“My husband and I and some other neighbors have been making complaints about special events and the cumulative impacts of those events for probably a year and a half and we weren’t getting any traction,” said Christy Calvin, who lives adjacent to Swanny Park. “Last summer, they tried to approve a new concert series to play in the park the same night as farmers’ markets and that put us over the edge. There are too many events here, they’re too loud [and] they’re too congested.”
“There’s just places that the city should direct folks who want to have an event in the public space, places away from residential neighborhoods,” Calvin said. “I think there should be community members that are a part of this process because right now it’s just an administrative process … by the time it gets to city council there’s so much momentum behind the applicant and city staff that … I think it’s really difficult to make changes or suggestions to either location, size, amplification or whether it’s appropriate at all.”
“With an increase in the number, size and impacts of events at Swanny Park, the city’s permitting process ought to include neighborhood representation alongside that of event sponsors, planners, vendors, and other key parties,” said George Cheney, another neighbor.
Forty-five residents, from various neighborhoods in Moab, agree with Calvin and Cheney and signed a “statement of concern.” The statement notes that the city has no mechanism to evaluate cumulative impacts of events, but rather permits events on a case-by-case basis.
“We … are concerned citizens who urge our leaders to act now to study and evaluate special events at Swanny Park and consider the cumulative impacts on the surrounding neighborhood before approving any additional special event at Swanny Park,” the statement said.
Swanny Park boasts many advantages for special events. Event organizers have cited the central location, walkability and pleasant atmosphere of the park as benefits to holding their events there.
“I think having it be in a central location is important because it’s accessible to more of the community,” said Cassie Paup, an organizer of the Moab Free Concert Series. “Our intention with this concert series is to provide a free event for not only those who typically support music that’s brought to Moab, but those that aren’t able to afford what is brought to Moab. So having it be somewhere that folks can walk to or bike to or that’s on their way home is an important thing.”
Paup said the series organizers are aware of the petition and working to mitigate their impact on the community. Concerts will start and end earlier so that it will be quiet before dark.
“We all live in Moab and we’re all impacted by the noise and busy [atmosphere] that happens in event season,” Paup said. “One thing that we are really striving for is to make this a community event. While it is available for visitors to our community, it’s very much a labor of love on our part as a nonprofit organization.”
The Vision Relay said that while Swanny Park is a desirable location, they are flexible and would consider moving elsewhere.
“This is our ninth annual event starting at Swanny Park so we’re really comfortable with the facilities there,” said Tyler Servoss, founder and director of the Vision Relay, which starts at Swanny Park. “We’re certainly adaptable and there’s that possibility in the future [that we could change locations] … It’s a good way to roll out of town but we’ve looked at other parks and other options and it’s a possibility if it becomes more desirable for Moab to have fewer events at Swanny Park.”
The Moab Arts Festival is another event that typically uses the park. Organizer and founder Theresa King said they plan to move the children’s area to the residential side of the park and moved the music away from homes to accommodate concerns from neighbors.
“It’s a beautiful place to spend two days. We close early ... over the years we closed a little bit earlier because we figured out we needed to do that,” King said.
King also participated in the city’s effort last year to create a new permitting system for special events.
“I sat on the special event committee when they came up with some of the new regulations to give the city more information on how to make decisions, and they restructured the whole special event licensing into categories of events, larger and smaller events, so that they could process them better,” King said.
The issue came up as an agenda item at the Moab City Council on March 13.
“It’s our job to set policy and really set the stage for how the permits are brought to us,” said Moab City Mayor Emily Niehaus. “We could take a look at that and make suggestions to amend [the park use policy].”
Niehaus also raised the idea of extending the application deadline for special events to avoid putting events in “an awkward position” where they start advertising then find out that their event has not been approved.
Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany mentioned that the city just went through a process in 2017 to update the special event permitting process. He recommended that council members study that section of code and make suggestions for changes.
Council Member Kalen Jones suggested looking at other communities’ policies on special events, while Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton reported that she had corresponded with Park City officials to learn about their special event permitting process, which involves members of the community who would potentially be affected by the events.
“[Are events] benefiting our community? These are questions that we haven’t really asked in the past because we were really open to taking on any event. We’re in a different place now. If we can get on top of this ... it’s going to only benefit our community and participants who come here to participate in whatever event they’re doing,” Guzman-Newton said.