Council Made A Mountain Out Of A Block Party Molehill

We’re having a hard time understanding the Jamestown City Council’s decision making in regard to block parties held during the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival.

The National Comedy Center throws a free party with live music outside the venue where the headline artists are performing. Conservatively, hundreds of people attend the parties, many of whom aren’t attending the headliner’s performance. When the performance ends people come out to find the band still playing, providing a party atmosphere until 11 p.m.

That has been the case for the past several years, until the council’s Public Safety Committee declined a variance to allow the block parties to continue until 11 p.m. The Jamestown City Code requires outdoor activity to end no later than 10 p.m., so the variance was necessary to continue the block parties in the way they have traditionally been held. After initially declining the variance, National Comedy Center officials pleaded their case to the Public Safety Committee, which then reversed its decision and allowed the block party to take place until the typical 11 p.m. end time.

Declining the variance would have made sense if there had been a groundswell of opposition from downtown residents about noise from the block parties or if there had been serious public safety incidents. That apparently hadn’t happened.

Instead, Councilwomen Tamu Graham-Reinhardt and Maria Jones told WRFA-LP that one of the reasons to deny the variance was that there wasn’t a system in place or a list of criteria for city officials to follow when making decisions about variances.

What a crock.

Graham-Reinhardt deserves a pass on this one. She is new to the council and hasn’t been part of these discussions in the past. What’s Jones’ issue? She’s been on the council for years. On what was she basing her decisions in the past when it came to the National Comedy Center’s block parties or other similar events that wanted to extend past 10 p.m.? Was the Public Safety Committee suddenly taken aback by an application it has received for each of the last seven years? Did something on the application finally catch committee members’ eye? If they did have concerns last year, what have council members done over the past year to allay those concerns? For that matter, what has stopped Jones from coming up with a criteria for these discussions any time over the past four years?

Lack of a system or criteria is no reason to deny a variance, particularly for an organization that is bringing thousands of people downtown for a four-day festival. The blame for a lack of a criteria or system to decide on variances is the City Council’s. Organizers of events should not be penalized because the council can’t get out of its own way.

Frankly, there is no need for a criteria to follow. City Council members are elected to make these decisions. Listen to the case made by the event organizers. Listen to the concerns of public safety officials and neighbors, if any appear. Weigh both sides, make a decision and stick with it.

We frankly don’t understand why this simple request had to be this gosh-darned difficult.