ST. GEORGE – The St. George City Council gave verbal approval for city staff to go ahead with proposed changes to the city’s special event permitting process during a council meeting Thursday.
The potential changes are being made in the wake of a controversy triggered in October when police shut down the dance portion of a Halloween party due to alleged permit violations. While city officials believe streamlining the process for permit applicants will help avoid such incidents in the future, others think they’re missing the point.
“I just want you guys to know that your special event permit process is awesome, it’s easy,” Jared Keddington, an event promoter for The Heart of Dixie, told the City Council. “I’ve been doing this for 12 years. This is not about a special event permit process. This is about the City of St. George not allowing dances and dance parties to happen, and it’s been notorious for that.”
Road to review
In October, The Heart of Dixie organized and promoted the Monster Mash Halloween party, which was held at Fiesta Fun Center in St. George on Oct. 24. Organizers advertised unlimited access to activities at the fun center as well as a dance. The event itself was estimated to attract hundreds of attendees.
City staff learned about the event days before it was to take place and contacted Keddington. The city expedited the permit application review process and approved the majority of the Monster Mash activities – all except the dancing. Generally, the city requires applicants to submit event permits 30 days before an event is to happen. Additionally, organizers of the events have to come before the City Council for approval.
As city staff didn’t believe they had sufficient time to review the multiple impacts a heavily attended dance could have in the area – and the City Council didn’t meet that week – the dance portion of the party was denied.
Due to violations Keddington allegedly committed relating to the permit, the police appeared and blocked any potential dancing at the event. The controversy sparked by the incident has led to the city reviewing its permit ordinance.
“That particular event that happened in October probably would have been reviewed and approved if we had a little more time, dance or not,” Mayor Jon Pike said.
City Manager Gary Esplin said city staff reviewed the special event permit ordinances of several Utah cities, as well as cities in Arizona and Nevada.
“What we found was St. George was probably one of the easiest places to get a permit,” Esplin said.
Most of the cities reviewed required permits to be submitted 45 days or more in advance, yet none require approval by a city council.
Over the past year, Esplin said, the city has approved 214 special events, including five dances.
Keddington was dubious concerning the nature of those dances.
“Church dances, school dances maybe,” he said after the meeting.
Among potential changes the council members expressed interest in was removing the need for the council to review permit applications.
“l like the fact we wouldn’t have to see every one of those (applications),” Councilman Jimmie Hughes said.
Another potential change, based on Park City’s permit ordinance, would allow the promoters of annual events to submit an application just one time. If the first event goes off without any issues, there would be no need for organizers to resubmit an application the following year, as the city would already know what to expect.
Councilman Joe Bowcutt said he liked the idea, but he also wants to make sure the city maintains an easy permit process for applicants.
“We want it to be a smooth process for the person who is making the request, not just for the city,” Bowcutt said. “So let’s make sure we don’t end up with a 15-page form.”
An option of combining elements of the permitting processes employed by Park City and Prescott, Arizona, received the most support from the council, and verbal approval was given for city staff to move ahead and make changes that are anticipated to streamline the process overall.
Esplin said the staff would get to work and possibly have a proposed amendment to the city’s permitting ordinance ready for review in early January.
“If the public have comments, feel free to submit them those to (the City Council) or city staff,” Pike said.
Missing the mark?
Not everyone is convinced the city’s alleged anti-dance attitude will be resolved by tweaking the permit process.
“I don’t think they are addressing the issue at all,” Keddington said after the meeting. “They are trying to make it about the permit process and it never was about the permit process; it’s whether or not they allow dances and dancing to happen.”
While school dances may get approved, he said, the city tends to find ways to make dancing an issue when a private promoter comes in and wants to hold a dance. One issue promoters face is city policy that requires certain events to wrap up by 11 p.m. or earlier.
“I don’t know a college kid in the world that wants to go to an event that starts at 10 and ends at 11,” Keddington told the council. “We’re looking to put up some good, clean fun in the community, and we’re met with roadblock after roadblock.”
Other dance event promoters and their supporters have also expressed frustrations in the past about perceived restrictive and even hostile anti-dance ordinances and policies on the part of the City of St. George. City officials continue attesting that the real issue has never been about dancing but public safety. They are also hoping the issue will be resolved as the permitting process is revamped.
- Protesters fight for their right to dance; STGnews Videocast
- Saturday Night Live, satirists poke fun at city over dancing policy
- Crashed Monster Mash dance: Promoter decries, city stands by permit process
- Dancing at Monster Mash party stopped by police over disputed event permit
- On the EDge: Let those young people dance
- What’s in a ‘rave’? City shuts down teenage dance party for Facebook posts
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