Sussex officials revising rules for outdoor events

Hudson Fields at center of debate over new regulations
July 22, 2017

Sussex County officials are rewriting the special events ordinance.

The ordinance would apply to all special events in unincorporated areas of the county, but the focus of the discussion has been Hudson Fields, just north of Lewes, following a few complaints about noise and traffic generated by concerts this summer.

Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson said there is no doubt the special events ordinance in effect since 2013 needs to be revisited. He said enforcing the current ordinance is difficult.

“Not all events are the same. Some have much more impact,” Lawson said. “And some events are so small, we don't even know about them.”

Lawson said one of the key questions is when a special event becomes so large or frequent that it would trigger the need for a conditional-use application.

He proposed council consider allowing a maximum of five days of events per year at the same location. An event day would be an operational day, not including set-up or take-down time.

The current ordinance allows for three days of events a year on the same parcel. It's been a general rule, but has not always been enforced Lawson said.

Events with large attendance are required to coordinate their plans with the county's emergency operations center. It's possible that paramedics, a 911 dispatcher or the mobile command unit may be required and paid for by the organizer of an event.

Lawson said the county must also improve coordination of sanctioned special events with state agencies.

Lawson said he was seeking council input as a draft ordinance is being written. Eventually, the ordinance will be the subject of public hearings before both planning and zoning and county council.

He told council that other options might include writing the ordinance aimed at specific events taking into consideration where the events take place with access to major roads.

Concert promoter uses Hudson Fields

Alex Pires, founder of Highway One, said he signed a lease with the Hudson family to hold five concerts at the site this year. He said the first two concerts were sold out with 4,000 tickets, and he's anticipating the same for an upcoming Christian Music Festival from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 15.

Pires said the concerts are one-day events that last about four hours. He said he has followed all stipulations of the county's special events ordinance. “I'm not doing multi-day events,” he said.

Pires, who employs more than 1,000 full-time and part-time people through his various businesses, said the concerts are an economic benefit because he hires mostly Sussex County and Delaware companies to put on the concerts. He said each concert has about $150,000 in expenses.

“It's a great venue with an airport to the left and Route 1 on the right,” Pires said, adding he wants to work with county officials to create a workable special events ordinance.

He said next year the stage will be turned to face north to alleviate some of the noise issues and concerts will end by 11:30 p.m.

Christian Hudson, president of Hudson Management, said putting caps on the number of events at one location could force him to choose what events he allows on the 200 acres of Hudson Fields. The family already hosts a Foodie Fest series to benefit local nonprofit organizations and is the home of the Atlantic Lacrosse Club with up to 300 youth playing from March through May.

He said it was important not to discourage events. “There is a public benefit and need for these events,” he said.

Hudson said there have been 11,000 people attending three concerts so far this summer without any public safety issues.

Hudson Fields has been used for a variety of events over the years, including concerts by the Beach Boys, Chicago and Hall and Oates, sponsored by the Delaware River and Bay Authority.

Councilman Burton: Keep it simple

Councilman I.G. Burton, R-Lewes, said there is clear distinction between concerts and youth sporting events. He said choices should not have to be made. “We do not want to lose the graciousness the Hudsons have provided to the area,” he said.

He said considerations in the ordinance should be frequency, times and noise generated by events. “I agree the number should be addressed, but it should be above a certain floor,” he said. “We need to keep it simple as possible and not wrapped in a lot of regulations.”

Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, agreed with Burton. “Sporting events and concerts are two different animals,” he said.

He asked if it were possible to rezone Hudson Fields to allow for special events.

Sussex Planning and Zoning Director Janelle Cornwell told Cole that a conditional-use application is an option. In addition, she said, use of the parcel for special events would fit into one of the new proposed commercial zone districts.

Cole also reminded his fellow councilmen that a lot of residential development has been approved near Hudson Fields. “We need to take those people's concerns into account also,” he said.

“We should have a goal to expedite this process,” said Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford. “People are waiting on a decision. We need to be cautious not to over regulate and drive people away.”

Proposed parameters for ordinance:

• Gathering of a substantial number of people

• An outdoor event

• A limited duration of time

• A use not normally associated with the parcel where an event is occurring

• Following an event, the property must return to its customary use