Concert dispute heads to court

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07/29/2010 12:00 AM |

The partners behind the upcoming NOFO Rock and Folk Festival in Cutchogue are seeking a court order to prevent Southold Town from placing new restrictions on the event, including a limit on on-site parking.

State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Spinner ordered a hearing for this morning, Thursday, in Riverhead on the promoters’ request for a temporary restraining order to bar the town from amending the public assembly permit issued in June by Southold’s Zoning Board of Appeals. That permit placed no limit on the number of vehicles that could be parked on site.

Former supervisor Josh Horton, who is working with Peconic Bay Winery to stage the two-day event there this coming Saturday and Sunday, said the Town Board overstepped its authority in seeking to impose 21 additional conditions, including restricting the number of vendors to 25 and cutting off the music at 6 p.m., an hour earlier than advertised. The promoters also object strenuously to the town’s placing a 400-vehicle limit on on-site parking.

Referring to the Town Board, Mr. Horton said, “A legislative body does not have any legal authority whatsoever to amend a decision or permit issued by a zoning board of appeals.”

The town says that the promoters provided misleading information in describing the event’s size and scope. The event layout map accompanying the ZBA permit application showed four vendors and estimated a crowd of about 800 per day.

But a copy of the organizers’ letter to prospective vendors eventually came to the Town Board’s attention. It said the crowd was expected to be “well over 15,000.”

During a recent appearance before the Town Board — which had considered, but decided against, revoking the permit after the letter surfaced — Mr. Horton called the letter a “clerical error.”

In their court case, the promoters also object to the town’s demand for payment of about $6,500 to cover police overtime costs, an amount they call excessive.

Supervisor Scott Russell said the town is simply trying to ensure public safety.

“We’re trying to have the event and at the same time safeguard the community from unwanted effects,” he said. “People aren’t the issue. It’s the cars and traffic that present the problems.”

The supervisor offered a particularly harsh assessment of the legal challenge.

“I think this is a transparent attempt by the former supervisor to draw attention to himself and the event,” said Mr. Russell. “Maybe ticket sales are lagging and this free press doesn’t hurt.”

Mr. Horton argued the parking limit itself has the potential to create traffic problems rather than solve them.

“We’ve got seven and a half acres for parking, but they tell us we can only use a small portion of that? It’s asinine,” he said. “They’re creating the potential for vehicles to try to park elsewhere, which is something none of us wants.”

He also questioned the town’s estimate for the cost of additional police services.

“We’ve expressed a willingness to pay for these services,” Mr. Horton said. “However, more police are being brought on to cover this event than are available to manage entire sections of the town on any given summer weekend.”

Mr. Russell maintained that the concert’s principals had agreed to all the new conditions during a July 20 meeting at Town Hall. Mr. Horton strongly disagreed.

The town will be marking the Cutchogue business district with “no concert parking” signs, said Mr. Russell. “We have a list of tow operators who will be ready and on call to go into action if people violate that,” said the supervisor.

When concert-goers arrive, they’ll be required to produce both an admission ticket and a second ticket showing that they parked on site, said the supervisor.

The stage was to face northwest but at the town’s insistence it instead must face southeast “so the music filters out over the farm field and not the homes and businesses in the area,” he added. That provides a 30-acre buffer, Mr. Russell said.

He doesn’t see the one-hour reduction in the concert duration, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. to 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., as a hardship.

“You’re talking about eight hours of continuous music,” he said. “Having it end at 6 p.m. is more than fair on our part.”

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