Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Storm Clouds Gather Over Mass Gathering

At last night's informal Common Council meeting, the amendments to Chapter 199 of the city code were introduced. Chapter 199 sets forth the provisions for mass gatherings. The amendments being proposed essentially, in the words of Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee that drafted the amendments over the course of the last year, "create a new power for the citizens of Hudson." The amendments require that applications for mass gathering permits be submitted 120 days in advance of the event instead the 60 days and stipulate that the public be notified of events and have the opportunity to comment before a mass gathering permit is issued. The amendments also give the mayor the right to deny or revoke a mass gathering permit if the application contains any misrepresentation.

It is no secret that the two muscle car shows staged by Joe Fierro, the owner of American Glory, brought to light problems with the mass gathering permit process and motivated the Legal Committee to try to improve on that process. In 2012, merchants in the 300 block of Warren Street and the Hudson Opera House, where a wedding reception was to take place, were totally blindsided by "No Parking" signs that appeared without warning on Saturday morning. Chaos reigned as Fierro attempted to park cars diagonally on both sides of the street. Eventually the mayor, in the interest of public safety, decided to shut down the Warren Street entirely, from Third to Fourth streets.

In 2013, the mayor tried to get out ahead of things and shut down the 300 block of Warren Street from the get-go. The problem was that Fierro claimed he had spoken with the owners of all the businesses on the block and they were all cool with it. It turned out he had spoken only with the martial arts school that used to be located at 366 Warren Street and the Rock Solid Church, which isn't even on Warren Street. In another bit of misrepresentation, Fierro justified closing the street by saying hundreds of cars were expected. It turned out that only about sixteen showed up.

The Legal Committee saw a problem and decided to address it. Mayor William Hallenbeck, however, saw it another way. "This is in regards to the dislike of a particular business owner," the mayor declared at last night's meeting. "It's been reported . . . it's on the record that it's an action against one business owner." He also fussed that "the mayor's office could be inundated with comments," and he described the proposed amendments as a "knee-jerk reaction."

Responding to the mayor's accusation, Friedman said that if the amendments had been a knee-jerk reaction, it wouldn't have taken a year to craft them. He reiterated that the amendments created a mechanism for those affected by proposed events to have their interests considered.

On May 20, the Council will decide whether or not to place the amendments on their desks for ten days, during which the public can weigh in, before the aldermen vote on adopting the amendments. 

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