By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The company in charge of events at Kimball Farm is working on backup plans to relocate three large races and festivals planned there this summer, after City Council rejected the events Tuesday.
Marycarol Fowler, president of Front Office Events, said she still wants to hold the events at the rural East Broadway farm, but that she is lining up alternate venues in Amesbury in case the council won’t reconsider its decision. Front Office Events is a spin–off of Amesbury Sports Park.
The council denied permits for Foam Fest on June 21 and 22, Dirty Girl Mud Run on July 19, and Mudderella on Sept. 6. Councilors agreed to allow Sunday’s KidsFEST event to go on as scheduled because it was previously approved.
A representative for a company promoting Foam Fest said the council’s decision “started chaos with our participants.” Several people posted online messages yesterday stating they had already registered for one of the upcoming events.
The council voted to deny the permits in the wake of major traffic problems at Saturday’s Color Me Rad race at Kimball Farm.
Police said traffic was backed up several miles Saturday morning as hundreds of vehicles lined up attempting to enter Kimball Farm for the Color Me Rad race, preventing residents in the area from exiting their driveways by automobile. Traffic was backed up all the way to Route 110 and Interstate 495 more than three miles away, police said. Officials have used words such as “crisis,” “disaster” and “nightmare” to describe the scene.
But Fowler said traffic was backed up Saturday morning for less than an hour, and that it was the first time one of her Haverhill events had such a problem.
“I’ve had one parking problem in five years and I think it’s a little strict to cut me off at the knees for one problem,” Fowler said. “The decision to cancel all our events is extreme.”
Fowler also said it was unfair for the city to sit on her applications for more than two months and then reject them.
“I applied for these permits in March,” she said. “It’s not right to wait so long to make a decision and then deny them. But I want to stay in Haverhill and I want to stay at Kimball Farm.”
In a letter to the council, police Chief Alan DeNaro said the situation was so bad Saturday that he will not support future events at the farm.
“For these events to truly be successful, they must not only be beneficial to those obtaining a profit, but also provide minimal impact on neighboring residents and travelers in and around the area,” the chief said in his letter. “The problems caused by events of this magnitude far outweigh any benefits to Haverhill.”
Police Lt. Robert Pistone said emergency personal such as fire trucks or ambulances would not have been to able to reach the area had there been a medical emergency, fire, car accident or altercation. Pistone stressed that roads surrounding Kimball Farm weren’t designed to handle heavy traffic.
Fowler said once she realized the extent of the backup on Saturday, her company began letting vehicles onto the farm property without paying. That allowed them to get off the street as quickly as possible.
“We took a financial loss to expedite the situation,” another company official, Meredith Robinson, told the council Tuesday.
Robinson said the company was caught off guard Saturday when about 1,000 more vehicles than were expected began arriving for the Color Me Rad race. She said all participants began arriving around the same time. She said that was unusual for races at the farm, which usually have staggered start times so participants don’t all arrive at once.
“This was the first we had a mass start like this, and the first time we had a problem like this,” Robinson said.
Meanwhile, a City Council committee considering new rules and possibly higher fees for large public events at Kimball Farm and other city venues will meet at least one more time, on June 26, before voting as soon as next month.
Councilor Colin LePage, chairman of the council’s Administration and Finance Committee, said the urgency for tighter controls on large public events appears to have lessened since the council rejected the three upcoming events at Kimball Farm. On the other hand, Mayor James Fiorentini is urging the council to approve the new rules “as fast as possible.”
The new regulations would affect many kinds of events in the city, but neighborhood complaints and police concerns about traffic and other issues at recent Kimball Farm events have spurred the changes. The mayor said road races would not be affected by any new rules governing events because there’s already a specific ordinance for road races.
“We need new rules to regulate these events including public hearings, neighborhood notification and reasonable fees,” the mayor told councilors. “If you don’t want the fees, feel free to change that part of it. But I encourage you to move the ordinance forward as fast as possible.”
Since his original proposal, the mayor said he has suggested several changes. They include exempting events with fewer than 500 participants, community concerts at Bradford Common and events at Winnekenni Park from some provisions, such as increased fees, neighborhood notice and requiring a public hearing. The mayor said he is also open to transferring authority over large events from the council to the Licensing Commission.
Fiorentini’s proposal includes fees ranging from $50 for an event that draws fewer than 100 people to $500 for an event that expects more than 1,000 people to $2,500 for an event with more than 5,000 people. The council would have the authority to waive the fees for some nonprofit, religious and city groups.
The mayor and police chief said the existing ordinance covering outdoor events is outdated and does not provide sufficient safeguards for public safety or require neighborhood notice.
City officials said existing rules, in most cases, don’t require a license from the council or notification of neighbors unless the group hosting the event charges an admission fee. Even when an admission fee is charged, many groups holding events have not been applying for licenses nor notifying neighbors, officials said.
Fiorentini’s proposal would amend the existing ordinance by requiring council approval for most outdoor events, neighborhood notification and in some cases a public hearing. The mayor said the fees are designed to pay for police and other city services that are required for large events.