Council takes second run at events bylaw
On the surface, it seemed a simple thing to do. Yet drafting a special events bylaw governing what landowners can and cannot do with their property has cast Shire Hall onto the shoals of public discontent. It remains unclear whether they will ever pry loose from its grip.
It began with a weeklong bluegrass camp in Milford. Two years ago, Alyssa Hawkins and Jesse Parker prepared to host some friends, musical colleagues and bluegrass players to their sprawling eight-acre home in Milford. They live in the former elementary school and rent renovated classrooms as guest suites.
Parker visited each of their neighbours to advise them of their plans. None voiced any objection. Yet one of the neighbours complained to the County—fearful of how music and campers might disrupt their quiet enjoyment of a week in July.
Zoning regulations governing the uses of Parker and Hawkins’s property didn’t permit such an event, so they made their pitch to council for an exemption. Council agreed it was a worthwhile project and would likely cause minimal disruption to neighbours. They granted a oneyear exemption. It was a short-term fix.
But council figured it needed a more formal policy to regulate such events, and directed its staff to prepare a draft. They had little inkling then, of the minefield they were asking staff to lead them through.
What constitutes an event? How many people? What does it entail? What is a big event versus a small one? How to define special? Time? Nature of activities? When does special become habitual?
The first draft prepared by the County’s planning staff was a thick and heavy document seeking to regulate a wide range of activities on private property. It was met with swift and harsh rejection primarily, but not exclusively, from those businesses that have created, developed and built the agritourism and creative rural economy in Prince Edward County.
As drafted, the bylaw suggested that simply presenting a classical guitarist on a winery patio would incur onerous new fees, paperwork and restrictions.
Council quickly dispatched that draft to the dustbin. But it still had a problem.
Parker and Hawkins were looking to host the bluegrass camp again. Council granted another exemption.
Last week, Shire Hall staff tabled a second draft. This one seeks to clearly distinguish between big and small events. It would provide clarity in the zoning regulations to support “appropriately scaled” events while directing medium-sized and larger events toward a temporary rezoning process.
While it leaves many distinguishing factors undefined, many council members welcomed the notion that the scale of event planned should determine the weight of regulations a landowner would be required to naviga
But others figure council should abandon efforts to regulate such events—other than on an ad hoc basis, by way of an exemption like that granted to Parker and Hawkins.
“The number of complaints we receive don’t warrant priorizing this bylaw,” said Hallowell councillor Gord Fox. “We have other pressing issues.”
Councillor Kevin Gale agreed, adding that the County has plenty of bylaws that aren’t currently enforced. He pointed to trash, furniture and appliances abandoned along County roads.
“I don’t want to create new bylaws until we enforce the ones we have on the books,” said Gale.
But Works chief Robert McAuley countered that the absence of a bylaw would lead to greater demands on enforcement staff, not less. He suggested that a complaint of any event, small or otherwise, currently compels a response from bylaw enforcement officials.
“I see this as freeing resources,” said McAuley. “[This bylaw] permits landowners to host small events based on certain restrictions and guidelines. I see this as getting out of the way of the creative rural economy.”
That explanation won over councillors who may have been wavering.
Picton councillor Treat Hull forecast a blizzard of complaints blowing through the County bylaw enforcement.
“I’m happy to see a tiered approach,” said Hull. “The last kick at the can was seen as limiting property rights, this draft expands rights.”
Athol councillor Jamie Forrester remained wary.
“I want some restrictions so that neighbours may enjoy their life,” said Forrester.
Eventually a majority of council—even those originally suggesting council do nothing—supported the plan to send this draft back for further refinement and public consultation.
When asked about a likely timeline, McAuley predicted a couple of months.
It seems the Bluegrass Camp will need another exemption in 2017.