STARKS — Voters approved updates to the town’s mass gathering ordinance by a five-vote margin at the polls Tuesday, according to officials.

Of the town’s roughly 630 people, 70 residents voted in support of the ordinance and 65 opposed it, Starks Town Clerk Jennifer Hebert said.

“The town — we have to move forward,” said Planning Board Chairwoman Gwen Hilton after the results came in Tuesday evening. “The people have decided and determined that we should do that.”

The policy requires permits for events that will have more than 250 attendees, down from the previous limit of 750 attendees over six hours. The stepson of Harry Brown, owner of Harry Brown’s Farm, previously argued that the rules unfairly target his family’s business. Harry Brown’s Farm is a “creative cannabis community” that hosts three annual festivals: Harry’s Hoe Down, Green Love Renaissance and Harvest Ball, which involve music, art and “cannabis liberation” activism.

The business was not required to obtain a permit for its annual events under the previous ordinance, but with the approval of the new rules, it will be required to get Planning Board approval going forward.

Hilton said the ordinance was not drafted with the intention of targeting any specific events or businesses in town.

“It is not targeting them,” Hilton told the Morning Sentinel Monday. “It’s not intended to prohibit what they are doing there at all. … There’s a long history, obviously. And the complaints that we’ve had, I believe, had to do with (their events), but any time you write an ordinance you don’t write for one activity or one business. It’s to be applied equally for all activities.”

The planning board proposed revisions to the mass gathering ordinance after receiving an increase in complaints about a lack of enforcement at large events, according to Hilton. A resident survey also showed support for the move, she added. The ordinance was drafted in 1995 and last updated in 2001.

In addition to lowering the threshold for the number of attendees before a mass gathering permit is required, the new ordinance requires the host organization to pay for one law enforcement official to oversee offsite security, if the planning board deems it necessary. The revisions also lower the application fee to $100, plus the cost of notifying abutters. The planning board may opt to waive this fee for nonprofits on a case-by-case basis. Host organizations must also pay the town a deposit for off-site impacts, the amount of which is not specified in the rules. O’Connor alleged that the fees were designed to discriminate against “businesses determined to be ‘a pall on the town’ with overburdensome and unknown costs.” Hilton said the lack of specificity is because it is difficult to calculate the necessary costs before knowing the details of the event.

O’Connor said he believed that with the wording of the newly passed ordinance, events including “weddings, benefits, charity events and graduations ” would be legislated.

The document states that it does not apply to town-sponsored events, local public school sporting events or functions or meetings held by county.

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