SweetWater 420 Fest Leaves Candler Park a Little Soured
Residents support festival, but want stronger say to minimize impact on neighborhood.
As festivals go, the SweetWater 420 Fest, is a popular one, drawing scores of crowds to Candler Park for a three-day weekend party and raising the neighborhood's profile.
But as popular as it is with some Candler Park residents and visitors, the festival, which is planning a return in April 19-21 in 2013, hasn't been problem-free.
And those residents made their feelings known to SweetWater representatives Monday night at the December meeting of the Candler Park Neighborhood Organization. They spent some 90 minutes debating — at time heated issues concerning traffic, noise, public intoxication and urination, parking hassles and uneven police response and oversight.
The neighborhood will make a formal vote at its Jan. 21 meeting on whether or not to support the event.
Candler Park isn't alone in dealing with the impact large-scale festivals have on neighborhoods, of course. Midtown residents have for years lamented that the continual annual stream of events and festivals in Piedmont Park has resulted in a host of problems that spill out into the surrounding side streets.
But at 185 acres, Piedmont Park is more than three times the size of Candler Park's namesake greenspace. That only magnifies the impact the SweetWater 420 Fest has on the neighborhood.
And the discussion underscores a festival approval process that some Candler Park residents and people from other neighborhoods say is problematic: Events such as SweetWater 420 Fest must go before local Neighborhood Planning Units and present their plan before going to the Mayor's Office of Special Events, but they aren't required to go before the neighborhood itself.
In theory, Atlanta's NPUs — each represent a collection city neighborhoods — exist to make recommendations to city agencies that are in the best interests of their member communities.
And while they do do that, proponents of change to the special events review process argue the neighborhoods directly affected should have some concrete say in how those functions run to minimize the disruption.
For its part, SweetWater representatives, which included a company marketing executive, the event's organizer and an Atlanta Police Department sergeant who serves as the festival's security coordinator, said they weren't trying to be disruptive or disrespectful to the neighborhood.
"We don't want to be a burden," Steve Farace, SweetWater Brewing Co.'s marketing director, told residents at the meeting. Organizers sent a letter to the neighborhood that stressed its desire to be a good partner.
Indeed, the festival's organizer Jenn Bensch, who is with Happy Endings Productions, stressed they wanted to meet with residents to hear their concerns, present two preliminary plans, and make changes based on the neighborhood's input.
Bensch, who said they haven't yet filed an application with the city, stressed they are open compromise and have worked to alleviate some of the concerns raised following the experience of previous years' festivals.
Under one proposed plan, for example, the main the entrance to the festival would move and main stage relocated to face the golf course instead of the street. Those changes are proposed to reduce the noise on residents along Candler Park Drive and McLendon Avenue.
But to do so, festival organizers propose closing Candler Park Drive and move the artists market to that street. They also propose closing several intersections along Oakdale Road, including Benning Place, Miller Avenue and North Avenue.
Residents who live on the affected streets would receive passes as would homeowners who don't have off-street parking.
But next to noise, parking seemed to be a huge issue with some residents who said parking restrictions weren't enforced, and those who had no off-street parking on Candler Park Drive were left to fend for themselves.
Atlanta Police Department Sgt. William Clark, who serves as the event's security coordinator, urged residents to call 911 or seek out an officer at the event for aid.
Clark, who said there will be more police presence and enforcement of ordinances, noted at the last festival only five calls were logged into the 911 system.
He also said some of residents caused the traffic problems by parking in the no-parking zones, which exist not for homeowner use but to allow emergency vehicles a route for passage.
In some instances, he said, people taking down the "emergency no parking' signs were residents, not visitors.