STARKS — Voters in Starks will decide Tuesday on proposed changes to the town’s mass gathering ordinance.

The changes were prompted by an uptick in complaints about a lack of enforcement at large events, according to Planning Board Chair Gwen Hilton.

“Our town continues to have problems with noise, traffic, and trespass, including impaired people wandering off site and in some cases even into people’s homes during mass gatherings,” Hilton wrote in a statement about what prompted the move.

The revisions address issues of traffic, safety, crowd control, health/sanitation, noise, compliance with drug and alcohol laws and protection of public and private property during events in the Somerset County community.

“People should generally be allowed to use their own property as they wish until that spills over into the town and affects other people’s rights,” Hilton said. “We think the proposed ordinance recognizes the rights of property owners while providing protection for townspeople and their property.”

Residents can weigh in at the polls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Starks Community Center, 57 Anson Road.

Under the previous ordinance, first penned in 1995 and most recently revised in 2001, the regulations and permitting process for mass gatherings were contingent on a crowd size of 750 people or more attending for at least six hours. If the revisions pass next week, Hilton said that number would drop to a minimum of 250.

“This makes it easier to determine if a permit is required versus the current ordinance,” Hilton wrote. “It is very unlikely that town officials would be out counting people at gatherings that are not significantly and obviously above 250 people.”

Hilton said the application fee will decrease to $100, plus the cost of notifying abutters and the public, but may be waived for nonprofits as part of an effort to make the process “user-friendly.”

The ordinance does not apply to town-sponsored events, local public school sporting events or functions or meetings held by county, state or federal agencies, according to the document.

The proposed changes will allow for added offsite security for certain events, if the planning board deems it necessary.

“The Board may require a law enforcement officer in the vicinity of the event, if it appears necessary to protect the public health and safety of the town and to respond more quickly to emergencies than the typical response time for law enforcement,” Hilton wrote.

Starks does not have a municipal police department.

Those hosting a large event will still be required to submit a deposit to cover the cost of off-site impacts, which is consistent with the current rules, according to Hilton. Liability insurance will also remain a requirement in keeping with the existing ordinance.

Hilton said residents have been asking for years that the town better enforce its existing mass gathering ordinance.

The Planning Board launched a community survey earlier this year asking residents if they wanted the ordinance updated. With public support, the board began drafting a new policy in the spring.


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