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Bluegrass organizer wants city to allow alcohol at annual festival

Bluegrass organizer wants city to allow alcohol at annual festival

 

Greg Knight

7/20/2017

Staff writer

 

SPRING CITY—The Spring City council will soon debate whether to allow alcohol on public property during the Spring City Bluegrass & Folk Festival, Aug. 4-5.

A request to allow the sale and use of alcoholic beverages during the event was raised by event organizer Tennessee Stewart during the city’s regular council meeting on July 6.

Spring City Municipal Code section 7-5-3(E) states that no person shall “Have in (their) possession or consume beer or alcoholic beverages…” in buildings or at parks owned by the city.

It was during that meeting that a heated exchange between Stewart and the council erupted after he asked for an agenda item at the Aug. 3 meeting addressing whether the code can be suspended for the festival—and he stated that alcohol should be permitted due to the closure of Zona Barrio Grill, a restaurant that was given approval to serve beer during the 2016 festival.

After the meeting, Stewart said that allowing beer to be sold and possessed at the festival, in the same way it has been during previous years when it was held on private property in the city, would be a boon to attendance and plans for future growth.

“The city really needs something like this,” Stewart added. “We will have security present, and the venue grounds are going to be roped off with fencing, so nothing is going to happen that is out of sorts. It’s ridiculous that the city would consider not letting (alcohol use) happen.”

But some—including Spring City Mayor Jack Monnett—aren’t thrilled at the idea of booze being readily available during the annual music festival.

“It’s a touchy situation,” the mayor said. “There will be those there who will expect because it’s a bluegrass festival, that there will be alcohol to drink. On the other hand, we have a town that is very LDS-oriented and very proper, if you will. It may offend some of the residents in town. If it were up to me, I would vote ‘no’ on this. However, I suspect the council might approve it for beer only, no liquor.”

Despite his view that the council might approve alcohol this time around, Monnett said the city has historically not approved such requests.

“We have been quite clear about not doing that in the past,” Monette said. “It’s just the opposite. We don’t approve this sort of thing usually.”

One of the concerns Monnett raises revolves around whether a “yes” vote for alcohol would set a new standard for the city going forward.

“If we vote to allow this, I am worried about what kind of precedent it would set,” Monett said. “It becomes a foot in the door.”

Stewart believes that is a non-issue—and that the council should consider his request as a case-by-case issue.

“I can’t believe that people would not want this to happen,” Stewart said. “Folks that visit this festival are going to want to bring a little wine or some beer and have a drink or two. It just goes with the atmosphere. We want them to be able to brown bag and bring their own into the festival. We’re not talking about selling any on the premises.”

Stewart added that the concert-goers would be required to keep all alcohol inside the temporary fencing that will surround the festival grounds and that the Spring City Police Department would be responsible for security and enforcement of alcohol-related issues.

According to Stewart, enforcement should be a breeze, as no arrests or other crimes related to alcohol have been reported at past festivals.

“There have never been any incidents like that,” Stewart added.

Stewart said, however, that certain locals in Spring City have an agenda against his festival and have stirred up rumors about crime and bad behavior in an attempt to stymie its continued presence in town.

“In one case, there is this crazy lady in town that has always made these accusations against me about it, trying to say that I want people to have sex on the lawn all that crap, and she made accusations that people were smoking dope and laying in her yard down the street from the festival,” Stewart said, and forcefully adding, “Not true.”

Coming down on the side of Stewart, city council member Neil Sorensen says he believes that the city he grew up in is far behind the times as it relates to allowing alcohol inside city limits—and that approving it for the festival would go a long way toward making Spring City a more attractive event destination.

“I’m fully for this,” Sorensen said. “I think it’s about time we get with the times. If you think about possible events at the Old School too, for wedding receptions or events like that, people want to be able to have a toast with champagne. Our ordinance currently says you cannot do that, so that needs to change.”

Sorenson said he has been searching to find a middle ground for the residents of Spring City that might take offense to the use of alcohol on religious or spiritual grounds.

“In my opinion, as an inactive LDS member, I really enjoy a drink once in a while,” Sorensen added. “To me, to be able to go to an outdoor concert and festival and sit down with a cocktail to relax is not all bad.”

Longtime resident Mike Black said the law is currently unambiguous about where drinking in the city can occur—though he believes drinking at special events, by responsible adults, is a choice that should be allowed if the council decides to change it.

“Because of my religion, I don’t drink, but I know there are people that choose to do that, and this is also an economic choice for the festival,” Black said. “I have concerns about this, but I am also on the pro side in a couple of ways; the city already has an ordinance stating that drinking like this can’t happen this close to a city park. On the flipside, I would like to see anyone who wants that ordinance changed to address it before the council. I’d like to see it written in a way that addresses selling alcohol to responsible adults and also addresses dealing with irresponsible adults that cannot handle their drinking.”

The city council is set to discuss and possibly vote on the issue during the Aug. 3 meeting at Spring City Hall starting at 6 p.m.