Parks Advisory Board Approves ABSEP

Okay by Parks Manager likely to follow; most testimony at hearing from
opponents

By Rory Seeber, Life on Capitol Hill, September 2010

By a 10-7 vote at its Aug. 12 meeting, the Parks & Recreation
Department’s Advisory Board voted to recommend to department manager
Kevin Patterson that he give final approval of the Admission-Based
Special Events Policy (ABSEP).

In February the board had approved the concept of admission-based
events in the city’s public parks, but wanted the policy itself
rewritten. Specifically, it desired clarification of four issues: the
impact of such events on the surrounding neighborhood(s), the impact
on the park itself, the size of events, and their duration and/or
frequency.

In March the ABSEP task force which had developed the draft policy
over more than two years of meetings was reconvened to consider those
issues. The draft approved by the Advisory Board was a result of that
meeting.

There has been strong community opposition to the policy, as
exemplified by the public comments taken at the board’s August
hearing. About 25 of the 30 people who made statements before the
board’s final vote were against approval of the policy, or against
holding such events anywhere but in a new park especially designed for
such events. Approximately 100 people packed the meeting room at the
Webb Building, 201 W. Colfax.

An overview of the final draft of the policy was presented to the
board by senior Parks & Rec advisor Chantal Unfug.

Key facets of the policy include:

An “Admission-Based Event” (ABE) is any event for which a private
entity has to obtain a permit from Parks & Rec and for which an
admission will be charged. The application period for such permits
will begin two weeks after the annual November permit request period
for free and non-profit events in the parks (although permits can be
requested up to 30 days before the date of an event after November).

ABEs can be held only in parks with designated “Festival,” “Event
Facility” and “Special Occasion” permit sites. Locally those parks
include City Park and Civic Center Park (both of which also allow the
sale of alcoholic beverages by permit).

An event can be no larger than 7,500 attendees in the largest
allowable park sites and can occupy no more than 20% of a contiguous
area in the park where it is held (or five acres, whichever is
smaller). Parks & Rec can designate specific ABE sites in parks which
allow them.

Unfug noted that the ABE sites that are being reviewed in the
affected parks are actually less than 5% of each park’s total area,
but she told LIFE that there were no plans to change the wording in
the policy to reflect that.

No ABE can be longer than four days, including set-up and tear-
down, and only one four-day event is allowed in any park per month.
There is a four-event monthly total limit per park. Five days must
separate one-day events, and 12 days must pass between any event of
two of more days and the next event.

So that nobody dominates the use of allowable sites for ABEs, “no
one party will be allowed to obtain more than one permit more
frequently than once every 12 days.”

To minimize impact on surrounding neighborhoods, depending on the
size and logistics of an event, Parks & Rec can require a variety
plans from permit holders, including details on traffic & parking,
site layout, crowd control, security, sanitation, alcohol use, and
community outreach, among other facets.

The city’s 10% “Seat Tax” must be paid as applicable. Although it
is not specifically delineated in the policy, Unfug said that half of
the collected seat tax would be allocated to the park where the event
is held and half will go to general maintenance of all the city-owned
parks. The permit fees will go to Parks & Rec’s General Fund.

Public objections to the policy have included: the lack of a vote
by the electorate, since some opponents feel such events are not
allowed by the City Charter, which can only by changed by such a vote;
noise; the possible negative affect on property values; privatization
& commercialization of the parks; and that public parks should at all
times be open & free to the public.

Eleven Registered Neighborhood Organizations, including Inter-
Neighborhood Cooperation (INC), an association of 80 RNOs, formally
opposed the policy as written.

Speaking at the August hearing as an individual and as a
representative of the Alamo Placita Neighborhood Association, Joe
Halpern suggested to the board that even though Parks & Rec manager
Patterson has apparently said he will give final approval to the
policy that they, “Please exercise your moral authority by voting
against this misguided, destructive policy.”

District 4 City Councilwoman Peggy Lehmann spoke in favor of the
policy, noting that historically City Park has hosted such admission-
charging events as horse-racing and use of its golf course. Sports
leagues are also charged for park usage.

At-Large Councilman Doug Linkhart spoke in opposition. Noting that
he did so because City Council has no say on the policy per se, he
said, in part, “Our parks are our best assets and I ask that you
protect them.”

Heather Drayer, a PrideFest representative and ABSEP Task Force
member, told the board that her event, traditionally held in Civic
Center, would “greatly benefit” from the policy.

Larry Ambrose, who also served on the task force and is the
president of the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association, said, “The
only time there was a (Task Force) vote taken on this issue was
whether or not we were in favor of admission-based events. I’m not
opposed to admission-based events, but I’m not in favor of (having
them) in our neighborhood parks. I’m in favor of admission-based
events in a (special) ‘festival park,’ which is direly needed in
Denver.”

As noted by Unfug in her staff report, the task force “voted to
move forward with the policy and reached consensus on core tenets of
the policy.” However, no formal yes/no vote was taken. At the special
March meeting of the task force it was suggested that a vote of
support or opposition for the then-proposed policy be taken, but a
vote was not allowed.

Kathleen Rust, president of the Cheesman Park Advocacy Group,
said, “It isn’t about the activities, it’s about what we value.”

Of the Advisory Board members who spoke in favor of the policy,
Richard Ott said, “If it doesn’t work out, the parks’ manager should
deal with it.”

“We have to see how it works,” he concluded.

Before the policy was passed it was amended to include a review
after a year’s time. Unfug told LIFE that the city attorney is
consulting on a way to include that in the policy.

Board member Paul Ryan said, “We are more or less formalizing a
policy that already exists.”

Of those members speaking in opposition, Jay April said, “I have
to think about my principles. My principles say that city parks should
be free.”

Member Paul Burton said in part, “It could open a Pandora’s Box.
There aren’t enough limitations.”

Advisory Board chairman Darrell Watson told LIFE, “The city
charter provides ‘supernatural’ powers to the Parks & Rec manager,
with little to no controls, transparency, and accountability. This
(proposed) change to park usage is extraordinary. Such an
extraordinary change should require increased input by City Council.”

Before voting against the policy, Watson spoke of his childhood,
saying in part, “I grew up the youngest of seven in the US Virgin
Islands. My family was so poor we were ‘po’. We couldn’t afford the
‘or’. Once a year my mother would take us…to St. John, one of our
sister islands. Seventy-five percent of the island is a national park.
We were able to take this ‘family vacation’ because the ferry ride as
well as access to the park were free. It was wonderful.

Parks are the great equalizer in our community, serving the
pockets of wealth as well as the pockets of poverty. This change in
parks’ policy (would) not meet the standard of overwhelming value to
community, (and) it could have an adverse impact on the most
vulnerable folks in our neighborhoods, who can least afford this
change.”

If Parks & Rec manager Kevin Patterson approves of the policy, his
department will move forward with internal permitting procedures for
admission-based events. Although the policy sets the language that
fees can be assessed, it will be up to City Council to set those
financial parameters by ordinance.

To view the draft of the policy or the details of the Aug. 12
presentation, visit denvergov.org/parksandrecreation and click on
“DPRAB” on the right side and scroll down that page. Or contact Jill
McGranahan at 720-913-0633 or jill.mcgranahan@denvergov.org.

Cross-posted from: http://www.lifeoncaphill.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1752&Itemid=118

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