Waukesha Common Council reworks special events ordinance

Friday Night Live leaders discussed new wording with city

Feb. 26, 2013

It took just a few words for a compromise to be made for the proposed special event ordinance.

The ordinance initially drew a veto from City of Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima Feb. 8. The mayor had said language in the ordinance was too "vague" and needed updating. But Scrima withdrew his veto at the start of the Feb. 21 Common Council meeting a few minutes after the Ordinance and License Committee approved new language to the ordinance for when the city clerk decides who receives a permit for a special event.

It says the clerk shall investigate the facts set out in the application "upon 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.

After the Common Council meeting, Scrima said this is an important distinction to make because "now it's interpreted through the lens of each area" because "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 Friday Night Live."

Scrima 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."

Initial wording too vague

The addition to the new ordinance was crafted earlier last week with the collaboration of three city attorneys, the city clerk, the city administrator, Scrima, Alderman Steve Johnson, chair of the Ordinance and License Committee, and four downtown business owners affiliated with Friday Night Live, a summer concert series in downtown Waukesha.

These downtown individuals were present because Friday Night Live 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" a few weeks ago 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" needed to be clarified.

Separating other parts of the city from each other - including the downtown - was important for Roger Igielski, president of the WDBA, who spoke during the public comment section.

"If you're going to have an ordinance that blankets the entire city and you want to have a block party, compared to downtown, which is zoned for arts, culture and business, it just makes a lot of sense to us to include that," Igielski said.

Jim Taylor, of Taylor's Peoples Park restaurant in downtown Waukesha, added, "It spells out a difference between a business district vs. neighborhoods."

While the new 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 recently been at the center of controversy. Waukesha police decided to close downtown streets a couple years ago because the event got so popular attendees flowed over into the streets.

Some concerns

Some in downtown, however, have said the street closures have created a burden on their business because of the difficulty coming downtown, while others have said the event has been great for the area.

The previous language of the ordinance will still be in place, but as Johnson said "what it does is satisfy the concerns of the mayor and the people running the activities downtown."

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 this motion, but I have some concerns to say that adding these 23 words satisfies all of 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. "It doesn't change any of it.

"And it bothers me. Here we are in our process that the council approves the ordinance and it has three more readings. If there would have been a discussion there would have been other ways to handle it than what was done. I am not thrilled with what happened. I don't think it was appropriate. But I would hope that there would be other ways we can go around resolving these conflicts."

"This has been a long process," Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings added. "And has been made longer. There's nothing friendly about a friendly veto. These words do absolutely nothing other than make us all feel better about it. Isn't it sad that we're here to just do something to make us feel better but does not change anything that was written two weeks ago."


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