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Town of Keene imposes ban on gatherings

Farmers market, drive-in movie granted exceptions

Shopping at the Fledging Crow Vegetables tent at the Keene farmers market. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

KEENE — Events will no longer be allowed to happen on land owned by the town of Keene, the town council decided Tuesday.

The temporary moratorium on events applies to every large gathering on town roads, on Marcy Field and in town-owned buildings such as the Keene Community Center. The Keene Farmers Market and an upcoming drive-in movie being planned by the Keene Youth Commission — both of which were already given approval by the council — are exempt from the ban.

“The reason we prohibited events is because we’re trying to protect public health,” town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. said Wednesday. “We feel like having events is just the wrong message, when every single state guideline says to reduce capacity and promote social distancing.”

This moratorium on events will be in place at least through Labor Day, according to the resolution the town council adopted at a special meeting Tuesday.

In addition to the public health concerns, town councilors expressed concern that with many private event organizers unable to secure insurance specific to the coronavirus pandemic, if a lawsuit is filed after an event, liability might fall upon the town’s taxpayers.

“The town is holding the risk when it comes to art shows, concerts, craft shows,” Wilson said Wednesday. “Those are valuable, great events, but the town board and myself didn’t feel there was enough of a benefit there for the taxpayers of Keene to assume the liability for all of those events.”

This past weekend, the farmers market at Marcy Field in Keene Valley saw around 1,150 visitors, Wilson said. That’s more than the roughly 1,000 people who live in the town year-round.

However, the town council voted to let the market expand to accommodate up to 40 vendors on Tuesday. Wilson said they made that decision because the market is expressly allowed to operate per state guidelines, because the market board submitted a highly detailed safety plan, and because the market isn’t relying on town or fire department staff to man the event.

On top of the high market turnout, mountain trailheads within the town were busy with hikers over the weekend, the town hosted a pride parade on Saturday that drew roughly 100 participants, and a Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday had around 50 participants.

While the temporary ban is in place, parades would not be allowed to start or end on town roads, according to Wilson.

“They can’t form up at the Rooster Comb parking lot; they can’t end on Church Street,” he said Tuesday. “They’re going to have to keep it on (state) Route 73 and 9N.”

Wilson and town Councilors David Deyo and Jennifer Whitney voted to approve the temporary events ban on Tuesday. Councilors Bob Biesemeyer and Teresa Cheetham-Palen were absent from the meeting.