Scene from Alive on 25 event July 5, 2018. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Sweeping changes to Riverhead’s special events code are on the Town Board’s agenda once again at its regular meeting tomorrow evening.

The proposed revisions had a public hearing at the board’s last regular meeting Sept. 6. The revisions would generally roll back many of the procedural requirements adopted in 2018 and 2019 that were made after various town departments brought complaints about the existing code to the Town Board.

“Finally,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said during the public hearing, after Town Attorney Erik Howard read a summary of the new set of changes. “Jeez. This has been how many years?” Aguiar asked.

“Too long,” Council Member Bob Kern replied.

“This is all a result of the former Town Board combining public events with private events, and being confused and confusing the issue,” Kern said.

In fact, the 2018 revamp of the special events code came after town staff from different departments involved in processing special event permits — including the police department, the town clerk’s office, town attorney’s office and fire marshal’s office — asked for code revisions to address what they said were unreasonably short deadlines that didn’t allow staff enough time to review them. Staff members complained about being inundated with special event permits every year, with too many of them filed at the last minute. The fire marshal and police chief said they lacked sufficient time to ensure public safety.

The revision adopted in December 2018 changed the rules to establish much earlier deadlines for permit applications, increase application fees and impose late fees for applications that didn’t meet the deadlines. The new rules did not provide for any transition period in the first year, so it was impossible for some regular annual events to meet their new application deadlines — as long as nine months for events that draw more than 2,500 people — and others were faced with immediate filing deadlines as soon as the rules took effect. Late filing came with a stiff penalty: $20 per day for every day after the filing deadline.

Organizations and event promoters protested the 2018 code revisions, especially the length of the new application deadlines. In response, the Town Board in spring 2019 adopted amendments to the new rules, to provide a three-month “amnesty” period, as well as an amnesty on hefty late filing fees. In December 2019, the board adopted additional revisions to relax some paperwork requirements, further ease deadlines for filing applications and reduce the filing fee for certain event permit applications.

But those rollbacks didn’t go far enough, according to Kern. Kern was opposed to the 2018 and 2019 amendments. As chairperson of the Town Board’s business advisory committee, he advocated for changes to make them less burdensome on event organizers.

The business advisory committee proposed additional changes in 2021, which were the subject of a public hearing in April 2022, after Kern was on the Town Board and changed roles from chairperson of the committee to Town Board liaison to the committee by Aguiar.

At the April 2022 public hearing, it came to light that the draft had not been sent to the Riverhead Fire Marshal for review, and, after Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller raised concerns about the shortened lead-times for applications, the Town Board decided the draft needed more work.

Town Clerk employee Carol Del Vecchio, Town. Attorney Erik Howard, and Business Advisory Committee Monique Parsons at the June 1 Town Board work session. Photo: Alek Lewis

A new draft was presented to the Town Board at its June 1 work session by the town attorney, Business Advisory Committee member Monique Parsons, and Carol Del Vecchio of the town clerk’s office. Last month, the board set the Sept. 6 hearing date.

The changes about to be adopted now largely track the recommendations presented June 1.

The changes will shorten the lead time for most special event permit applications, eliminate the requirement of filing a short Environmental Assessment form unless required by the planning department, and generally pare back the amount of information the applicant would have to provide to the town in the application.

MORE COVERAGE: Town code revision would slash requirements, environmental review for special event applications (June 15, 2023)

“This is much more in line — even though it’s a little bit more onerous — with other towns. And it’s great for economic development,” Kern said during the Sept. 6 public hearing.

During the public hearing, Angela DeVito of South Jamesport criticized some of the changes, specifically questioning why some requirements were eliminated in the code and left to inclusion in a public safety plan about which the proposed code is silent concerning the items being eliminated.

“The language here is not clear,” DeVito said. Anyone looking at the code should be able to understand its requirements from what it says, DeVito said, “and have to go other places to find things that provide them with information to understand what’s here.”

DeVito questioned the addition of “to the extent practical” to code provisions requiring events to be handicapped accessible. “I’m not sure if this language is in line with ADA requirements or not,” she said, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

DeVito also inquired about the statement of “purpose and intent” added to the code, which says the special events code’s purpose is to support the town’s goal of supporting economic development and cultural tourism in the town. She asked Kern, who stated during the hearing that events are “great for economic development,” what data the town has to back that up.

“I would be happy to give you some data, and I would be happy to to give you the people that shared the data. One would be the drag the drag strip,” Kern said, referring to the “Race Track, Not Street” series of drag racing events held on one of the runways in Calverton. “All the businesses, pizza places delis et cetera sell out. You need only to speak to the hotels,” Kern said.

DeVito, who is currently the Democratic candidate for town supervisor, was the only speaker at the public hearing.

Town Attorney Erik Howard reviews the draft revisions of the special events code at the start of the Sept. 6 public hearing. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Greater Jamesport Civic Association submitted a letter in opposition to some of the changes, which they said would “place the prospective event attendees and the surrounding community at increased safety risk.”

“The proposal seeks to shorten the review process for a special permit, defines a “special event” as an occurrence that lasts up to two months, and it dilutes the Town’s responsibility for oversight and approval from ‘shall’ to ‘may’… A Town Code should be clear as to conditions, not encourage ignoring standards,” the letter states.

The civic group also voiced its opposition to certain other changes, among them: elimination of the requirement for a site plan to be submitted with an application, elimination of the crowd density limit of 300 persons per acre, elimination of a statement of the purpose of the event and the nature of the activities to be carried out, and elimination of the requirement of a minimum number of parking spaces based on expected attendance at an event.

The unsigned letter was sent in the name of the civic association’s executive board.

The Town Board did not make any changes to the code on its agenda for adoption Tuesday in response to the comments made during the public hearing or the written comments from the civic association.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.