A bill before the Anne Arundel County Council that would require special event sponsors to obtain certain permits to verify their events have adequate public safety resources received pushback at Monday night’s meeting from event promoters who argued the bill was vague and unnecessary.
The bill, sponsored by Council Chair Pete Smith, a Severn Democrat, on behalf of County Executive Steuart Pittman, would create a process for special event organizers to follow as they develop safety and welfare plans for their events. The bill would require event organizers to obtain a new special event permit and consolidate other permitting requirements already on the books. It also lays out requirements such as having enough bathrooms, refreshments and trash cans and recycling bins for each event.
While representatives from the fire department, police department and emergency management office said they’ve rarely seen a major emergency occur at a special event in the county, the goal of the bill is to be proactive and prevent a problem before it happens, said Office of Emergency Management Director Preeti Emrick. The bill took one-and-a-half to two years to develop, she added.
“One only had to look at recent events involving vehicle rammings, shootings, excessive capacities, etc., to understand it is not if but for when [emergencies] happen,” Emrick said.
Without providing specfic examples, Pittman’s chief strategy officer, Pete Baron, explained that public safety personnel have had to scramble to address issues in the past.
“The county currently does not have a process in place to address public safety and resource needs of special events. This has resulted in instances where events have had inadequate crowd control, sanitation facilities, security, traffic management or first aid coverage,” Baron said.
Smith said he’d received emails from residents who may be affected by the bill complaining there weren’t enough opportunities for members of the public to share their input as the legislation was developed.
While drafts of the bill were shared with stakeholders in early 2022, according to Baron, and the Office of Emergency Management has met with event promoters, more than a dozen residents affiliated with county events came to testify against the bill. Many said they felt the language of the legislation was too open-ended and allowed for too much interpretation by county staff.
Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds Vice President Martin Hardy explained that the lack of specificity in the legislation could adversely impact the fair’s prospects.
“The main source of funding for the fair comes from the rentals that we’re able to put on, so our concerns around the bill as it stands today are the vague wordings around things such an inadequate toilet facilities, inadequate refreshments,” Hardy said. “Those things are raising concerns with our renters and they’re not quite sure if they’re going to be returning next year if this bill passes because they can’t really forecast what it’s going to take to rectify inadequate toilet facilities, for instance.”
Managers of the state’s beloved Renaissance Festival, held in Crownsville, said they felt they should be exempt from this bill as they’ve proven for decades that they can safely host their event. The festival employs 1,300 people annually and has been located in Anne Arundel since 1985, said Jules Smith, co-owner of the Maryland Renaissance Festival.
“We already work closely with fire, police, public works, health and any other department or agency that approaches us,” Smith said, adding that a burden of this bill is it allows the county to choose to deny the permit or cancel the event if they see fit, which would be problematic for those whose income depends on the festival.
One of those festival workers is Susangrace DuBose, an Annapolis resident and public-school teacher.
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“It would not be an exaggeration to say that my incredible life in Annapolis is because I own a business at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Rapunzel’s Hair Braiding hires and trains local peoples from all walks of life,” DuBose said. “The money that these people make at the festival is what helps them support their lives in the great state of Maryland.”
The council voted on amendments aimed at clarifying the bill’s language and alleviating the burden on event hosts. One amendment, sponsored by Smith, would waive the $50 special event permit application fee.
Democrats Allison Pickard, from Glen Burnie, Julie Hummer, from Laurel, and Lisa Rodvien, from Annapolis, said $50 seemed like a small fee for large event organizers and voted against the amendment. However, Smith and Republican Nathan Volke, from Pasadena, said that, since the legislation still considers gatherings of more than 50 people to be special events, they thought it could be taxing.
Smith, Volke and Republicans Amanda Fiedler, from Arnold, and Shannon Leadbetter, from Crofton, voted to waive the fee and the amendment was adopted.
The bill will be heard at the council’s next meeting April 3 and members are likely to continue drafting amendments to address the concerns of event hosts.
“We have two very important interests that we need to balance, and one is the public safety,” Rodvien said. “On the other side, we also have a very important interest in making sure that event holders who invest a lot of time and money into their facilities, into their events, can also go forward and not feel like they are on edge.”
Another bill aimed at making it easier for residents to build accessory dwelling units on their properties was amended for the third consecutive meeting and will be heard again, and likely voted on, at the April 3 meeting.