A neighbor fed up with noise, traffic and drinkers from the Festival at Sandpoint wants a judge to ban the sale of booze and boot the festival from Memorial Field this summer.
Dale and Judy Millard live across the street from the city-owned field and long have complained about the outdoor concert series.
Monday, the couple filed a formal complaint in 1st District Court against the city of Sandpoint and the festival.
The Millards claim the festival is a commercial operation because it sells tickets, food, alcohol and other items at the field. And because the field is in a neighborhood and zoned residential, the concerts are illegal, the claim says.
The couple also argues that city law forbids alcohol in public parks and that the festival has been granted an illegal special privilege.
“The city has not enforced the code on the festival,” the complaint says.
The Millards want the festival’s lease for the field voided and a judge to stop the 11 concerts scheduled to begin in July. At the very least, the complaint seeks a ban on serving any alcohol at the field.
“It’s unfortunate. We have tried over the years to be good neighbors, but apparently the Millards don’t agree,” said festival President Dave Slaughter.
If the couple is successful in court, Slaughter said, it’s likely there won’t be a festival this year.
“There won’t be any way to do it. We don’t have another place to go, especially on such short notice,” he said.
Sandpoint Mayor David Sawyer was served with a copy of the complaint at his home Sunday.
He was upset because the Millards and other neighbors had a chance to comment on the festival lease before it was approved in March but said nothing at the time.
“We were trying hard to have a smooth, positive year for the festival, and now there’s this attempt to derail the whole process,” he said.
The mayor called concerns about serving alcohol a “ruse.”
“I think they are using it to kick the festival out of Memorial Field sooner rather than later, and realistically we haven’t had any problems with the alcohol.”
Slaughter said the complaint not only will affect the festival but all other events at Memorial Field, such as football and baseball games.
“They may as well close down the concession stand and not sell tickets to any games because they would be dubbed a commercial venture,” he said. “This would change a lot of things around here and I hope the community will stand up and get this thing squashed.”
The festival has been searching for a new concert site. Last year a group of Memorial Field neighbors made complaints similar to that of the Millards. Neighbors told City Council members they were tired of traffic jams, noise and litter caused by the 5,000 people attending concerts.
The council was sympathetic and voted to oust the non-profit festival from the field after its 1997 concert series.
That apparently was not soon enough for the Millards. In their complaint, the couple said the shows prevent them from enjoying their property. People have trespassed and even urinated in their yard, they said.
Festival officials have tried to appease neighbors. They limited parking on the street in front of the field, had crews pick up litter after shows and even changed concert times so residents could sleep.
“The frustrating thing about all this is the festival is important for this community artistically and economically,” Slaughter said. “And with the way the economy is right now we need to bring all the people here we can. Ask any of the downtown business owners.”
Festival and city officials have 20 days to respond to the complaint and likely will have a court hearing on the matter.
The turmoil comes at time when the festival is getting reorganized. The festival just hired a new executive director to replace Connie Berghan. She and three other staffers recently resigned after disagreements with the festival board.
The group also is wrapping up a drive to raise $75,000 by June 1 to match a donation from Coldwater Creek. The money will pull the festival out of a $90,000 debt.
The festival also is finalizing its performers for the summer and hopes to announce its main stage acts by the end of the month.