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Sarasota Tuesday, Mar. 18, 2014 7 years ago

City attorney warns against St. Armands event ban

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

St. Armands Circle residents asked the Sarasota City Commission to consider extending a ban on special events on the Circle at a meeting Monday, but the city attorney cautioned commissioners about the legality of — and the motive behind — lengthening that moratorium.

The item was placed on the agenda at the request of Mayor Shannon Snyder, who said he wanted to consider extending the moratorium on events at St. Armands Circle Park through the end of the month after speaking with people on the Circle. Snyder said the extra traffic created by special events was a public safety concern. He questioned whether the benefits of an event in a busy area — specifically, the St. Armands Fine Art Festival, scheduled for April 26-27 — outweighed the negatives.

“If there's a fire out there, an ambulance needs to get out to Longboat Key, there could be a problem,” Snyder said.

The moratorium was originally approved for Feb. 1 through April 20 of this year, passed by the city commission after landowners, merchants and residents expressed concern regarding nearby special events. Circle stakeholders said that the events cause added traffic congestion and compete with local businesses during the busiest part of the year.

A group of St. Armands residents attended Monday’s commission meeting, with St. Armands Residents Association Vice President Ed Rosenblum speaking in favor of the moratorium on their behalf. Rosenblum said the city, in approving the original events ban, incorrectly defined the peak tourist season; the Florida Department of Transportation lists April 28 as the end of the peak traffic season.

Rosenblum agreed with Snyder regarding the potential safety issues created by the high-traffic event.

“Your primary duty as a governing body is the public health safety welfare and morals, not commercial interests,” Rosenblum said. “On any scale where you place commercial interests against that primary duty, there’s no contest.”

City Attorney Robert Fournier strongly came out against the idea of extending the moratorium this year. He said he believed the landowners, merchants and residents on St. Armands Circle were specifically targeting next month’s art festival, since they asked the city to deny the permit for the event last summer. He told commissioners not to buy into the idea that this request was not specifically designed to prevent the St. Armands Fine Art Festival from taking place.

“I just think it’s a very bad idea, from a legal standpoint, for you to entertain extending this moratorium period where this one event is the specific target,” Fournier said.

From a legal standpoint, Fournier said, there was no basis to deny the organizers of the event the right to hold the art festival. Multiple art festivals have been approved for St. Armands Circle Park over the past three years, he said.

Although multiple commissioners expressed some interest in extending the moratorium, the commission took no action at Monday’s meeting. Fournier said that, for next year, the city’s special events ordinance could be revised to incorporate similar restrictions on St. Armands Circle Park events.

Rosenblum said he was disappointed in the city attorney’s comments, and said the residents were not specifically targeting any event.

“The issue tonight is not about our special events privileges,” Rosenblum said. “The issue tonight has to do with public health, safety and welfare.”

For more information about the commission's discussion regarding the St. Armands Circle Park event moratorium, pick up a copy of Thursday's Sarasota Observer.

Contact David Conway at [email protected].

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