HEAVEN FEST: A BRIEFING FOR THE COUNCIL AND THE LONGMONT COMMUNITY
March 7, 2010 (Photo and story about 2009 event)
Several of us will be speaking to you this evening about the many aspects of the Heaven Fest rock concert planned for the area around Union Reservoir.
We are well aware that certain council members have taken the position that the matter is an administrative decision and not a matter for the council. Although Use Permit procedures are delineated in the city’s municipal code, the Heaven Fest event is beyond the scope ever imagined by that permitting process.
First and foremost, a decision to hold an event drawing 30,000 to 50,000 attendees rises to the level of a Council policy decision. An approval to move forward with this event should have been answered in a formal motion and vote by the city council before staff time was committed.
The Longmont community is entitled to an up or down vote on the appropriateness of this event at the reservoir. We need to know the position of each and every member of this council on this matter. Beyond this current issue, the City of Longmont must develop policy positions that are venue specific. This is not a policy decision of the Longmont Area Visitors Association. It is an issue for the people of Longmont.
Last Friday City Clerk Valeria Skitt forwarded the city’s list of requirements to Mr. Bodley for his concurrence or further input. However, the conditions that city staff has required of the applicant have not been made available to the public so that it can assess the adequacy of the requirements.
When members of the community became aware of this event, they began to speak out and plead with this council to deny the permit. They have come before this council at Public Invited to be Heard. They have written emails to the mayor and council members, and to city staff. They have written Letters to the Editor denouncing the use of the reservoir for this purpose. They’ve written Guest Opinions . The Longmont Ledger and the Boulder Weekly have reported on the event and its potential negative impacts. Church members have spoken against the concert at the reservoir. The Boulder County Audubon Society has written the mayor, council and city officials warning of the degradation to wildlife and the environment.
So this evening we will break down our concerns and our conclusions about the many aspects of this event that are not in the best interest of the of Longmont. We will talk about wildlife and its habitat. We will talk about other environmental impacts. We will talk about traffic. We will talk about quality of life issues. And, yes, we will talk about economic impact, a believable economic impact.
Beyond the code requirements for issuing a use permit, there are other legal documents that have a bearing on this issue.
The Lease Agreement between the City of Longmont and the Union Reservoir Company cover fourteen acres of land on the south side of the reservoir that are devoted to the Union Reservoir District Park and Recreation Area. This agreement requires the city to use due diligence to secure the compliance by the public or other users with any rules or regulations. The city’s decisions are subject to review and comment by the Union Reservoir Company.
The irony of this situation is that the city IS the Union Reservoir for all intents and purposes. The city owns an 86% interest in the reservoir and Ken Husen, the city’s Water Resources Manager, is the President of the Union Reservoir Company Board. It’s effectively asking the city if the city is in agreement with the city on issues involving Union Reservoir. At times that can be very advantageous to Longmont. In this case, it abrogates any genuine checks and balances.
The lease agreement, however, does demand that the city must in no way interfere or impede the operation of the premises as an irrigation reservoir in any manner.
It further states that the city “shall enforce such restrictions and limitations (such as to number of people at the reservoir, number of campers at the reservoir…at one time) to promote safe usage of the reservoir.
A reasonable reading of these clauses requires that the city prevent crowds inside the District Park of even a fraction of the number of people expected at the rock concert – both for reasons of safety and for reasons of maintaining the quality of the water contained in the reservoir.
Staff has sought to excuse the volume of people expected stating that the Union Reservoir District Park has annual attendance of around 150,000 people. Let’s be clear, that is 150,000 people over the course of an entire year, 365 days. There has never been a crowd larger than 6,000 people and that occurred only once. The typical crowd is 600 people during the triathlon. 600 hundred is a long way from 6,000 or possibly 16,000.
And it should also be recognized that the land to the south and that to the east slopes towards the reservoir. There are irrigation ditches along the edge of the field that could fall victim to any number of contaminants. And one of them discharges into the reservoir.
Throughout the process of allocating areas for various event purposes there have been times where legally designated open space has been assigned usages that are prohibited by ordinance passed by the people, not by the council. Those purposes cannot be overridden by either staff or council. Since the plans have not been shared with the public, we do not have certainty that open space will be properly used.
Ordinance requires that open space shall be limited to six functions. The most relevant amongst them is the first designated function: “Preservation of natural areas, wildlife habitat, wetlands, agriculture and visual corridors
At various times open space has been designated for use as parking or for use as a helicopter port, neither of which is permitted. Once inside the District Park and near open space, there is nothing that would prevent attendees from wandering into open space in large numbers without regard to preservation .
The Union Reservoir Land Management Implementation Plan governs the Koester Property and the Pietrzak Property. Although it allows for recreational use as a secondary permitted function, it delineates by example usages that are very different from the planned uses by Heaven Fest. The management plan speaks to uses for archery , dog training and a BMX bike course.
Any of these uses are far different from seven stages, massive vehicles delivering equipment, and numerous vendors . The property will hold up to 50,000 people at one time and for many hours. After all, the purpose for being there is to listen to the music. This event is a conceptual stretch way beyond the language of the Land Management Plan.
And lastly, there are the conditions of the Use of Public Places permit itself.
I have heard staff claim that none of the conditions require that a permit be denied. If that is not the case, then why, for Heaven’s sake, even have conditions. If all the city must do is “consider” the conditions, then are we to consider whether the votes in the last election are binding and then ignore them? Are we to consider our utility bills and then fail to pay them?
To the contrary, the code does, in fact, require a finding that the conditions not be violated. It clearly states that “the city clerk and the chief building official SHALL ONLY ISSUE PERMITS upon finding that the permit WILL NOT GENERATE ANY OF THE CONDITIONS specified.
Amongst the provisions specified in the portion of the municipal code covering use permits are issues of public access, noise, health and safety, crowding, and damage of property in light of previous uses, current conditions, or future uses.
You’ve seen pictures of people and cars at last year’s Heaven Fest outside Brighton in the Times-Call. The event was held on property owned by Northern Hills Christian Church. Several of us actually visited the location. The land is raw and uncultivated.
We also met with John Jukkola, who was quoted in the Times-Call article “How heavenly was it?” It was important for us to hear first hand and unfiltered a description of what occurred and the reactions of neighbors.
Mr. Jukkola spoke freely; and when asked why he was eager to share his experience and views, he emphatically replied, (quote) “Heaven Fest is too big to be held in a field. It belongs in a stadium.” (end quote) He hopes that the message will sink in and that Heaven Fest will move its event away from the church property and away from Union Reservoir and hold it in a venue such as Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Mr. Jukkola is the only one amongst his neighbors willing to speak publicly against the event because his neighbors are extremely concerned that if Longmont declines the Heaven Fest permit, then the Heaven Fest rock concert will return to the church grounds with even larger attendance. They pray (and there is no pun intended) that this will not happen.
Mr. Jukkola is emphatic that there are serious “quality of life issues for people around the festival.”
We were told that in 2008 when the event was first held that traffic on State Highway 7 was so severely backed up that Colorado Department of Transportation threatened to close it down if it happened again in 2009. As a consequence, Heaven Fest instructed 2009 attendees not to Google directions but to use those provided on their website in hopes of avoiding a repetition of the 2008 experience.
People being people, they elected to make their own choices. Two-lane dirt roads near the event where congested. Five of the six miles of area roads around the event are dirt roads. There was a two-mile backup on Colorado Boulevard. And in spite of the warning from CDOT in 2008, 168th Street and Colorado 7 were plugged.
There were three and a half hours of very intense traffic seeking access to the event. And when the roads weren’t congested, speed limits were ignored. And vehicles broke down and were left at the side of road. The attendance in 2009 was 23,000. 2010 expects 30,000 to 50,000.
Private property was leased for two parking lots. Mr. Jukkola, who took the photo appearing in the Times-Call, reported that what was depicted reflected only half of the parked cars in the designated lots. Nevertheless, parking was insufficient.
People parked across the way in the Eagle Shadow subdivision of expensive homes, even though the event organizers had assured the association that there would be no problem. Residents took it upon themselves to prevent entry to the degree that they could.
People parked along Colorado 7 and walked the rest of the way, sometimes four abreast. They parked in oil well areas.
The land leased for parking was purchased for its investment value. The owners plan to capitalize on future development. The land is raw and doesn’t require revegetation. What grass that existed was killed and noxious weeds will now proliferate.
The land around Union Reservoir that is to be used for parking, whether Longmont-owned or privately-owned, is prime farmland, not raw dirt. It will require reseeding; and seed will need to be drilled into the soil. Heaven Fest has no qualifications to mitigate this.
And then there are the issues of dust and noise. The dust was so severe in 2008 and wind conditions so unfavorable that it wasn’t until the following afternoon that the dust cleared. It was necessary for those in the area to keep their windows tightly shut and their air conditioners running in order to cope with the environmental breathing hazards. Winds fortunately prevented a recurrence in 2009.
Assurances by Mr. Bodley about noise levels notwithstanding, Eagle Shadow residents could hear the music; and some found this an unacceptable intrusion on their quality of life. Will Longview also find this to be the case? Certainly the homes near to the event will experience the sound.
Mr. Bodley likes to equate noise levels with highway traffic. This dismissive statement fails to recognize the continuous level of sound that results from an all-day concert. Decibel levels were taken in 2009 in several places between 1 PM and 10 PM on the day of the main concert. The decibel level peaked between 6PM and 7 PM at 85 decibels. The levels ranged from 53 to 85 decibels with the preponderance of levels in the 60s. The loudest levels were recorded in the evening. And remember this is continuous. Music to some. Noise to others.
The Boulder County Chapter of the Audubon Society recently sent a letter to the Longmont City Council and staff raising environmental issues about the proposed Heaven Fest mega-festival planned for the Union Reservoir this summer. As a Chapter member, I have seen both the letter and Longmont’s response. I remain concerned that Longmont is going ahead with the Heaven Fest permit regardless of the environmental issues raised.
The Audubon letter expressed concern about Heaven Fest’s bringing in as many as 50,000 people into the District Park along the south shore of the Reservoir. The City’s response was to say that the site of the concert is not a District Park and thus is not governed by District Park or Open Space guidelines.
Unfortunately, this is only a half truth and thus misleading. The bulk of the Heaven Fest concert is to take place on City farm land immediately south of the District Park, although one stage, concert amenities, and a skateboarding event are planned inside the Park. The reality is that the permit application is for use of the entire Reservoir, specifically including the District Park.
Heaven Fest wants to use our beautiful Reservoir – that is one of the primary reasons they applied for this permit in the first place.
The Strategy Section of the Longmont Area Comprehensive Plan, Section P-1.1(c), states that our District Parks are primarily to promote low-impact, passive outdoor recreation. Even if each of the 30,000 to 50,000 expected Heaven Fest patrons promises only to pirouette through the District Park on their tippy-toes, no one can reasonably argue that such a massive onslaught of people amounts to low-impact, passive recreational use.
Union Reservoir is one of the most productive habitats for nesting and migratory birds in eastern Colorado; it’s a rare jewel. This is how many residents feel about Union Reservoir. Many have expressed their concern over the use of the reservoir, as far back as 1989. Over the years, the concern for wildlife at Union Reservoir has not abated.
On February 8, 2010, City Council received a letter from the Boulder County Audubon Society about Heaven Fest being held at the reservoir. Audubon wrote: “Such an important wildlife resource seems a particularly inappropriate place to stage a festival attended by 30,000 to 50,000 people, especially during a time when breeding birds are still feeding dependent young.” So what is the concern about wildlife at the reservoir? More than 200 bird species have been observed at Union Reservoir. There have been reported sightings of 44 species of waterfowl and wading birds, 26 species of shorebirds, including rare species; and 20 raptor species.
Heaven Fest will have adverse impacts, through dust, noise and general disturbance, on these species and the overall quality of the habitat. Birds nesting within the district park area and foraging along the southern shoreline will be directly impacted by the thousands of people attending the festival. The prairie dog colony next to WCR 26 on the southeast side of the reservoir has a history of providing habitat for burrowing owls. Although these small owls did not return to this particular colony in 2009; they could return 2010. Collisions with vehicles have been cited as a significant source of mortality for these low flying birds. If Heaven Fest occurs, 6400 vehicles will pass nearby the prairie dog colony on WCR 26, potentially endangering any returning burrowing owls and other wildlife living in the colony.
Connectivity of habitats and ecosystems is a major principle of modern ecosystem conservation. The connectivity between the reservoir and habitat to the south will be disrupted for at least two weeks by Heaven Fest and may have a long term negative impact on wildlife. The Bald Eagles nesting near the Keyes property will essentially be blocked from important foraging areas at the reservoir. Union Reservoir and St. Vrain/Boulder Creek areas are part of an important regional wintering and breeding area for bald eagles. Do we want to diminish the value of this important ecosystem?
The critical wildlife habitat on the reservoir’s north shore will also be adversely impacted by traffic congestion, noise, dust, and trespassers if this area isn’t closely monitored.
Clearly, Union Reservoir is an environmentally sensitive area and should be off limits to Heaven Fest.
A lot has been written about the economic benefit Heaven Fest will bring to Longmont. $700,000 is a great deal of money, almost too good to be true in today’s depressed economy. I recently reviewed the city’s Heaven Fest economic benefit analysis and found that it is a formula-based analysis, relying on broad assumptions instead of solid information.
One of the assumptions made in the city analysis is that 20% of the 30,000 festival attendees, or 2000 travel parties (consisting of three individuals) will stay overnight in Longmont hotels, generating $406,440 of revenue for lodging and meals. How can Longmont accommodate 2000 overnight travel parties when the City has a total of only 918 hotel rooms, according to Economic Development manager Doug Bene?
In addition, it is difficult to believe a large number of attendees would be willing to spend $100 to $150 per night for a hotel room while 1,823 camping spaces will be available at the Heaven Fest site, with additional campsites at the St. Vrain State Park and other parks in the area. We are currently experiencing one of the worst economic recessions since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. I know from my own experience, when my family budget was tight, we chose to camp under the stars rather than stay at a hotel while vacationing.
According to demographic statistics for the 2009 Heaven Fest event, 42% of the festival attendees had an annual household income of less than $35,000. One can reasonably assume this demographic will be the same for the Longmont Heaven Fest. I expect that many festival goers will not be able to afford a night’s stay in a Longmont hotel. They will most likely take advantage of the less expensive camping sites, or even sleep in their vehicles.
Another assumption in the analysis is that 8,000 day-travel parties will spend $351,840 on meals in Longmont. If the Heaven Fest event had a history of providing a huge economic boost to local economies, as assumed in the analysis, then there would have been a substantial increase in sales revenues in the cities of Brighton and Thornton during the 2009 Brighton Heaven Fest event. There wasn’t.
Finance directors of these two cities have stated there was no noticeable bump in the collection of sales tax from the Brighton Heaven Fest event. This is troubling, since Brighton is only a few miles east of the 2009 festival site. Additionally, an official with the Finance Department of Adams County also told an inquiring Longmont resident that it would be very difficult to attribute any increase in sales tax revenue to the 2009 Heaven Fest.
Before deciding that Heaven Fest 2010 will be economically beneficent to Longmont, each side of the balance sheet must be considered.
One important missing piece is the costs related to the use of city resources and manpower to facilitate Heaven Fest 2010. City officials contend there will be no cost to taxpayers; everything will be paid for by Heaven Fest. However, the tab is already rising as city staff put in many hours of work on the Heaven Fest project. The $50 impact fee that Heaven Fest promoter may pay for the city use permit will not cover this cost.
Economic development benefit due to tourism for this event represents a private benefit. There are also social costs that may outweigh this private benefits.
One category of social cost is traffic congestion. This can be estimated. For example, according to the city’s website, average daily volume on Ken Pratt east of ThirdStreet westbound is about 12,000 cars per day. On County Line Road north of Third Street southbound, average daily volume is about 7,000 cars per day. The 17,000 additional cars coming to the event will roughly double the traffic on these two streets. The additional cars from the event could increase travel time for the average 19,000 cars by half an hour per car/per person on the average. With two passengers per car, their time, valued at $10 per hour ,results in an estimated social cost of congestion at $380,000. This is of the same magnitude as tourism benefits and could be much higher if congestion on other roads was included.
Thus, it is likely that in a full accounting, social costs would exceed the private benefits from tourism.
Note that a different location or different traffic/ parking arrangements could result in the same tourism benefit with less social cost.
City officials should do more number crunching to come up with a credible cost/benefit analysis to help identify better options for the Heaven Fest event. In times of economic uncertainty, Longmont residents need to be assured they will not be subsidizing an event that could potentially draw over a million dollars for the event promoters, but not much for Longmont.
We’ve addressed legal requirements described in a number of legal documents. We talked to you about quality of life issues and noise. We’ve talked to you about the environment and wildlife. We’ve talked to you about traffic, congestion and parking.
Although the Use of Public Places does not require an economic benefit, anyone paying attention to this issue from the beginning recognizes that the subject of economic benefit has been the driving force in the approval process. Gary Wheat, Executive Director of LAVA, told the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, “I speak from the standpoint of economic development.”
The policy decision to use Union Reservoir for an event of tens of thousands of people with vehicles, equipment and vendor stations was not made by the city; it was made by LAVA. An decision that there would be enormous economic benefit was made a priori, before the fact. And subsequent to this, everything has been forced to fit or dismissed as inconsequential.
The people of Longmont need to know how we got to this point. They need to know the underlying motivation.
To hold an event of this magnitude is a major policy decision that needs to be made by the City Council, not by LAVA and not by city staff. The time for the City Council to vote on the appropriateness of holding this event at Union Reservoir is NOW. Once a contract is signed, it will not and cannot be rescinded without legal ramifications. Ms. Skitt may issue the permit before the week is out.
We’ve tried to offer you and the public information that has not been considered or has been withheld from public view.
Do you still think this is going to be good deal for Longmont? — We know it’s not.