New language to special event ordinance leads to mayor removing veto at Common Council meeting

Published on: 2/22/2013

Twenty-three words.

That’s all it took for a compromise to be made for the proposed special event ordinance, one that initially drew a veto from City of Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima Feb. 8 where he said language in the ordinance was too “vague.”

But Scrima withdrew his veto at the start of Thursday’s Common Council meeting a few minutes after the Ordinance & License Committee approved new language to the ordinance when the city clerk decides who receives a permit for a special event.

The words that have been added to the ordinance is that “upon (the clerk) giving due consideration to the character of the area and the type of zoning district where the proposed activity will take place.” It was approved by the Council after a 9-5 vote.

These new words were crafted earlier in the week by three city attorney’s, the city clerk, the city administrator, Scrima, Alderman Steve Johnson and four downtown business owners affiliated with Friday Night Live, a summer concert series in downtown Waukesha.

These individuals were present because FNL is run by the Waukesha Downtown Business Association and they were the ones who asked the mayor to make what he called a “friendly veto” because they said language in the ordinance such as “the time, size and nature of the special event shall not create an undue hardship or interfere with residents and commercial and business activities in the closed area or immediate vicinity” would be problemanic.

While the ordinance does not just apply to downtown, the WDBA leaders were worried that their event could be negatively impacted because the mayor had previously said in his veto message “that the next city attorney may misinterpret the wording and bring about refusals when met with the relentless complaints of a few.”

Friday Night Live was highlighted because the event has been at the center of controversy due to Waukesha police deciding to close streets a couple years ago.

Some in downtown have said the street closures have created a burden on their business while others have said the event has been great for the downtown.

The previous language of the ordinance will still be in place, but Scrima said after the Common Council meeting that “now it’s interpreted through the lens of each area.”

He added, “it’s a good compromise. The amended language, approved by the city attorney, speaks to the character of specific areas within the city, as well as specific zoning districts within the city.

“Specifically, the downtown is the only area of our city that is zoned for cultural and entertainment. And with the addition of this language it will provide a more positive future for events to happen downtown, especially for Freeman Friday Night Light.”

Alderman Paul Ybarra said he was “encouraged” that the city was able to find common ground for the downtown to move forward.

But others were more skeptical.

“I will support it, but I have some concerns to say that these 23 words satisfy all the questions that were outlined in the veto is very interesting because these 23 words don’t change the meaning of the ordinance,” Alderman John Kalblinger said.

“This has been a long process,” Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings said. “There’s nothing friendly about a friendly veto. Isn’t it sad that we’re here to do something to make us feel good but does not change anything that was written two weeks ago.”

But Scrima expects this new addition to the ordinance to eliminate the problems.

“Without this language, then it would be up for future interpretation and debate and that’s what the DBA was trying to avoid,” Scrima said.