Lynnwood City Council reviews plans to improve special event permitting process

Lynnwood Deputy Parks Director Sarah Olson (bottom right) updates the Lynnwood City Council on city staff’s work to improve Lynnwood’s permitting process. 

Aiming to improve the city’s overall process, Lynnwood city staff presented recommendations to the Lynnwood City Council Monday night to create a smoother way of issuing permits for special events.

During its July 20 work session, the council was briefed by Lynnwood Deputy Parks Director Sarah Olson on city staff’s efforts to identify ways it can improve the way permits are issued. Since the process for issuing permits falls under the city’s municipal codes, a council-approved ordinance amending the codes is required.

“The overall goal is to increase efficiency for both the customers and staff and improve the effectiveness of our special event processing in total,” Olson said.

The review is the result of a 2015 update to the city’s municipal codes regarding business regulations and licensing and Lynnwood’s development and business services department’s overall improvement process. 

In Lynnwood, all events regardless of size, scope, and burden on public rights-of-way are processed the same, meaning small events like a sidewalk sale and larger events like a street fair currently undergo the same permitting process.

“This one-size-fits-all approach is not useful or as efficient as it could be,” Olson said. “It does not allow for a very quick and easy processing of simple things that could be handled in a lower-cost, over-the-counter, speedy and transparent process.”

Special events can include political demonstrations, large parking lot sales, carnivals and marathons. However, activities that occur within facilities designed for that use are not a special event. For example, a trade show at the Lynnwood Convention Center is not regulated as a special event, nor is a regular sporting event at a public school. Additionally, events on a residential property with fewer than 100 people do not require a permit.

The permitting cost — $170 for the permit and a $250 refundable deposit — is also the same for each event. Earlier this year, the council voted to suspend the $170 application fee to help businesses struggling to recover from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Olson added that because the process to get a permit is difficult for some, most of the commercial events and commercial business owners are not currently applying and are out of compliance with the city’s special event permitting process.

One recommendation from staff is switching the permitting process from manual to online. Permit applications are reviewed by multiple departments and as a result, the city requires a 21-business-day notice from applicants to allow time for review. Notary requirements are also required for the hold harmless agreement and property-owner approval, which community event, engagement and outreach specialist Misty Burke said could be difficult and result in a timing conflict.

“This is especially true when events are exclusive to private property,” she said. “This wouldn’t be needed if we could just issue a temp(orary) permit.”

According to Olson, staff is recommending creating an online system to determine what is needed for each event and then deciding which events should go through the process. Though she said that the 21-day notice would still be required, Olson added the time could be used to help applicants navigate the permitting process.

“In a nutshell, we’re re-evaluating what is a special event versus what are other types of activities that need a permit,” she said.

Staff have recommended changes to the pay structure for the process. If the city were to offer over-the-counter permits for smaller events, Olson said the $250 deposit could be removed. With staff spending less time assisting applicants, the $170 fee could also be reduced, she added.

“We want to adjust our deposit requirements and just retain the deposit requirement for those events that would still be classified as a special event in the new system,” she said. “Everything else could be handled with one or more over-the-counter permits.”

According to Olson, over-the-counter permits could be required for tents/canopies, electrical, temporary-use parking, cooking, use of a city park, signage, accessibility and construction.

Other recommendations include removing the notary requirements with the exception of owner’s permission when events take place on private property. However, staff is also recommending using electronic signatures to make the process faster and easier. 

For recurring events, staff are suggesting creating an online recurring event approval process.

“If you’re an agency, say the (Alderwood) Mall that has a recurring holiday event and your event components are the generally just the same from year to year, we could just go over an application and approve it to form if there aren’t substantial changes and reduce the review time for those types of events,” Olson said.

During the council’s conversation, Councilmember Ruth Ross brought up permit enforcement and said she did not want staff to assume such a role.

“Similar to masks, we will have to figure to make sure that people are doing what they’re supposed to,” she said. “That is going to be an issue once in a while but separating out these kinds of permits will solve an awful lot of that.”

Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Crosby asked if applications were offered in languages other than English. 

In response, Olsen said the applications are only in English, because the city does not have an interpreter on staff to translate responses. However, she added that additional languages could be included in the future, starting with Spanish and then the city’s next top five languages. On-demand interpretation services are also currently available through the language translation hotline, Olson said. 

Next, staff will begin community outreach to local businesses, the Lynnwood Chamber of Commerce and other stakeholders to get their feedback on how the city can improve issuing permits. After, staff will return to the council with a draft amendment to the city’s code.

–By Cody Sexton

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