applications are approved in-house by city staff and the mayor. The new ordinance sought to instead require approval from the full City Council each year that a festival organizer wishes to host an event.

Aldermen first discussed the issue at the March 1 City Council meeting, but after some back and forth over potential amendments, the group agreed to send the proposal to the council’s Ordinance Review Committee for fine tuning.

Officials with Bikes, Blues & BBQ, one of the only recent events that would’ve been affected by the new rule, requested that a decision be made quickly so organizers could move forward with plans for this year’s motorcycle rally.

The committee met Thursday, but made no decision after hearing from city staff members who said the application for the 2016 rally was already signed and approved.

With no urgency at hand, committee members agreed to hold off on making a recommendation to the full council for now.

The idea was first brought forward by Cary Arsaga, owner of several Arsaga’s restaurants in Fayetteville, including The Depot location at the corner of Dickson Street and West Avenue. Arsaga in January presented a petition to City Council members with roughly 800 signatures of residents in favor of adopting the new policy.

Arsaga told aldermen some local businesses are negatively impacted by multi-day festivals that close public property.

“After being in business for over 25 years in Fayetteville, I know there is a major misunderstanding in the public and also with city officials on how major events affect the city,” Arsaga said. “It is a common belief that…it helps all the businesses. That is not the case.”

He said there should be a public forum, such as a City Council meeting, when considering those types of events so that small business owners could voice their concerns.

Several committee members said Thursday the current proposal is not the best way to alter the approval process.

Alderman Matthew Petty called it a flawed, “catch-all” approach to solving some specific problems that exist with several events.

“Those problems mostly have to do with a lack of notification and a lack of input,” said Petty, who lives in downtown Fayetteville.

Petty said his car was recently blocked in at his residence because of a bicycle race that he hadn’t been notified about.

He said if the group were to step back from the specifics of the current proposal and instead make some more general changes to the way all events are approved, the process could be more inclusive.

He mentioned a few ideas, such as specific notification requirements, a seven-day public comment period before events are approved, or allowing City Council members to appeal a festival permit if a certain threshold was met.

Alderman Justin Tennant, chair of the committee, said his biggest issue with the current proposal is that it would be in direct conflict with the wishes of the Dickson Street Merchants Association who recently voted to oppose the ordinance because of the potential danger it poses to Bikes, Blues & BBQ.

“But the one piece of this I don’t have a problem with is creating some sort of public input session,” Tennant said.

Peter Nierengarten, the city’s sustainability director, said his department is experimenting with several tweaks to the way it handles event applications, including an informal process that requires certain event organizers to acquire written consent from some business owners that would be affected by festivals that require street closures.

Alderwoman Sarah Marsh, who sponsored the original ordinance, said she was open to changes to her proposal.

“The primary intent is to give an opportunity for citizens to weigh in,” she said. “I hope that we keep in mind that the current system where the mayor approves events is not satisfactory to a large number of citizens.”

The group agreed to meet again in the next couple of months to continue the discussion.