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Alexandria City Council approves new special use permit guidelines, despite concerns

Scenes from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever at the AMC Hoffman Center 22 on Thursday, Nov. 10 (staff photo by James Cullum)

An update to the city’s special events policy intended to make the process simpler wound up creating some confusion at the City Council this weekend.

At a meeting on Saturday, Diane Ruggiero, deputy director of the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, talked the City Council through some of the changes. Among the changes to the special events policy are allowing large events (500+ people) on consecutive weekends and a requirement to file a notice of intent with the City Special Events Committee at least 180 days prior to the event.

Ruggiero said her office frequently is told that people didn’t know they needed a permit to hold an event and that the city is chasing people after the fact to get permits approved.

Special event permits are required when:

  • Use of a city park is involved
  • More than 500 people are expected to attend throughout the event
  • Coordination between two or more permitting agencies is required
  • Food is being sold/served to the public
  • Public safety may be at risk

Those permits must be filed 180 days prior to the event, though that can be waived in “special and unusual circumstances” by the city manager, and then permits are sent to the City Special Events Committee for review and approval.

But City Council member John Chapman noted that some of the new changes could create as many headaches at they solve. Chapman, who hosted parties for screenings of both Black Panther and its slightly underrated sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, said the change from notice of intent going from 90 days to 180 days is not feasible for many events.

“I’m concerned about the long lead time needed,” Chapman said. “We had over 500 people [at the screening] and at no time did I think, ‘I need to come to see our city to get a special event application and come before your committee.’ How do we get regular citizens, let alone policy-makers, to understand exactly what we want to see?”

In general, Chapman said he was a little underwhelmed by the outreach done for the new policy, saying there’s still confusion about the new policy and the city needs to do more to make the new policies understood by the general public.

“I’m a little underwhelmed,” Chapman said. “this does not show that the city is getting out there to spaces or for people who own facilities and saying ‘this is what you need to do.’ I don’t want us to rely on hopeful word of mouth.”

Despite some concerns, the City Council voted to approve the new policies.

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