That was the point he tried to drive home during a meeting with the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors Monday.
Sorenson of Decorah, who currently owns and operates the nightclub Smiley’s on the River and D.J. Smiley Productions, said he had some complaints, concerns and suggestions he wanted to provide to the Board that he hopes will help them as they work with Yaggy Colby Associates Inc. of Delafield, Wis., the firm the county has hired to help update its zoning ordinances.
“I got in trouble for throwing an event in August and the county filed eight charges against me and eight charges against Deb (Keefe, owner of Chimney Rock Campground),’” Sorenson told the Board.
Sorenson and Keefe were charged for failure to obtain a conditional-use permit for the Adventure Camp Music Festival and failure to obtain a construction compliance certificate. Because the festival lasted four days, they were each originally charged with both violations each day for the four days of the festival last August.
Sorenson said he was unaware a permit was required and after reviewing the county’s zoning ordinance, he feels it is “extremely vague.”
Sorenson said since he was charged, he has spent considerable time poring through the county’s ordinance regarding such gatherings, which mentions music, outdoor events and religious meetings, among others.
“Should every (outdoor) wedding in the county be held accountable?” he asked.
In addition, Sorenson said Zoning Administrator Tony Phillips told him no one has ever applied for the permit in question.
“Including yourself, Mr. Logsdon,” said Sorenson, referring to the fact Board Chair John Logsdon and his brother, Randy, held the Light Up the Bluff music festival in Bluffton for 20 years.
“We had 500 people. Peak attendance records at Light Up the Bluff show 6,000 people … You, yourself threw an event for 20 years and no one batted an eyelash. How did I get thrown under the bus for this one?” he asked.
Logsdon said Sorenson was “mistaken” in his allegations and that the Bluffton event fell under the normal function of the facility.
“So it’s a normal function of a store to have 6,000 people?” asked Sorenson.
Logsdon responded, “I don’t think the county is going to let an illegal event to go on for 20 years.”
Logsdon said he could draw “several dissimilarities” between his event and Sorenson’s.
“The way you have it worded in your ordinances is a music event,” said Sorenson, referring to the items listed on the books as needing a conditional-use permit.
Sorenson also lamented the short amount of notice he was given to cancel his event.
“This (Adventure Camp) was brought up in a meeting in May last year. At that point, the Board was aware and Tony was aware of it. Couldn’t someone have said ‘Hey, you need a permit?’ Tony has said it’s not his job to hunt someone down,” said Sorenson.
“We weren’t trying to do anything illegal.”
Issues with Keefe
Sorenson next said he felt prior issues the Board of Supervisors had with Keefe affected the way the permitting for his event was handled.
He said there are many other events that go on in the county, such as outdoor concerts at Seed Savers Exchange, and he just thinks the rules should be the same for everyone.
Logsdon next explained Yaggy Colby’s recommendations to the Board regarding changes to the county’s zoning ordinances should be submitted by the end of the year.
“So everyone gets a free pass until that’s done – everyone but myself?” asked Sorenson.
Sorenson said he thinks it’s time for an update because he thinks his event could help county tourism by bringing more people to the area.
“The hullaballoo put on this event hurt it from possibly growing,” said Sorenson.
A speedy trial
Sorenson said while seven of his eight charges were dropped, the six months the issue took to resolve was stressful for him.
“It got to be a headache, six months of dealing with a small fine,” he said.
“In that regard, with the county vs. myself, I felt I was denied a right to a speedy trial.”
Logsdon next told Sorenson he wasn’t aware that, “this Board delayed anything”
Phillips added, “It was the court that postponed the trial several times.”
Following the meeting, Sorenson explained his total fine was $250 plus court costs, and he was charged with a “civil infraction for failure to have a conditional use permit.”
Logsdon told Sorenson the up side is that if he plans another event, at least he will know what to do.
“An education’s never cheap no matter where you get it,” said Logsdon.
“I got in trouble, I paid the fine and I learned a lesson,” said Sorenson.
In closing, Board Member Dennis Karlsbroten commended Sorenson’s approach to the controversy.
“I will say you represented yourself very well,” he said.