Music Commission to tackle licensing issues
Monday, January 11, 2016 by Tyler Whitson
Although the city’s Music and Entertainment Division is billed as “an economic development accelerator and centralized resource center for Austin’s music industry,” program manager Don Pitts says he spends about 70 percent of his time on permitting issues. Aiming to help cut down on that work, the Music Commission has formed a working group to discuss a path forward.
“We have to figure out how to get the Music Office out of the daily permitting process, in my opinion,” said Chair Gavin Garcia at the Jan. 4 commission meeting that saw the creation of the working group. “Certainly, the ball is rolling in City Hall … with (City) Council, and we’re not engaged in the discussion. The Music Division is, but the commission isn’t.”
The group will likely draft recommendations, ultimately for Council, on how to create an “entertainment license to support consistent enforcement of the sound ordinance, safety and security provisions,” as directed by the previous Council in a September 2014 resolution.
Creating the license could allow the Music Division to focus more of its efforts on proactive economic initiatives, make permitting easier for venues and event organizers, and help ensure that nearby residents have adequate notice of upcoming events.
“There’s obviously a lot of unanswered questions, in particular the details as far as what an entertainment license would be,” Pitts said. He also noted that, in addition to the time he spends on permitting, his office has two staff members dedicated to managing such issues.
A briefing at the Council Economic Opportunity Committee signaled that Council will likely be revisiting the issue with a new resolution in the near future.
Economic Development Department Director Kevin Johns submitted a list of recommendations for creating the license in a July 17 memo to Mayor Steve Adler and Council.
The top recommendation that Johns made, aside from creating and requiring an entertainment license for businesses with amplified sound, was to move the section of city code that deals with amplified sound permits from the “Noise and Amplified Sound” chapter to the “Business Regulation” chapter.
Pitts explained the significance of the shift. “(The Noise and Amplified Sound chapter) is designed for prohibited activities, so if you’ve got permitted activities and prohibited activities in the same chapter, there’s a lot of cross-contamination between the two,” he said.
City code, however, is only part of the issue, according to Pitts.
“The challenge is that a lot of our problems come from the administrative process and not what’s written in code. So, I think part of the entertainment license process, if we ever get to defining what that is, would be cleaning up the administrative process,” Pitts said, before providing some examples of the challenges his division faces.
“A lot of temporary events require notification, but the process doesn’t allow notification to get to the residents in time, so a lot of the time they’re getting the notification as the event’s happening. So then that’s another 25 or 30 phone calls from the residents complaining to us,” said Pitts.
“There is not a renewal process,” Pitts continued. “With the outdoor music venue permits, there’s venues that have been there for 15 to 20 years that are having to notify residents within 600 feet every year that they’re a venue. … To me it’s just the administrative is really the only process that is so cumbersome and time-consuming, and it happens every 11 months.”
Johns also recommended in his memo that Council “synchronize permit renewal periods and requirements for all venues.”
Commissioner Christopher Baker explained his concerns about the potential changes. “I know that (permitting) bogs you guys down. I’d like to figure out a way to make sure that if we start going down this road and it does sort of get lumped in with the permitting staff that the city has, that it’s not going to get lost in the shuffle and that it will still be a priority,” he said.
The working group consists of Baker and Commissioners Marshall Escamilla and Buddy Quaid.
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