Special-events ordinance should focus on safety

October 31, 2017

Debate continues over Sussex County’s regulations governing special events. It’s an ordinance from the 1970s that requires updating for today’s activities.

The big question is what, exactly, is a special event?

For years, Sussex County has seen hundreds of events – races, bike rides, neighborhood festivals – that may slow or detour traffic, but generally result in a minimum of disruption and a lot of community support.

Hudson Fields, on Route 1, has long been a center for team sports, where thousands of children have played sports, spending hours outside developing skills, learning teamwork and exercising.

The space has proven itself as a much-needed resource.

Should these events be considered special events requiring a conditional use, with its required public hearings? When does a gathering cross the line from well-established use to event that should be regulated to ensure traffic control, safety and emergency services?

To date, the battle has centered on Hudson Fields, not for sports but as a concert venue, which by definition raises different issues, such as parking, level of amplification and the time amplified sound should end.

Officials are considering limiting the number of times a space can be used before triggering a conditional-use application. That effort is raising more problems than it is solving.

Officials should instead consider an ordinance based on the size and scope of the event: expected traffic, noise and safety issues an event may raise.

County officials might take a lesson from Rehoboth’s Sea Witch Festival, which drew tens of thousands of people, yet unfolded flawlessly.

Miles of parade fencing went up overnight to corral spectators and keep swarms of children safe. Just as the parade ended, the barriers came down, while activities moved to the Boardwalk, beach, stores and restaurants. The sheer number of people presented obvious safety hazards, yet with careful planning and superb execution, the city handled noise, trash and everything else the huge crowd offered.

The purpose of the new ordinance should be developing measures that ensure the safety and enjoyment of all who attend an event, and all those who choose not to.

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Laura Ritter, news editor, and Dennis Forney, publisher, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, associate publisher.