Special-event fees hurting nonprofits, panel told

Lindbergh fundraising event shut down by county officials

By Gloria Lloyd

Lindbergh Schools administrators and parents are asking the county Planning Commission to recommend changing a little-known county zoning ordinance that requires schools and churches to pay the county more than $100 in permits and fees for any special event.

The 1965 county ordinance prohibits and limits special events and the use of temporary signs, but was not enforced on schools and churches until this year.

Under the ordinance, anyone sponsoring a special event, including a nonprofit organization, has to apply in advance for a $79 county permit, and any sign advertising the event requires an additional $32 permit that allows a sign to stand for two weeks.

“These events are the lifeblood of parent/community involvement and should not be taxed as a source of revenue,” Lindbergh Schools Superintendent Jim Simpson and former Lindbergh Schools Board of Education President Vic Lenz wrote in a letter to the County Council last spring, after the county shut down a test-drive event at Lindbergh High School that would have raised money for student scholarships.

Since the county shut down that test-drive fundraiser, Lindbergh administrators have spearheaded opposition to both the random enforcement of the ordinance on their events and the ordinance itself, encouraging parents to write their county legislators.

In light of that opposition, the Planning Commission conducted a public hearing last week on potentially amending the ordinance to exclude nonprofits, including schools and churches.

As the county ordinance currently stands, an organization applying for a special-events permit must submit a site plan and gain approval in advance from the county zoning, police, health, highways and licensing departments before the permit can be issued. An organization can only have eight outdoor events per year under the policy, with a maximum of two in any month and a limit of three special-event signs a year.

That expectation is unrealistic for schools, which hold innumerable special events on evenings and weekends throughout the entire school year, Simpson wrote in an email to the planning panel ahead of the Oct. 14 hearing.

The $79 permit fee would prevent many events from taking place, Simpson added, since those events may not be about raising money or may not make enough money to justify the permit cost.

Lindbergh High School thespian coach David Blackwood concurred at the hearing, saying that he often chaperones students holding canned food drives or events that benefit the community, in addition to events in which students try to raise money from the community for their music or drama groups.

“If you tell the kids that they’re going to have to give over $100 so that they can put a sign out on Lindbergh, it’s kind of a downer to them,” he said. “They’re going to start figuring, ‘Well, last year we only made $300 off this event, and now we’re going to make $200, and there’s 20 of us up here, so now we’re only making $5 an hour,’ and it isn’t worth it to them … But we’re trying to instill in them the moral value of supporting one another.”

A group of Lindbergh parents, including Crestwood Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild, Sunset Hills Ward 2 Alderman Tom Musich and Lindbergh Board of Education member Kate Holloway, told the planning panel at its hearing that they hope the county makes an exception for schools and nonprofits. No one spoke at the hearing in favor of keeping the ordinance as it currently stands.

Crestwood’s city code has similar sign requirements as the county but makes an exception for public, charitable or religious organizations and events, Duchild noted.

Enforcing the county ordinance on churches and their many events is unrealistic and detrimental to the community, Affton Christian Church Lead Pastor David Woodard told the commission, recounting how a county zoning officer approached his church last month to say the church could not sponsor a craft fair that benefited Lydia’s House, a nonprofit that provides transitional housing for abused women and children — unless, that is, the church paid the more than $100 in fees.

“To expect a house of worship to pay fees and permits for every special program and every temporary sign is untenable at best and borders on absurd at worst,” he said, noting his church hosts special events year-round to benefit the community, including Bible schools, book clubs, ice cream socials and meetings conducted by outside groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers meetings.

The fees could also be viewed as a tax, which churches are exempt from, he added.

The law as written affects craft fairs and shows, festivals, garage sales, flea markets, barbecues, car washes, picnics, concerts, outside athletic competitions and any other event on school property for the general public. Class plays and performances, team sports, prom and graduation ceremonies are already exempted as quasi-private events meant for students and their families only.

The rules apply to Lindbergh schools in unincorporated St. Louis County — Kennerly, Concord and Sappington Elementary Schools, Sperreng Middle School, Lindbergh High School and the Early Childhood Education Center. Crestwood and Long Elementary Schools are in Crestwood and Truman Middle School is on the border of Crestwood and Sunset Hills, so they fall under the municipal codes of those cities.