First reported 2/17/2010 7:38 p.m.

A new law, just approved, could make putting on special events in Oak Park a little easier – or more difficult, depending on whom you ask.

Trustees unanimously approved a special events ordinance at the village board meeting last week. Now, before putting on an event, an organization will have to fill out an application and recoup village hall for certain costs. Officials estimate that Oak Park has paid out $50,000 to $100,000 a year for such services as dropping off barricades and lending police officers for security.

The number of events using the public way has grown over the years, making scheduling to avoid several on one day a challenge.

“We are not … trying to discourage special events, but really to embrace them as part of our ongoing activities to promote Oak Park and its many amenities,” said Village Manager Tom Barwin.

But Joan Mercuri, president of Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, says this law is unnecessary. One of her biggest concerns is language that organizations can’t promote an event until they have a permit (unless the event has been going on for at least two years).

“I think it will have a detrimental effect on the village as whole,” Mercuri said, noting it would add a layer of bureaucracy.

Village Clerk Teresa Powell estimated that 52 events were put on in Oak Park last year, 15 to 20 of which wouldn’t be governed by the new law. Block parties and small events that don’t use the public way wouldn’t fall under the new ordinance.

All groups are asked to submit applications to village hall, and won’t be charged if they’re not considered a special event.

The stripped-down final version of the law that was first presented in October asks event organizers to pay a $50 application fee. Oak Park defines a special event as “an organized, nonpermanent public gathering or assembly on public property that is not village-sponsored or co-sponsored.”

Mostly, the new law brings together all the old procedures for putting on an event under the umbrella of one ordinance, only adding the application fee and costs for public works services.

Trustees generally liked the idea, but urged staff to monitor whether the new rules would dissuade people from putting on events. Trustee Colette Lueck said the ordinance should be framed as “something that promotes the process of events, that takes a positive spin and that looks like we’re here to help you.”

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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