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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014 7 years ago

Circle sees new events regulations

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

After another lengthy discussion Monday in a process that has splintered the St. Armands Residents Association and pitted St. Armands Circle stakeholders against city staff, it seemed the Sarasota City Commission was again prepared to defer a decision on how to manage events in St. Armands Circle Park.

Before a vote was taken, however, Vice Mayor Susan Chapman highlighted the potential downside of continuing to delay a process that began more than year ago.

“Each time we have continued this, we’ve caused more conflict in the community,” Chapman said.

“Instead of everybody working together, now we have two different neighborhood associations. Now we have people who worked together well for a number of years at each other’s throats — they’re all lawyering up.”

The rest of the commission agreed, unanimously passing a special events ordinance that includes specific regulations for events held at St. Armands Circle Park. The decision was a relief for some stakeholders, but opponents to the ordinance who had stepped forward in recent months saw their concerns largely go unacknowledged.

One of the most contentious elements of the ordinance was a moratorium on events in the park during peak tourist season. A moratorium had been observed from Feb. 1 through April 15 or Easter, whichever came later, through 2009.

Last year, stakeholders began fighting for the blackout period to return — and eventually, for it to be lengthened.

Bill Kinney is the director of Paragon Art Festivals, which organizes the St. Armands Fine Art Festival. He felt his event, held in late April and not approved by the Circle Association, was being singled out, and fought attempts to install a longer blackout period in the events ordinance.

Mark Barnebey, a lawyer representing Paragon, cited a drop-off in area hotel prices following Easter as evidence the traditional moratorium was adequate.

The commission disagreed, stating the health of businesses in the commercial tourist district needed to be prioritized.

“It’s a retail environment we have to nurture and protect,” Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said.

The other opponent to the city proposal consisted of St. Armands residents. Citizens Organized to Protect St. Armands, a group composed partially of former leaders of the St. Armands Residents Association, formed to campaign for more resident oversight of the park.

The greatest burden from the special events, COPS member Ed Rosenblum said, fell on the residents. For that reason, he proposed a five-person citizen advisory committee to judge events on a case-by-case basis, made up mostly of residents but also a merchant and a city staff member.

Survey results the St. Armands Residents Association revealed verified Rosenblum’s claim that residents wanted a stake in what goes on at the park. Eighty-five percent of respondents said residents should have a say regarding events at the Circle, and 92% said the city should not solely decide which events are allowed.

“A citizens advisory committee would put it rightfully in control of residents,” Rosenblum said. “Residents should have the final say over what takes place in their own backyard.”

Although the commission declined to pursue that option, it unanimously agreed to create a short-term ad-hoc committee to develop standards that events held in the park should meet.

Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, believed the commission did a good job of incorporating the concerns of Circle stakeholders — and was happy to see the ongoing saga draw toward a conclusion.

“I was pleasantly surprised at the end of the night,” Corrigan said. “My faith was restored.”
Event Regulations

Here are some of the most significant new regulations impacting St. Armands Circle Park:

• A moratorium on events at St. Armands Circle Park from February through April;

• A limitation of two events per month outside of the “blackout period,” with an exception for three events in January and October;

• A 40-day window before an event permit can be issued following the notification of St. Armands residents.

City Attorney Robert Fournier broke down the interested parties involved in the St. Armands Circle Park events conversation into four groups Monday, detailing their main concerns. The following are those groups, what they wanted and what the city ultimately approved:

Circle merchants and landlords
Represented by the St. Armands Circle Association and St. Armands Business Improvement District

What they wanted: Above all, a return to the status quo. Before 2009, an informal agreement with the city allowed the St. Armands Residents, Landowners and Merchants group to weigh in before the city granted an event permit. In addition, they advocated for a moratorium on events from February through April, a limit on the number of events allowed per month and special consideration given to events previously held at the park.

What they got: Everything except the delegation of power to the Landowners, Merchants and Residents

The St. Armands Residents Association
What they wanted: A say in what events were held in the park and a limit on street closures.

What they got: Additional time to respond to permit requests before a permit is issued, a restriction on closing any part of the Circle to traffic and an ad-hoc committee to establish guidelines for the quality of events in the park.

Citizens Organized to Protect St. Armands
What they wanted: Citizen oversight regarding events held in the park.

What they got: The ad-hoc committee

Bill Kinney, director of Paragon Art Festivals
What he wanted: The traditional definition of the events moratorium — February through April 15 or Easter, whichever came later — to be upheld.

What he got: Nothing.

December: The Sarasota City Commission approves a moratorium on events at St. Armands Circle Park in 2014 from February through April 20. Circle stakeholders had voiced concerns about the congestion and competition caused by the events.

March: Circle residents ask the commission to extend the events moratorium through the end of April, arguing that traffic continues to be an issue until the end of the month. City Attorney Robert Fournier says he believes the request is targeting late April’s St. Armands Fine Art Festival.

June: The city presents a draft of the special events ordinance. Residents offer support for the proposal, but other Circle stakeholders are less pleased, asking for more consideration for historic events.

July: At a public hearing, the commission signals its willingness to acquiesce to major requests from stakeholders in attendance, including a longer seasonal moratorium.

August: Bill Kinney, director of St. Armands Fine Art Festival organizer Paragon Art Festivals, submits documents challenging the proposed ordinance to Fournier.

September: Citizens Organized to Protect St. Armands, a group composed partially of former leaders of the St. Armands Residents Association, calls for more resident oversight of the Circle.

Oct. 20: The commission approves the proposed ordinance and requests the creation of an ad-hoc committee to work on establishing standards for events at the park.


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