Gainesville officials are looking for ways to bring a little more fun into Gainesville.
City staff is currently looking at ways to increase the number of carnival events residents can hold, and make it easier for residents to get the permits they need to hold the events in general business parking lots.
As the city’s code stands today, carnival-type events are limited to two per year on a particular site in the General Business zoning district, and those two events must not last longer than 15 days and must be separated by at least one month, Gainesville Planning Director Rusty Ligon said.
At last week’s City Council meeting, council members voted to give the Gainesville Jaycees a special permit to use Blue Ridge shopping center on Shallowford Road for two carnivals. The largely under utilized shopping center is ideal for such events, because there are few shopping center sites in the city that have enough space to set up a carnival and allow for parking without interrupting the center’s daily shopping business, City Manager Bryan Shuler said. The Jaycees also held their two events, one which runs in conjunction with Mule Camp Days, at the Blue Ridge shopping center last year.
After allowing the Jaycees to have the site for both events, city’s current ordinance keeps any other organizations from using the site for any other carnival-type events this year.
"The reason it was written the way it was was to prevent any one site from becoming a defacto permanent carnival site," Shuler said.
But limiting the number of carnivals at each site to two per year now seems to be overly restrictive, Shuler said.
"But we wouldn’t want them there 52 weekends a year, either," Shuler said.At the City Council’s most recent work session, Mayor Myrtle Figueras commented on the fact that no one but the Jaycees would get to use the Blue Ridge shopping center for a carnival this year. She mentioned one man who had tried multiple times to use the property for a carnival, but could not gain access to it. A recent Georgia Municipal Association conference in Savannah caused Figueras to wonder why there were not more carnivals in Gainesville, she said.
"What prompted this in my mind is I saw how much fun they were having in Savannah — just fun, pure fun," Figueras said.
Figueras asked city staff members why the man had been turned down if the Jaycees’ events could be allowed.
Assistant City Manager Kip Padgett told Figueras that many times, people who want to hold special events seek permission to use the site for an event one month before the event is supposed to occur.
Those people are automatically turned down for the event, because the process to acquire the necessary special-use permits takes about three months.
"There’s got to be some real planning ahead on the part of the applicant (in order to get city approval to use the site)," Ligon said.
Yet, the owner of the property also has discretion over which organizations hold carnivals in the shopping center. Planning documents show that Barry Conner, president of America’s Home Place, offered the property for the Gainesville Jaycees to use two years ago when the Jaycees could no longer use a lot on Monroe Drive and U.S. 129.
Conner could not be reached for comment.
"The owner has to make the choice who he wants to offer it to; we don’t have anything we can say about that," Shuler said.
Councilman George Wangemann suggested that the city increase the number of events each general business zoned shopping center could hold from two to four per year.
Ligon’s planning staff will soon look at the number of times the events can occur each calendar year, and how to modify the city’s Unified Land Development Code in order to make the permitting process easier for residents who want to use the sites for carnivals.
To do this, the planning department will research other, similarly sized cities to see how their officials deal with carnivals, such as how often each site can have an event and how they are permitted, Ligon said.
"I think that’s something we can do pretty quickly," Ligon said.
No matter how long it takes to complete the research, changing the city’s Unified Land Development Code can take at least three months to pass through the City Council, however.
"Anytime you’re talking about modifying the code, you have to get it on an agenda, before the Planning and Appeals Board and passed by the City Council," Ligon said.
Ligon projects that if the council chooses to approve his recommendation, the code could be changed as soon as this fall.