LIVINGSTON — The Park County Commission Tuesday morning considered an ordinance that would outlaw parking on certain roads around Pine Creek Lodge.
The measure, if passed, would put the popular concert venue and hotel out of business, its owners said. The venue doesn’t have a parking lot, so almost everyone who attends a show there parks on the surrounding roads.
The lines in the sand were clear: The lodge owners and other opponents of the ordinance emphasized the positive cultural and economic impacts the venue has on the area and asked the commissioners for more time to sort out a solution. Proponents of the parking ordinance emphasized the safety risks the current situation poses, particularly the inability of emergency vehicles to traverse certain roads around the lodge.
The commission meeting brought throngs of people to downtown Livingston Tuesday morning — all 60 chairs in the room were full, dozens of people sat on the floor, others stood, and another 297 attended via Zoom. The lodge has hosted artists including Bob Weir, John Mayer, Billy Strings and the Kitchen Dwellers since it opened in 2015. The economic impact of the crowds drawn by such performances was referenced multiple times, including by other local business owners testifying against the parking ordinance.
Pine Creek co-owners Chip Hurt and Jenny Arr testified that the venue has generated thousands in local tax revenue, created dozens of jobs and helped support other local food and beverage businesses.
Multiple opponents also expressed their concern that the ordinance is not about parking in the area, but is rather meant to regulate Pine Creek Lodge.
“It’s pretty clear that this is targeted,” local musician and resident Hannah Jo Lally told Montana Free Press. “It’s a slippery slope for the rest of the county.”
Several people testifying against the parking restrictions raised legal concerns, but Arr told MTFP the lodge does not plan to sue if the ordinance passes.
Instead, Arr and Hurt said, adding a parking lot to the venue is still “very much” on the table, but if they’re put out of business temporarily, they won’t be able to afford it.
“We’re simply looking for more time,” Arr said. “The ordinance as it stands will put us out of business.”
But some proponents of the parking restrictions say the business has had enough time.
“It’s a frightening situation. It’s a risk to me in my home,” said Pine Creek area resident Tracy Sullivan. “You’ve had time, and you haven’t addressed it,” Sullivan added later in the meeting, addressing Arr.
Friends of Park County, an organization founded to help manage Park County’s growth, emergency workers and some local residents also spoke in favor of the measure.
“I’m all for the support of the arts. I’m all for the support of concert venues,” said Livingston Fire Chief Joshua Chabalowski. “What I am against is the impedance of emergency services.”
Chabalowski referenced an incident where someone at the lodge needed immediate medical attention but an ambulance was delayed by 15 to 20 minutes because of parked cars crowding a two-lane road into a single available lane.
“If that continues to happen, you’re risking lives, and we can’t have that,” he added.
Hurt and Arr said that incident occurred when cars still parked on Pine Creek Road. Roughly a year ago, the co-owners and the county sheriff worked to shut down Pine Creek Road to parking. Now, the main cause for concern is the nearby East River Road, where lodge attendees park their, Hurt and Arr explained.
In addition to East River Road, the ordinance would affect portions of Pine Creek Road, Luccock Park Road, Deep Creek Bench Road, Deep Creek South Fork Road and all of Frelich Lane.
Economic impacts and safety issues dominated most of the public testimony, but it appeared that love for Pine Creek Lodge is what brought the hundreds of people out in person and online. More than once, it was labeled the “heart” of the community.
Ryan Acker and Lena Schiffer met while Schiffer’s band was opening for Acker’s band, The Last Revel, at Pine Creek Lodge one night. Eventually, the two got married at the venue in an event that felt like “getting married in your friend’s backyard,” Schiffer told MTFP after the meeting.
“[Pine Creek Lodge] is unbelievably unique,” Acker added. “It’s more like a family than anywhere else we’ve played music.”
The commissioners gave little indication how they may vote on the measure, other than a brief comment from Chairman Bill Berg.
“Public safety has to trump almost everything,” he said following the 90 minutes of public comment.
To accommodate an anticipated larger crowd, the next commission meeting on the matter will be held at the Park County Fairgrounds on Jan. 31 at 5 p.m. The earliest the commission can vote on the ordinance is 12 days after the Jan. 31 meeting.
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