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Music festivals start questioning city and county permit process


"Bend should be a fun place to live," said city councilmember Victor Chudowsky. He is discussing a brewing storm as the city and county consider whether the decades-old processes for issuing permits to music festivals fits into the area's lively summer schedule of outdoor events.

Over the past several months, several smaller festivals have run ashore against regulations, some dating back to the '70s when Central Oregon was a bit quieter and less populated—and had very different expectations. And now, with summer approaching, city and county officials are recognizing they need to start examining these processes if they want to properly balance a desire for music festivals with neighbor's expectations for peace and quiet. Last month, the City of Bend invited several event planners to city hall, and started what will be an 18-month examination of the permitting process.

Flexibility, city councilmember Chudowsky said, is something that needs to be a part of the entire process, adding that "fair requirements," as well as not raising fees for permits are necessity if the city doesn't want to preclude people from dreaming up and implementing new events.

While the City of Bend has plenty of experience permitting outdoor festivals and parades that run from February through October, the debate shaping up in the countryside outside of Bend is presenting novel challenges for county commissioners and officials.

Last year, for example, a group of local musicians hoped to host Ukulele University, a series of workshops and performances, but had to cancel when they encountered trouble navigating the county's permit process. Bob Rasmussen, the event's coordinator, said he was told pretty quickly that a permit wasn't going to be forthcoming. Planned dates for the event were too close to the High and Dry Bluegrass Festival, also slated for the Runway Ranch near the Bend Municipal Airport.

"Only one event can be held on a site in a 90-day period," Rasmussen explained. But really, he continued, that requirement blocks out 180 days per event—90 days on either side—and limits events during the summer that could attract visitors from outside the region.

The solution has been to relocate the uke-jams from the ranch to the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center in Redmond for the festival's July 18-20 run dates. Although he was initially frustrated with changing the festival's location, Rasmussen did add that he is pleased with the new arrangements, which will provide proper RV hookups. There's air conditioning, too, he said.

"It's a challenge for us. We have rural, residential land," said county commissioner Alan Unger, discussing the issues Deschutes County currently faces in addressing increased applications to hold events in those areas.

One group that has navigated the county's process successfully is the 4 Peaks Music Festival, a roots festival. During the recent economic downturn, the event took a two-year break, but 4 Peaks is set for its latest installment this June, and organizers hope to grow attendance beyond the 1,000 people currently expected at the show.

"We started the process in November," said Stacy Totland, 4 Peaks' planner. "As far as having infrastructure—it's more security, more port-a-potties, more trash cans, more volunteers ... and then the permit itself is almost $3,000."

These are all hard and fast rules, Totland said, adding that "there's no flexibility, but the Community Development Department is great to work with."

These issues are common for regions that see population and popularity growth. A decade ago, for example, a small musical festival, Pickathon, started at a farm southwest from Portland. But five years after its first event, the festival's popularity had grown to a point that neighbors complained about noise and traffic problems. In 2006, Pickathon moved from its first venue in Washington County, to a farm east of Portland—and, importantly, in Clackamas County. After the festival's relocation, Pickathon has blossomed into one of the largest music festivals in the state.

Likewise, county officials understand that they are balancing residents' interest in a bustling cultural scene with expectations for quiet country living—and that the right equation could bring both economic opportunities, as well as improved livability for all parties.

"We're going into this with open eyes and an unbiased approach," Matt Martin, associate planner with the county, said of re-examining its protocol.

During May, Martin and his office are planning a series of six meetings throughout the county, during which residents can discuss problems they perceive in the current permitting process, as well as what seems to be working. Dates and locations of the forums have yet to be determined.


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