Sol Fest, an electronic dance music festival held at Vortex Spring in Ponce de Leon, has led to Holmes County officials drafting a new ordinance regulating large outdoor events. [GARETT VALCOURT | The Advertiser]

On the heels of Sol Fest, a special committee is hashing out exact requirements for proposed large outdoor events in Holmes County under a coming new ordinance.

Members of the committee met Tuesday, May 28, to discuss details and review a draft submitted by County Attorney Nate Nolin, who based some of the language on existing ordinances in surrounding communities.

The ordinance has not yet been finalized, nor currently approved by the Board of County Commissioners. Once it is reviewed and approved, it will then be published for notice. More discussion is expected to be held to set exact details.

“We’re trying to balance the equities with private property rights, as well as fulfill the intent of an ordinance, which is to regulate certain outdoor events,” Nolin said.

The ordinance covers planned public outdoor events in unincorporated areas which charge admission and have booths available for rent. Contests, fairs, carnivals, festivals, concerts, seasonal and annual events, and car shows–among other events–can fall under the ordinance. 

Organizers proposing to hold an event would have to get a permit from the County beforehand. 

One point raised by committee member-at-large Bob Davis was how the ordinance could be enforced without a code enforcement officer, which the County does not currently have.

“It says here in violations and penalties that we can charge them with a fine or revoke their permit,” engineer John Feeney with Alday-Howell Engineering–one of the county’s engineers–said. “Now, if we take a permit and they still go set up on the property and do what they were going to do, I don’t know what we do at that point.”

Sheriff John Tate said they would have to talk to the state attorney’s office, which prosecutes any criminal offenses.

“This is a county ordinance, not a state statute,” Tate said. “You’re going to have to get them onboard to prosecute any county ordinances. They already do some.”

The matter will fall back on law enforcement without a code enforcement officer, Tate said.

“(The state attorney’s office) will have a say-so in what the penalty is,” Tate said. “If they don’t have a permit and they have one of these, what is the charge? I don’t know.”

Tate asked about the threshold for getting an event permit.

“I didn’t really explicitly put that in there. That’s why we’re all here,” Nolin said. “What is an equitable threshold for Holmes County? We’re different than Walton, different than Bay, even Jackson for the matter, Washington.”

People go to Vortex Spring and other places on a given day and pay money to do so but a permit shouldn’t be required for just that, Tate said.

“I don’t see that they have to come get a permit just to do business,” Tate said. “That’s going to hurt your ordinary everyday businesses.” 

Nolin asked if 2,500 people would be a good starting point for a threshold.

Discussion mentioned the rodeo parade and people going out to Muddn’185, a mud riding park in Westville, and if they would fall under the ordinance.

“I don’t want to hurt everyday ordinary business owners trying to make a living,” Tate said. “I don’t think at any given day they’ve got 1,000, 2,000 people.”

Member-at-large Larry Sweat said the ordinance addresses a special advertised event instead of everyday business.

Events held by the county or a municipal and state government held on government property are exempt under the ordinance, as would nonprofits events. 

Some aspects of events falling under the ordinance will come down to the Florida Department of Health’s requirements on how portable toilets are needed and other related requirements, Feeney said.

“I personally think the threshold for a permit should be very low, even if you put 100, 200 people,” Feeney said. “You could do a minor permit or less than minor permit for up to 1,500 but still make everybody that wants to hold an event come before us just to make sure nothing gets out of hand.”

There could be a minimal fee and little review if the expected attendance is lower than a certain number of people, Feeney said.

Suggestions during the meeting said there could be a tiered permit process, based on expected attendance and the nature of an event.

“How many sheriff’s deputies does John think need to be out there?” Feeney said. “You’re going to be governed by the amount of people.”

Sweat said they are not trying to stop something from happening but are trying to make sure it’s done “safe and with everybody in mind.”

Reaching out to other counties for ideas about the tier system was suggested.

Another point of discussion was the time prior to the event for organizers to have everything in the permit checklist approved. While 90 days was suggested in the draft ordinance, a six-month period instead was floated as a possibility.

“It depends on how big the event’s going to get,” Tate said. “We had 90 days this past time and they were scrounging to find people to work.”

County EMS Director Steve Connell said they couldn’t get the information needed to make a determination on Sol Fest in a 90-day period.

“The longer we have to make that determination, the better,” Connell said. “You have an understanding this is going to happen in six months. … In that 90 days, there needs to be everything already in place. I need to have all the information I need to prior to that 90 days to be able to make my determination on how many people I need and what I need there.” 

Building inspections were done on Sol Fest the day of and nothing reportedly would have passed an actual inspection. Pyrotechnics were not said to actually be built and no tents reportedly met code regulations.

“I think in the application, if you have a portion for a building permit, you need to say you need 48 or however many hours to inspect it prior to the event,” Feeney said. 

If an event wants to sell tickets a year in advance, organizers should inform the County a year in advance, Feeney said.

“We don’t want anything to pop up and happen two months from now because we won’t have time to react,” Feeney said. “I think we put all the onus on the people holding the event. We say here’s your checklist. Here’s our ordinance. If they don’t follow it and they don’t get us everything on there by 90 days, we say tough luck. Better reschedule that thing.”

The draft ordinance also stipulates organizer and service provider names must be provided, as well as vendor contracts and a full and complete disclosure of financial backing for the event.

An “adequate” geographical description or map of an event showing where certain landmarks are would also be required so EMS knows where to respond.

“I need to have enough time to look at it and (organizers) need to have enough time to adjust it and then we can move on from there,” Connell said. “I want something that’s legitimately drawn out.”

Traffic control–one aspect of Sol Fest criticized by Tate–is also covered under the ordinance.

“They were supposed to have traffic control people out there. They didn’t show up,” Tate said. “They called them volunteers. People were going to show up and volunteer. If you ain’t getting paid, you may or may not show up.”

Sol Fest organizers were not transparent and only in their third year of holding the festival, which previously took place in Alabama, Tate said.

“I think they overshot themselves, as far as what they thought they could handle,” Tate said.

Feeney said he was concerned about the traffic situation, which could have been handled better.

Adequate parking will be required as well. 

“They’ve got to provide a plan for on and off-site parking,” Nolin said. “The plan shall provide for off-site parking in areas clearly designated. No parking shall be allowed on internal streets or county rights of way.” 

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