Three new amendments were proposed for Harrisonburg’s Mass Outdoor Social Gathering ordinance as a result of an annual meeting between the city’s attorney and the Harrisonburg Police Department. The regulation, which was created about four years ago, outlines the rules that individuals must follow to host events with 100 or more people that will use sound amplifiers.
A preliminary approval for the amendments has already been issued, and council will decide on Aug. 27 whether to enforce the following guidelines: An event location that has received two or more violations within 12 months will no longer be qualified to obtain a new permit. Repeat offenders will be required to reapply for a permit, and pick-up and drop-off areas for attendees must be noted on the application.
The pick-up and drop-off areas were proposed to increase public safety. When a party ends, it’s typical for the streets to flood with transportation providers, which can jeopardize the safety of those in the area, HPD Sgt. Chris Monahan said.
“Oftentimes, those vehicles that come to pick up are stopping in the middle of roadways, which not only obstructs traffic but is a safety concern for those entering or exiting their vehicles,” Monahan said.
Michael Parks, Harrisonburg’s director of communications, said the ordinance and its soon-to-be-passed amendments shouldn’t stop anyone’s social gatherings. Instead, he hopes these amendments will increase communication between the city and its locals.
“People shouldn’t hesitate to contact us,” Parks said. “It’s not like we’re going to come out and shut you down. And, you know, we want to work with you to make sure that you have a good experience and your neighbors have a good experience and everything stays safe.”
Harrisonburg City Attorney Chris Brown said officers who attended the meeting believed the relationship between locals and city officials was going “remarkably well.” In turn, the amendments proposed are centered around increasing safety and communication between the two parties.
In an effort to provide more communication, HPD believes it’s important to participate in outreach events, such as community walks where officers go door to door in local neighborhoods to introduce themselves and allow people to ask them questions. Monahan said events like these and rules such as the new proposed amendments, allows for everyone to be on the same page.
“I think a clear understanding of expectations from both sides, along with positive contacts, leads to better trust and more transparency,” Monahan said.
The permits used to approve these “gatherings” have shown to be beneficial. In 2018, 65 permits were issued and zero received citations, Parks said. Besides the numbers, Brown believes the proposed amendments “lets everyone know what’s expected of them” through continuous communication.
“Be very open with your communication to the city and HPD, and I think you’ll get a positive response,” Brown said.
HPD believes in using a balanced approach when it comes to large gatherings, meaning that those in the community are welcome to host such events with the understanding that it shouldn’t pose as a safety concern.
“Ultimately, we have a responsibility as a police department to not only keep the community safe but also do our part to ensure that community members can enjoy a high quality of life,” Monahan said. “I think with the balanced approach that we take. It helps keep the relationship strong not only with students but community members.”
Contact Katelyn Waltemyer at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.