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Columbia Council passes bill to streamline permit process for special events

Monday, January 6, 2014 | 11:42 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Organizers of events will see a more streamlined permitting process, but the Columbia City Council promises to revisit the process to iron out any kinks that might arise.

The council unanimously approved an revised ordinance that governs the special events permit application process for events that seek to close downtown streets.

The bill as presented would establish a 90-day process where those seeking city approval would have their applications considered by the City Events Committee. In many instances, the committee could issue a permit after meeting to discuss the issue without involving the council.

Those requesting a permit for a special event are required to get the signatures of a majority of building owners or residents along the street they are proposing to close.

On Missouri football weekends, any special event permit would have to be negotiated by the city manager and would require council approval, since city resources are heavily utilized on football weekends and special events may further stretch resources.

The council began examining the issue in greater detail after a mini-controversy flared during the fall when Harpo's Bar requested closing parts of Cherry Street on football weekends and other bars followed suit. Council members rejected the idea of bars looking to expand into the streets to sell more beer.

Carrie Gartner, the Downtown Community Improvement District executive director, told the council that she can envision positive downtown events on football weekends that weren't merely an expansion of bars into the street, like arts gatherings and potentially a farmer's market event.

Any permit rejected by the City Events Committee could be appealed to the city council.

Councilwoman Laura Nauser offered an amendment to require street closure permit requests to come before the city council for final approval on the consent agenda.

“I do get people contacting me on street closures from a wide range of constituencies, so it’s not necessarily people who have businesses in the downtown area,” Nauser said.

Nauser said she would like to see such approvals added to the consent agenda which would allow easy passage by roll call vote, unless there was a contentious issue that needed extra discussion.

Councilman Ian Thomas said the goal of this bill should be to streamline the process, saying he would like to see the process eventually trimmed from 90 days to 60 days.

Richard King, who organizes major Columbia events including the Roots and Blues Festival, said the new process was an improvement to the current system, which requires a delicate balance of gathering signatures, getting approval of multiple city groups and the council. The process often drags on for many weeks and sometimes months, he said.

“I’m not sure I understand the need for every single one to go on the council agenda,” Thomas said.

Nauser’s amendment failed to be approved by the council.

The bill passed unanimously, with council members suggesting it would be reviewed over time and potentially returned if better ideas were developed.

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.


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