Onancock plans meetings to determine performance pavilion guidelines

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Image courtesy of Onancock Main Street.

BY CLARA VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post —

The Onancock Town Council met Monday to discuss plans that will govern a future performance pavilion at Historic Onancock School on College Avenue.

The council will host several special meetings to hash out details from what time performances should end to parking, security, alcohol sales, noise levels, and other guidelines, as well as how to enforce rules for the pavilion.

Though the town council did not vote or hear public comment at Monday’s meeting, around 20 attended the special session.

“I think tonight was a first step in compromise,” said Councilmember Joy Marino. “As I’ve always heard, a good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied, and so we need to consider both FOS (Friends of Onancock School) and the concerned citizens.”

The performance pavilion is a project by Friends of Onancock School, which operates the nonprofit Historic Onancock School.

Groundbreaking on the pavilion took place in November after FOS obtained the necessary permits and received a vote of support from the town council, but was followed by controversy when neighbors expressed concerns about issues from traffic and crowd control to noise, bathroom facilities, alcohol sales, trash removal, and potential vandalism of the venue.

FOS has paused pavilion construction while the community reaches consensus on how performances can coexist with neighbors’ way of life.

The town council discussed Monday how to enforce pavilion performance guidelines. The town attorney’s “strong suggestion is that we use a special use permit process,” said Town Manager Matt Spuck.

A special use permit process would allow FOS to submit an application for the special permit from the town, triggering a series of official procedures involving at least two public hearings by Onancock’s planning commission and town council, Spuck said.

“That’s where the community is going to voice their concerns to council,” he said.

Mayor Fletcher Fosque noted a special use permit would have a limited lifespan and the town would review it after a period of time, providing an opportunity to update the permit’s terms.

In its series of special sessions, the town council aims to clarify those terms.

One topic the town council tackled Monday was when to allow performances at the pavilion.

“May through October sounds very reasonable to me,” said Councilmember Maphis Oswald, noting the limits would only apply to amplified music, which FOS defined as a “musical performance by a group utilizing amplified instruments and/or amplified vocals” in its three-page Pavilion Operational Guidelines document.

The document also addresses concerns about sound, parking, security, and community engagement for the pavilion.

Non-amplified events at the pavilion would not face the same restrictions.

FOS’s plan proposes a 10 p.m. cutoff for music at the pavilion, but councilmembers were divided on the suggestion.

“You have to look at our town. There are a lot of people that are retired in town,” Marino said. “Some people in town are in bed at 8 o’clock … so I think 10 o’clock is stretching it quite a lot.”

Others noted live music at downtown restaurants, Shore History events at Kerr Place, and weddings in town already run until 10 p.m. with amplified sound.

“Now that we’ve started considering all of these different events that could have amplified music, two events per month sounds very low,” said Councilmemeber Ray Burger of another proposed limit on the number of amplified events allowed at the pavilion.

One solution could be restricting limits to only larger, ticketed events, or adopting “quiet weekends” at the stage, councilmembers said.

The town council said plans are in the works to create an advisory group to help reach consensus on issues related to the pavilion, though the makeup of that group will be determined in the future.  

FOS’s Pavilion Operational Guidelines document says the group plans to establish such a group, including “representatives of all Onancock neighborhoods, with varied age and ethnic demographics … (and) local businesses and performance stakeholders.”

“I think we’ve come a long way … tonight, and I hope that trend will continue,” said Councilmember Sarah Nock at the close of Monday’s meeting.

The town council has not set a date for its next special meeting to discuss the pavilion, Spuck said Wednesday.

Fosque noted the pavilion is not on the agenda for the town council’s regular meeting this Monday, May 22, though public comment is always taken during the meetings.

He invited he public to send comments on the Performance Pavilion to Spuck at [email protected].

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