Country versus town

Country music organizers claim sound bylaw violates their rights

CF-opening-cerm-chapmanLITTLE CURRENT—Country Fest organizers and owners of the property that houses the new Manitoulin Transport Amphitheatre, Craig and Kelly Timmermans, once again came to the Northeast Town council last week to make a deputation before council regarding their site-specific zoning request for their property in an attempt to clarify how many events will be allowed at the Country Fest venue and of what nature these events will be.

It appeared that a communications breakdown had occurred between the couple and the town, as accusations of the town “targeting” them and “infringing on their human rights” were cited by the Timmermans.

“We feel that our rights are being violated because we are the only private property with a specific noise bylaw,” said Ms. Timmermans in addressing council. “It is a private property and for only us to be governed is unfair; the municipality should make a noise bylaw for the whole municipality if they want to do that. Quite simply, we are confused. We respect our neighbours but we do feel we are being targeted.”

Last year, council approved a site plan agreement between the property owners and the town, allowing the Timmermans to hold up to three music events per year and included a condition which limits sound on the property during events to 80 decibels after 11:30 pm.

This spring, the Timmermans came back to council wanting to further clarify the number of events and the nature of the events that were allowed on their property, submitting a proposed bylaw amendment.

A public meeting was held regarding the proposed amendments, with staff recommending to council that the wording of the bylaw amendment was too broad and could grant the property owners unlimited events.

“The MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) requires a 500 metre set back for quarries and our closest residential neighbour is 600 metres away,” added Mr. Timmermans. “Why is the town requesting bylaws on top of by-laws and to say we are not allowed to have speakers on our own property and people past 11 pm is ridiculous—it’s private property.”

Regarding the speakers, Mr. Timmermans was referring to council’s suggestion to staff that the Timmermans change an element of their proposed bylaw amendment to not allow sound systems or speakers during drive-in movie events on the property, as it would create unnecessary noise because the Timmermans had previously told council they have the technology to direct the movie sound through car radios when set to a particular frequency. The Timmermans also had a problem last year when they violated their noise bylaw due to outdoor speakers being over 80 decibels after 11:30 pm during a drive-in movie event.

“We would never have liquor at a drive-in event,” continued Ms. Timmermans, referring to another suggested change which would have the bylaw state that no alcohol is to be sold on the property during movie events, even if other events are taking place in conjunction with the movie night. “The LCBO would never allow this, let alone would we do this. It’s unnecessary to include it.”

CAO Dave Williamson later clarified to The Expositor, when asked about this suggestion, that the wording was being recommended as music video dance events would qualify as ‘movie events.’

The suggestions also include that ‘music type event’ would be defined as those events with greater than 500 people which is consistent with the town’s policy for licencing major events as opposed to the Timmermans proposed definition of “an outdoor musical festival having a daily attendance greater than 1,500 people.”

Also recommended by staff, based on council direction, was to not permit camping for single day events and that single day events would end at 12 am on Friday nights and 11 pm on Saturdays and weeknights. “These measures would ensure that the neighbours are not adversely affected by excessive noise at night and are consistent with surrounding uses which do not operate at night,” explained Mr. Williamson. In the Timmermans’ draft they do not specifically address the camping issue, nor are there any time constraints on events.

“If there is a time frame on us, there should be on everyone in the municipality, in my opinion,” stated Ms. Timmermans. “We already have a site specific noise bylaw; we don’t feel we need bylaws on top of bylaws,” she reiterated.

Councillor Michael Erskine inquired as to why the Timmermans were opposed to having a midnight and 11 pm deadline.

“It’s our property,” responded Ms. Timmermans. “Why can’t there be no time limit? As I have already stated, we already have a time constraint for limited sound after 11:30 pm and wedding (parties) commonly go on to 1 am and no one else in the municipality is told how late they can have guests on their property.”

Councillor Erskine pointed out, “there is a significant difference between you and a household, as when you are holding events you are operating as a commercial business.”

“We do what we say and we say what we do,” said a frustrated Ms. Timmermans. “We have tried hard to accommodate and to place measures on top of measures. It’s just not necessary.”

“We have always tried to be compliant,” added Mr. Timmermans, giving the example of placing a temporary fence around the venue when Country Fest was held at Low Island Park. “It just seems like we are being forced to jump through hoop after hoop by (town) staff and enough is enough.”

In the town staff’s suggested changes to the proposed bylaw amendment, as directed by council, staff state that “the proponent (the Timmermans) has refused to meet with staff and when approached by Elva Carter of the Manitoulin Planning Board they have stated that they are not prepared to negotiate the terms of the requested amendment beyond their current position.”

[box float=”left”][polldaddy poll=7134095][/box]“The proponent states (through a submitted letter to council) that the suggested amendments violate their Charter of Rights and that statement is incorrect,” staff continues. “The Charter does not deal with property zoning and the municipality zoning bylaw is consistently applied through the municipality. Planning controls exist to clearly identify property uses and mitigate the potential impact of proposed activities on surrounding property. The proponent’s property is surrounded by a mix of industrial rural (residential) and commercial property, which operate primarily during daylight hours. The proponent’s activities will be conducted primarily in the evenings and at night so those activities have the potential to (and in the case of drive in movies already have) negatively impact on the surrounding properties.”

“From a planning perspective the changes proposed by council should be integrated into the proposed zoning amendment,” staff concluded.

“We feel that staff is being misleading, as we have never refused to meet with them,” Mr. Timmermans said to council. “I want proof.”

“Staff say we didn’t compromise, but we have already,” added Ms. Timmermans.

“I don’t like this,” interrupted Councillor Bill Koehler. “I trust staff.”

“We are just trying to do economic development, but if you don’t want it we won’t do it,” said Mr. Timmermans. “Do you want the community to survive?”

Following the deputation, Mr. Williamson spoke to council saying, “I can understand some of the confusion, clearly there has been a misunderstanding.”

“The noise element of the site plan agreement (no noise above 80 decibels after 11:30 pm) is not personal,” explained Mr. Williamson. “It anticipates when the property is being utilized for commercial use, not as a private property. The proposed amendments are to control the property’s commercial uses.”

“I would like to defer the decision to the next council meeting and in the meantime it might be in everyone’s best interests that town staff, the Timmermans and the deputy mayor (Marcel Gauthier, who has been overseeing all bylaw amendment meetings and council discussions as Mayor Al MacNevin declared a conflict) meet to try and find a compromise,” said Councillor Erskine. “I think everyone around the table wants to see them (the Timmermans) succeed.”

Councillor Paul Skippen also recommended that town staff look into other municipalities that have large outdoor music festivals to compare what bylaws they have in place.

Council agreed and a motion to defer the discussion and a decision regarding the bylaw amendment was carried.

The meeting between town staff, Deputy Mayor Gauthier and the Timmermans was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, May 28.

Robin Burridge