Riverhead Town’s special event regulations and permit requirements would be significantly diluted if proposals made by the Riverhead Business Advisory Committee are approved by the Town Board.
The proposal would eliminate or substantially modify code requirements that have been in place for 20 years as well as roll back others adopted in 2018 on the recommendation of a working group of town employees involved in the permitting process and public safety.
Council Member Bob Kern and a subcommittee formed to address special event rules, have been working for the last two years on code revisions to ease special event application requirements and regulations.
Kern and subcommittee member Monique Parsons, who works in event planning and promotion, presented their latest version of a proposed rewrite to the Town Board at a work session this month. Subcommittee member Dean Del Prete, who also produces and promotes special events and festivals, was not present at the work session but has worked with Kern and Parsons on the proposed code changes.
The most recent revision has been in the works for years, Kern said. The Town Board held a public hearing on a similar proposed revision in April 2022, but decided it needed more work before it could be adopted.
“The changes are simple,” Kern said at the June 1 work session. “This has been changed once before. It’s now a new application graphically, a lot simpler for people to navigate, which will also translate really well when we [put applications] online.”
The changes are much more than a matter of presentation. The committee’s proposal includes shortening the lead time for most special event permit applications, eliminating the Short Environmental Assessment Form as a requirement of the application, and paring back the amount of information the applicant would have to provide to the town in the application.
The proposed changes would also eliminate requirements for:
- a drawn-to-scale drawing showing the property where the event will be held and the locations of proposed stage, tents, exhibition areas, vendor areas, spectator seating areas, fire extinguishers and temporary utilities;
- a parking are plan showing means of ingress and egress as well as a minimum number of one parking space for every four people expected to attend, and compliance with the fire marshal’s setback guidelines;
- a copy of the State Liquor Authority permit(s) for the sale of alcoholic beverages at the event;
- the name, address and phone number of people who will sell alcoholic beverages at the event;
- a plan for the use of live music, loudspeakers, showing type and location of speakers and other audio equipment;
- a description of fire protection and a map specifying the location fire lanes and water supply for fire control, subject to the approval of the Riverhead Fire Marshal and fire a description of fire protection and a map specifying the location fire lanes and water supply for fire control, subject to the approval of the Riverhead Fire Marshal and fire department chief;
- a communications plan for command and control of all routine and emergency activities related to the event subject to the approval of the chief of police and the Riverhead Fire Marshal;
- information about animals and animal handling at special events, including the handling, storage and disposal of animal wastes;
- information about the nature of the event and activities to be carried on at the event, the admission fee, if any, to be charged, and the name of the group, organization, charity or individuals to benefit from the proceeds of the event;
- a nonrefundable administration fee for any application not accompanied by a certificate of public liability insurance.
Kern, who was chairperson of the Business Advisory Committee before he took office on the Town Board in 2022, has a background in marketing and promotion as the owner of a marketing consulting firm and the former general manager of Martha Clara Vineyards. The current special events code makes Riverhead unattractive to event promoters and potential vendors, Kern said in an interview. He said the proposed revisions were based on an analysis of the special event codes of other towns on Long Island, which he said are less complicated than Riverhead’s codes.
Riverhead’s current special events code dates back to 2003 and was amended in December 2018 to establish longer lead times for special events, after town staff said the previous permit application deadlines did not leave adequate time for review. Various town departments are responsible for reviewing different aspects of special event permit applications prior to town board approval of the permit application, including the town clerk, town attorney and fire marshal’s offices and the police department. The application lead times were shortened by a 2019 amendment in response to complaints by event organizers and promoters.
Lead Time for Special Events
Small Gathering (1,000 or less attendees expected) Large Gathering (1,001-4,000 attendees expected) Massive Gathering (4,001 or more attendees expected) 2023 Proposal 60 days 90 days 180 days 2022 Proposal 45 days 60 days 90 days 2019 Adopted (current) 90 days 120 days 180 days 2018 Adopted* 90 180 days 270 days
Members of the business community and others involved in event planning and production in Riverhead criticized the 2018 revision, especially the requirement that the largest events submit applications 270 days in advance of the event date. The code was changed in 2019 to shorten the lead times adopted in 2018. Kern and the Business Advisory Committee say the lead times are still too long.
The 2022 proposal would have shortened the lead times by half of what was adopted in 2019, but that proposal was pulled after it received backlash at a public hearing. Town Board said the police chief had problems with the code and the fire marshal had not weighed in on its development.
Kern said the Town Board expects to set a public hearing on the changes to the law at its next regular meeting, but other town officials said the code will likely be revised before a hearing is scheduled. No hearing has so far been set. A resolution setting a hearing on the proposal was not in the resolution packet for the June 21 Town Board meeting that was released yesterday.
Both the fire marshal’s and police chief’s concerns are addressed in the latest draft of the code, Kern said during the work session. Application lead time was a big issue for both departments during the working group meetings with the Town Board in 2018 and 2019. At the June 1 work session, when Council Member Frank Beyrodt asked the police chief whether the proposed lead times were adequate for review of the applications, Police Chief David Hegermiller responded with an unenthusiastic, “I guess.”
Neither Hegermiller nor Fire Marshal Craig Zitek returned calls seeking comment for this article.
The current proposal also removes the Town Board’s ability to set a maximum number of persons allowed at any given event, limiting the town’s power to revoke or deny a permit based on the number of people attending an event.
The current proposal would also eliminate the requirement of an “environmental impact study” — a misnomer that’s has always been interpreted to refer to the environmental assessment form required by state environmental law to classify an action. The EAF identifies potential adverse environmental impacts and helps an agency determine the depth of review required to make sure adverse impacts are mitigated. In most cases the applicant is required to fill out a short-form EAF, which asks for basic information about the proposed action — in this case the special event — including its location, if it would result in a “substantial increase in traffic,” or if it is to be held in an environmentally sensitive area.
The EAF is the first step in the review process under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), a review required for any discretionary act such as a permit approval, unless the act comes within a state or local statutory exemption.
Kern said in an interview that event promoters haven’t been submitting the environmental assessment form with their applications. “It was just too confusing,” he said. The town’s planning department recommended the requirement be taken out of the application, he said.
“If there’s something that would require it, then somebody would have to fill it out,” Kern said of the environmental assessment form. There is nothing in the proposed revised code that would legally empower the town to ask for the EAF, however.
Community Development Director Dawn Thomas, who is currently serving as interim head of the planning department, said in an interview a “large portion” of special events are classified as Type II actions under SEQRA. Type II actions are not subject to further review. She said they are classified as Type II based on the Section 617.5(c)(21) of the SEQRA regulations. That section of the regulations says “minor temporary uses of land having negligible or no permanent impact on the environment” are Type II actions.
Once an action is classified as Type II, “There are no procedural requirements of any kind,” according to a handbook on SEQRA published by the State Department of Environmental Conservation. “No environmental assessments or determinations of significance are required,” the handbook says.
“However, a prudent agency should maintain, in its own files, a brief record showing that the proposed action had been considered under SEQR and had met the requirements for a Type II action.”
The SEQRA regulations allow a municipality to adopt its own list of Type II actions. Riverhead Town Code Chapter 225 “Environmental Quality Review” identifies actions the town deems to be Type II. In addition to the actions listed in Section 617.5 of the regulations, the town code deems most minor land subdivisions (four lots or less), transfers of property, and transfers of development rights as Type II actions.
Larger special events would require further review by the town, Thomas said.
Town Board resolutions approving special event applications would include an explanation of the action’s classification under SEQRA, Thomas said.
“But for the most part, I think the smaller events would be the Type II events and then anything bigger, maybe like drag racing, for instance, that’s a little bit of a bigger event, maybe we would have them prepare short form on that one based on the application that comes through and then that that short form will be evaluated to determine whether additional reviews required any other type of study.”
The revision most recently presented to the board does not propose giving any authority to town officials to request the applicant complete additional environmental review. Thomas said the code “ought to say something about it” and said she will look at the proposed revision.
The proposed revision also deletes consideration of an “environmental impact study” from the list of things the Town Board may consider when deciding whether to approve or deny an special event permit application.
Jeffrey Seeman, a certified environmental professional who has worked as an environmental analyst for Riverhead Town reviewing proposed developments as well as town-sponsored projects such as the subdivision of land at the Calverton Enterprise Park, said in an interview that the environmental assessment form is required. The EAF is necessary for the town to make a fair determination classifying the action under SEQRA, Seeman said.
The documentation also helps shield a municipality from liability if its action is challenged in court, he said.
“The paper trail is critical,” Seeman said. “The form is already there. You have to make the determination anyway, right? And you’re asking somebody to check boxes on a two-page printed form,” Seeman said.
Kern said many of the current code’s requirements that are proposed to be eliminated are already in the application and don’t need to be spelled out in the code.
Town Attorney Erik Howard disagreed. “If you’re going to require something in the application, it should be in the code, if you need to enforce it in any meaningful way later on,” Howard said.
Howard said he is reviewing the proposed revision and it will be amended before it goes to public hearing, including to reflect recommendations from the fire marshal’s office made after the June 1 work session.
Howard said he is also in the process of reviewing a copy of an application created by the town clerk’s office using the new law. In addition to not including an environmental assessment form, the draft of the new application, obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request, does not include several affidavits contained in the current application. Carol Del Vecchio, the senior account clerk in the office who helped create the new application, wrote in response to the FOIL request that the application document provided was not in its final form.
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