After months of debate, revisions and marathon committee meetings, the city's common council adopted two ordinances at its July 5 meeting that govern the organization and supervision of street closures and special events.
Both ordinances were approved on divided votes — one a tighter split than the other — and had riled up residents and downtown business owners when they were discussed earlier this year by Waukesha's ordinance and license committee.
At the center of the controversy was a perception that the city was trying to significantly increase fees for organizers putting on special events — specifically large ones, such as Friday Night Live — that would have priced-out and ultimately eliminated those events.
City staff repeatedly stressed that the figures being cited were just placeholders and used only for discussion, but that did not stop more than 100 people from showing up to a meeting of the ordinance and license committee in March to protest the fees.
Ordinances amended, approved
The crowd at the July 5 council meeting, when a final decision on the ordinances was made, was considerably smaller.
The street closure ordinance, which was amended during the meeting, was approved on a 9-1 vote. Alderman Eric Payne was the lone dissenter.
Aldermen Andy Reiland, Joe Pieper, Kathleen Cummings, Cory Payne and Adam Jankowski were absent from the meeting.
Both ordinances were amended at City Attorney Brian Running's urging.
Running said the ordinances, as drafted, had the potential to open Waukesha up to lawsuits that could allege the city was imposing unconstitutional First Amendment restrictions based on the deadline to submit street closure or special event applications.
Applications for road closures or special events were originally not to be filed any later than 30 days before the proposed closure or event, but that number was reduced to 20 days following Running's recommendation.
The applications cannot be filed any sooner than 270 days before a proposed closure or event.
Alderman Erik Helgestad, who voted to approve both ordinances, said, 'I think it's much better than what we have currently. So I'm happy to support this.'
New fee structure
The primary rub, for council members and residents, against the special events ordinance was the increased fees and revised fee structure it imposed on such events. The ordinance was approved on a 6-4 vote.
Aldermen Aaron Perry, Daniel Manion, Steve Johnson, Chris Hernandez, Helgestad and Bill Boyle voted in favor of the ordinance; and Aldermen Peter Bartels, Vance Skinner, Payne and Terry Thieme voted against it.
Some aldermen argued the increased fees were necessary to help the city recoup its costs when planning for large events, while others said their constituents were overwhelmingly opposed to any increases.
Under the ordinance, the cost for a seasonal permit for special events was raised. For example, the kind of permit required for Friday Night Live, which is held weekly during the summer, increased from $150 to $350 and covers no more than 30 occasions.
The fee structure introduced by the ordinance increases fees based on special event attendance, with larger events paying higher fees.
Under the new structure, the fee for an event with up to 1,000 attendees or participants is $50; $150 for events with between 1,001 and 2,000 attendees; $350 for events with between 2,001 and 5,000 attendees; and $550 for events with more than 5,000 attendees.