Chadds Ford special events ordinance delayed

Chadds Ford Township supervisors Wednesday tabled a possible special events ordinance until “we get it right,” according to Supervisors’ Chairman Frank Murphy.

Ordinance 144 calls for a person or organization to apply for a permit to hold special events in the township and would establish requirements for planning events, exemptions and permit fees.

Murphy said supervisors have discussed the idea for several months because “some controls are deemed necessary.”

The board opened a hearing on the proposed ordinance during its July 27 workshop, but Murphy said he wasn’t ready to vote on it. He explained that they wanted to be neutral in balancing property rights and making sure to protect the health, welfare and safety of residents, but might have gone too far.

He cited the list of six exemptions to make his point. One of the exemptions is for religious services, and another exempts “an event that constitutes an approved use for the property at which it is hosted.”

(A draft of the ordinance can be found here.)

Murphy wants to delete the religious services exemption because they are a by-right use on religious property.

Supervisor Noelle Barbone agreed with Murphy, saying, “We need to get it right. An approved use is not a special event.”

The ordinance allows for up to 10 events for an organization, but board Vice Chairman Samantha Reiner said that’s too many because they could pose a problem for neighbors.

During public discussion, residents Maurice Todd and Alan Horowitz mentioned situations where an organization might hold an event that falls under the approved use exemption, but there might not be ample parking.

Horowitz suggested there could be an event at the Brandywine River Museum of Art that falls under the approved use category, but if there were 10,000 people coming in 8,000 cars, there would be a problem.

Todd followed up saying compatibility is needed between the event and the site. He also asked, rhetorically, why there were any exemptions at all, noting the ordinance exempts the township from its provisions. “Even the township should do the required planning,” he said.

Also as part of the public comment, Murphy read into the record a letter from Harvey Lane resident Eric Gartner. Gartner’s residence abuts the Calvary Chapel property.

In the letter, he asked the board to reconsider the “religious services” exemption and cited four reasons.

He said there is no legislative requirement to include this language, and “based on multiple complaints spanning five years by multiple township citizens that firmly establish ungoverned outdoor religious services such as outdoor revival events as a public nuisance.”

Gartner further said, “these same events have violated a legal agreement, existing ordinances, and laws designed to protect the health, safety, welfare, and quality of life of this township’s citizens.”

Citing the state’s Municipal Planning Code and statements he said were previously made by Murphy to residents of Harvey Lane, Harvey Road, and Carnation Drive, he said:

“[T]he decision to completely abrogate township responsibility to govern these events by providing a blanket exemption for religious special event services appears to be both contrary to and not within the ethical standards of good government,” according to Gartner’s letter.

Supervisors closed the hearing, and then authorized Township Manager Amanda Serock to re-advertise a hearing for a later date, after revisions are made to the ordinance. They currently anticipate the new hearing to be in September.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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