The application for The Sharps Session 22.0, a three-day music festival, got a unanimous ‘no’ vote from Richmond County Supervisors. Several of them described the event as poorly planned and both the sheriff and EMS chief agreed with that assessment and expressed opposition.
Maggie Dooling planned to use her property at 5751 Sharps Road for the event, which was slated to run from June 24 – 26. According to her application, the event would feature over a dozen performers, have at least three food vendors and attract up to 500 attendees.
The plan also included guests camping at the site. Most were expected to use tents and hammocks. Some may have campers, Dooling noted, but those individuals would be aware that no hook-up was provided and they would be responsible for their waste disposal.
Dooling didn’t show up to speak in support of her application and no one else offered words of support either. But numerous Sharps residents showed up to the board of supervisors meeting to voice their opposition and urge the board to say no.
In addition to the pushback from Sharps residents, Richmond County Administrator Morgan Quicke highlighted an issue with the plan for camping. Quicke said the application claimed that they would be operating under a temporary campground permit from the Virginia Department of Health, but he said the county had not received that permit.
And even if Dooling had the campground permit, the county’s zoning ordinance simply doesn’t allow the camping arrangement, Quicke told the supervisors. A commercial campground is a special exception use of A-1, and currently the property in question doesn’t have the designation to qualify, he explained.
“Separate of the music festival, I don’t think overnight camping can occur on this property [on a commercial scale]” Quicke told the board.
The county administrator also addressed any attempts to compare this event to the music event held at Mt. Airy. The only similarity between the two is that they both involve music, he said. The Mt. Airy event is one night with a couple hundred people and doesn’t have a residential component, he noted.
Supervisor Robert Pemberton said it didn’t seem like a well thought-out plan. Generally, the board would have held off on making a decision on this type of application in the same month it was presented. However, Pemberton said they should take action last Thursday to give Dooling the opportunity to come back next month with an amended plan.
Another issue that county leaders found troubling was that Dooling’s application said private security would be used for the event. She didn’t want police or EMS on the property, and if they needed to access the property, she wanted them to wait at the gate until she could escort them in.
Board chairman Lee Sanders voiced concerns about that using the example of if someone was having a heart attack but first responders faced the need to call Dooling from the gate. He said he was especially not for that piece of the plan.
Supervisor Richard Thomas said he was concerned about the desire to avoid first responders as well as the potential impact of having 400 vehicles congested in the area if public safety needed to be called in.
Thomas also wanted to take action immediately, but for a different reason. During the discussion, the supervisors said Dooling was already selling tickets to the event although it hadn’t been approved. “If they are taking ticket sales already, and we let that go another month…that’s not a good reflection on Richmond County,” said Thomas.
Supervisor John Parr said he’s all for a music festival, but he agreed the safety issues are a real big concern. “Safety officials shouldn’t be deterred,” he said.
“My officers are not going to be waiting at a gate,” Sheriff Stephan Smith told the board of supervisors. “My concern is what are they doing inside there that they don’t want to have officers in the area or a rescue squad…?
Smith told the board somebody with a heart attack would be dead if there was an emergency and they operated according to Dooling’s terms. He also didn’t believe it was a well thought out plan. And regardless of what security Dooling proposed, the sheriff’s department would have to have additional people on duty. That extra staff for three days “would be devastating for my overtime budget,” he told the supervisor. While somebody is making money off the event, the county would be losing money, he said.
Smith told the supervisors outright that he didn’t agree with the event.
EMS chief Mitch Paulette took the same position as the sheriff. He said he thought the county had already established some years ago that events of a certain size were subject to certain public safety requirements, including having county personnel involved.
“I don’t like the fact that they want us to wait. I don’t like the fact that they want to escort us in. A medical emergency is just that. Are they willing to take the legal ramifications of someone dying because they hindered care?” Paulette asked.
He also described the event as poorly planned and said it should have been brought to him and Sheriff Smith to get their help with the planning.