Sussex County revises special events ordinance after nonprofits voice concerns

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Sussex County revised its special events ordinance following concerns by fire companies and other organizations that their events could be in jeopardy.

The code had been in place since the 1990s to ensure occasional gatherings do not become permanent fixtures and fundamentally change a parcel’s approved base land use. The county had been the site of Punkin Chunkin for many years. Last year’s event was canceled a TV producer was injured the previous year.

The county is seeing more special events as the population grows and residents seek out “pop up” events such as food truck meetups, concerts, and farmers markets.

The vote followed more than a year of work by county staff and legal counsel to draft the update, conduct public hearings, and revise the legislation, a release stated.

Not affected will be events at the Hudson Fields complex offRoute 1. The athletic field complex, which also hosts concerts, was grandfathered in by the county Board of Adjustment earlier this year, However, the complex would have to abide by public safety standards.

Some residents have voiced complaints about the Hudson Fields events that are alongside the busy route into the beach area. The Hudsons are a prominent Sussex family, with equally inflluential nightclub, restaurant and bank owner Alex Pires promoting concertsfeaturing top country acts.

“The existing ordinance was scattered throughout the county code and, frankly, conflicted in some parts and was a little difficult to understand,” said County Administrator Todd F. Lawson. “With so many events in Sussex County, and new events cropping up all the time, we thought it was time to look at our processes so everyone, from event organizers to neighbors, are on the same page and the public’s interests are safeguarded.”

As defined by County code, ‘special events’ are gatherings held outdoors or in temporary structures on parcels in which the activity differs from the property’s permitted use. Eventscan include circuses, carnivals, midways, promotional and tent sales event, fairs, festivals, concerts, rodeos, shows, races/walks or any other event or mass gathering.

The update keeps in place the county’s limit to three special events that are permitted on a property each calendar year, and mandates reviews by the County’s Planning & Zoning, Emergency Operations, and Emergency Medical Services offices. Any number beyond that could trigger the need for other land use processes, including conditional use or rezoning approvals.

The ordinance will not affect those locations, including fire halls and service clubs, where events are within the properties’ permitted land use, though the public safety coverage coordination requirements of the ordinance would still apply, the county release stated.

The ordinance will also not govern events on public lands, such as parks or schools, nor will it affect non-commercial events, such as weddings, family reunions, or parties, held on private property.

“We heard from a number of people, particularly in the fire companies, VFWs, American Legions, and so on, that they were concerned about whether this would adversely affect events they might put on or host,” County Council President Michael H. Vincent said. “That was never the case, nor our intent, but we wanted to make doubly sure it was clear under the ordinance.”

The ordinance takes effect immediately and will apply to areas of unincorporated Sussex County only.

To view a copy of the adopted ordinance, visithttps://sussexcountyde.gov/special-events-ordinance.

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