To dance, or not to dance? Council considers changes to event permit process

Protesters dance in front of St. George City Hall, St. George, Utah, Nov. 6, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – The St. George City Council gave verbal approval for city staff to go ahead with proposed changes to the city’s special event permitting process during a council meeting Thursday.

The potential changes are being made in the wake of a controversy triggered in October when police shut down the dance portion of a Halloween party due to alleged permit violations. While city officials believe streamlining the process for permit applicants will help avoid such incidents in the future, others think they’re missing the point.

“I just want you guys to know that your special event permit process is awesome, it’s easy,” Jared Keddington, an event promoter for The Heart of Dixie, told the City Council. “I’ve been doing this for 12 years. This is not about a special event permit process. This is about the City of St. George not allowing dances and dance parties to happen, and it’s been notorious for that.”

Road to review

In October, The Heart of Dixie organized and promoted the Monster Mash Halloween party, which was held at Fiesta Fun Center in St. George on Oct. 24. Organizers advertised unlimited access to activities at the fun center as well as a dance. The event itself was estimated to attract hundreds of attendees.

City staff learned about the event days before it was to take place and contacted Keddington. The city expedited the permit application review process and approved the majority of the Monster Mash activities – all except the dancing. Generally, the city requires applicants to submit event permits 30 days before an event is to happen. Additionally, organizers of the events have to come before the City Council for approval.

As city staff didn’t believe they had sufficient time to review the multiple impacts a heavily attended dance could have in the area – and the City Council didn’t meet that week – the dance portion of the party was denied.

Due to violations Keddington allegedly committed relating to the permit, the police appeared and blocked any potential dancing at the event. The controversy sparked by the incident has led to the city reviewing its permit ordinance.

“That particular event that happened in October probably would have been reviewed and approved if we had a little more time, dance or not,” Mayor Jon Pike said.

Potential changes

City Manager Gary Esplin said city staff reviewed the special event permit ordinances of several Utah cities, as well as cities in Arizona and Nevada.

What we found was St. George was probably one of the easiest places to get a permit,” Esplin said.

Most of the cities reviewed required permits to be submitted 45 days or more in advance, yet none require approval by a city council.

Over the past year, Esplin said, the city has approved 214 special events, including five dances.

Keddington was dubious concerning the nature of those dances.

“Church dances, school dances maybe,” he said after the meeting.

Among potential changes the council members expressed interest in was removing the need for the council to review permit applications.

“l like the fact we wouldn’t have to see every one of those (applications),” Councilman Jimmie Hughes said.

Another potential change, based on Park City’s permit ordinance, would allow the promoters of annual events to submit an application just one time. If the first event goes off without any issues, there would be no need for organizers to resubmit an application the following year, as the city would already know what to expect.

Councilman Joe Bowcutt said he liked the idea, but he also wants to make sure the city maintains an easy permit process for applicants.

We want it to be a smooth process for the person who is making the request, not just for the city,” Bowcutt said. “So let’s make sure we don’t end up with a 15-page form.”

An option of combining elements of the permitting processes employed by Park City and Prescott, Arizona, received the most support from the council, and verbal approval was given for city staff to move ahead and make changes that are anticipated to streamline the process overall.

Esplin said the staff would get to work and possibly have a proposed amendment to the city’s permitting ordinance ready for review in early January.

“If the public have comments, feel free to submit them those to (the City Council) or city staff,” Pike said.

Missing the mark?

Not everyone is convinced the city’s alleged anti-dance attitude will be resolved by tweaking the permit process.

I don’t think they are addressing the issue at all,” Keddington said after the meeting. “They are trying to make it about the permit process and it never was about the permit process; it’s whether or not they allow dances and dancing to happen.”

While school dances may get approved, he said, the city tends to find ways to make dancing an issue when a private promoter comes in and wants to hold a dance. One issue promoters face is city policy that requires certain events to wrap up by 11 p.m. or earlier.

“I don’t know a college kid in the world that wants to go to an event that starts at 10 and ends at 11,” Keddington told the council. “We’re looking to put up some good, clean fun in the community, and we’re met with roadblock after roadblock.”

Other dance event promoters and their supporters have also expressed frustrations in the past about perceived restrictive and even hostile anti-dance ordinances and policies on the part of the City of St. George. City officials continue attesting that the real issue has never been about dancing but public safety. They are also hoping the issue will be resolved as the permitting process is revamped.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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19 Comments

  • Joe Smith December 12, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    *yawn* … is this really whats passing for news these days?

  • All In Call December 12, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    In all likelihood, The city will get their point across, ‘Move On’ gents, we just don’t need outside promoters to get a dance going in the area. We got the PTA & School Board.
    But what about the college kids? What about them? That’s a State issue.
    Move on. Next subject– Standard code violations

  • koolaid December 12, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Why doesn’t the city council and mayor just get rid of dixie dan’s anti-dance ordinance? How long are they going to bear the stench of dixie dan? Just get rid of it entirely. Less government control. What a concept.

  • Soaponarope December 12, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    Yawn…….. is you witless comment what’s passing as feedback

    • Dana December 13, 2014 at 5:51 am

      Is your drivel what passes for a comment?

      • Soaponarope December 13, 2014 at 8:33 am

        Is your stupidity what passes for a comment

        • koolaid December 13, 2014 at 9:15 am

          Do I hear an echo?

          • Dana December 13, 2014 at 10:01 am

            Between soaps ears.

  • tight magic undies December 12, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    “Everything was approved, except for the dancing”. Police shut down the “dancing portion” of the event. “Dancing permits” are needed in addition to events. Does anyone outside of here realize just how incredibly shallow, stupid, and close minded this is? Just wow.

  • Nasar December 13, 2014 at 12:01 am

    People should be able to dance wherever they like…..Without a permit, period! That’s the point

    • Freedomgetitback December 13, 2014 at 9:39 am

      That’s right!

  • My Evil Twin December 13, 2014 at 1:12 am

    Why do people need a special permit to dance on private or commercial property? That is where the problem is.

  • Popeye December 13, 2014 at 8:42 am

    We just had our big Xmas party and there was music and DANCING outside and we didn’t get a permit. As far we were concerned they can take that permit and stuff it where the sun don’t shine

  • modigliani December 13, 2014 at 8:44 am

    The dancing, no-dancing issue may look like a small thing, but it speaks to the entire culture of St. George and Utah. The “righteous” decide for everybody else. I would have been more impressed if the powers-that-be had traveled a little further to find out how other places outside the Mormon magnetic field handle events like this. And I have a question. What happens at some outdoor musical event if people spontaneously start dancing? Adults, kids, old people just getting the groove on. Does the event get shut down on the spot? There’s way too much “we’ll say what goes” here and I ask again – what are anti-dancing people here afraid of? Get over it and let the people dance!

  • Joe Smith December 13, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Doesn’t the college do a dance almost every week? Seems to me people around here just need to whine about something… wah wah wah

  • KOOLAID. December 13, 2014 at 10:56 am

    First they dance, then they smoke, then they drink, then they ride Harley’s, then they make gangs, then the fight and stab each othe, then the police have to go a little Furgeson on them. Thanks police for doing what the parents should have done, stopped their children from being stupid

  • The Prophet December 13, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    God has revealed to me that, outside of church and church approved activities, is a sin. All faithful members of the LDS church are warned that you will face eternity in the terestrial Kingdom (Hell) if you continue to dance outside of church and church approved activities.

  • Prongs December 14, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Only five dances in one year for the whole city????? I went to a concert earlier this month and we weren’t allowed to dance. At a concert with music!!! What the hell??? Jared Keddington is right, it’s not the permit that’s a problem, it’s the right to being able to dance or not. We aren’t a freaking movie (footloose), we are U.S. citizens.

  • Koolaid December 14, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    That big “D” on the side of the hill stands for Diapers and Depenz, not Dancing.

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