ULYSSES, N.Y.—The Ulysses town board meeting Tuesday night brought plentiful public comment on the topic of its proposed changes to the way special events permits are approved or denied in the town. The full meeting can be watched here.

No final decision was made on the changes, with the Town Board deciding to wait until next month to discuss further.

Despite some initial confusion about how significantly these changes would impact the GrassRoots Festival, the Trumansburg Fairgrounds themselves follow a different set of rules. The Across The Way Campgrounds which host camping before and during the festival, however, would be impacted.

The Across The Way Campgrounds are currently zoned in two parts: the front half is residential, and the back is commercial. Because the proposed changes would limit the number of special events permits allowed to an operator, GrassRoots organizers are concerned that Culture Camp, which occurs for four days preceding the regular festival, would not be allowed the proper permits for campers to stay there. 

Currently, the town works with a single code enforcement officer who has the authority to approve or deny applications for special event permits at his or her own discretion — and depending on the number of permits requested at any given time, one person might be overwhelmed with the amount of work.

Over the past three years, the code enforcement officer has received 18 special events permit applications total: seven in 2019, two in 2020 and nine in 2021.

As reiterated several times in Tuesday night’s meeting, to need a special events permit, an event must last for more than eight hours (and up to five days) and have 50 cars or more at the location. This means that occasions like weddings, funerals or parties that are shorter than eight hours and will have fewer than 50 cars on location do not require a permit as long as the location is zoned to properly accommodate the attendees.

The other change proposed is to require permits to be obtained at least 30 day before an event begins, though under the current law (which can be found here) the permits must be obtained just five days prior to an event.

The board said that it believes having permit requests discussed during meetings will allow for more transparency and satisfaction with how permits are approved or denied — but this isn’t how townspeople see it.

Greg Reynolds, another resident, said that he believes the board should be mindful of how townspeople wish for things to be conducted.

“The town has a good history on topics like this where they’ve shown a preference that they want laws passed by the town board but implemented by civil servants,” he said. “I encourage the board to pass laws but to allow for a nonpartisan civil employee to do the job they’re sworn to do according to the laws of the town, not put it in the hands of a politician decision that could arise.”

Rosie Fox, who is involved in coordinating Grassroots, asked how the town board will ensure it acts fairly and whether it will be using any criteria to approve or deny permits. Town of Ulysses Clerk Carissa Parlato said the board was not planning on creating criteria to follow, but that if the public wanted it, criteria could be discussed at a future meeting.

Russ Friedell, marketing director of GrassRoots, said that, for the last 29 years, the festival has obtained all necessary permits for the festival to run from the New York State and Tompkins County Health Departments, as well as the Town of Ulysses. “There is currently no language or guidelines in this proposed law as to the process for how to receive a second special events permit other than it must apply to the Town Board,” he said.

Another public commenter voiced his concern that the new process would deter individuals who already understand the special event permit process, which he believed may unfairly impact the farming community which currently lacks an active agriculture committee in the town.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...