Amendment Eyed To Address Water-Based Festivals

SNOW HILL – In an effort to provide for more local oversight of events like the Boaters Aid Music Festival proposed earlier this year, local officials are considering new legislation that would strengthen the county code.

The Worcester County Commissioners agreed to support a text amendment proposed by county staff that would require outdoor meetings — events like music festivals — to receive approval from the county if they’re to be held on public waters.

“I think this is very important,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.

Though the existing county code addresses outdoor music festivals, it states that events on publicly owned properties are exempt when written consent is given by the public body responsible. The Boaters Aid Music Festival, which was proposed for the Isle of Wight Bay, did not require approval from the county commissioners because the organizer received written consent from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“In our Public Safety Article, we have a provision for music festivals,” said Ed Tudor, the county’s director of development review and permitting. “A number of things get looked at. It does not apply to open water.”

He said the solution would be to make the existing law apply to water events. The text amendment he proposed adds language to the section of code dealing with outdoor meetings that says the existing stipulations will apply to activities to be conducted on public waters.

Though the Boaters Aid festival was kept from taking place because it failed to meet provisions of the county’s zoning code, which did apply to waterways, the text amendment would provide another layer of oversight.

“If the county commissioners believe that the same standards for an outdoor music festival held on land should be applicable to one held on water, the situation can be addressed with what I believe to be a very simple text amendment,” Tudor wrote in a memo to county officials.

If gatherings on the water were included in the “Safety and Public Assembly” section of the county code, like other outdoor gatherings, they would be required to apply for a permit, get certificates from a number of county agencies, receive permission from the Maryland State Police and acquire approval from the mayor and council of the nearest incorporated town, among other things.

Mitrecic said he liked the fact that if the code was amended to include on-the-water events they would in the future need the approval of the mayor and council of the nearest incorporated town. That would have been particularly relevant in the case of the Boaters Aid Music Festival, as it was set to take place near Ocean City.

“This could adversely affect a lot of people that live on the water,” he said.

Commissioner Chip Bertino said he thought the code should be changed so that the Ocean Pines Association — not just the “nearest incorporated town” — would have the opportunity to approve events in the waterways surrounding the Pines community.

“Ocean Pines has a lot of waterfront property,” Bertino said.

He said the homeowners association should have the chance to decide whether to approve events in its waters.

“I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be on the St. Martin’s River and have one of these music festivals pop up,” he said. “The people of Ocean Pines should have a say.”

Regardless, all of the commissioners agreed to support the proposed text amendment. The commissioners will host a public hearing on the bill Oct. 20.