Saratoga County

Saratoga Springs City Council OKs softened busking law

If former Saratoga street performer Sawyer Fredericks returns to Broadway’s wide sidewalks this summ
Fiddler Sara Raab busks in front of Lifestyles clothing store on Broadway in Saratoga Springs in this 2009 photo.
Fiddler Sara Raab busks in front of Lifestyles clothing store on Broadway in Saratoga Springs in this 2009 photo.

If former Saratoga street performer Sawyer Fredericks returns to Broadway’s wide sidewalks this summer, he will have new rules to follow.

On the same night the Montgomery County teenager won NBC’s national singing competition, “The Voice,” the Saratoga Springs City Council adopted its first regulations for the growing number of people who perform in the city’s downtown for donations and spare change.

Just two weeks after a council majority said they saw the proposed rules as “overregulation,” a softened version of the law was adopted Tuesday by a 4-1 vote.

In acting, Saratoga Springs joins communities like Burlington, Vermont, and Boston that have adopted formal rules thanks to thriving street scenes that draw performers. Other communities have also considered such laws, which are nearly always controversial.

“We love our street performers. They are a magical part of what makes Saratoga Springs special,” said Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who has consistently supported some kind of regulation.

The law passed after Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen and Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco reversed earlier opposition.

“The most objectionable provisions have been removed. With that, I have no reason to oppose this,” Mathiesen said.

“I’ll support it, but I really don’t think it’s going to solve the problem,” Scirocco said.

Only Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan voted against the law.

“Busking isn’t that much of a problem. This isn’t that strong of a law,” she said.

The vote is unlikely to end the debate over the atmosphere in the city’s downtown and whether it is sufficiently welcoming to visitors. The weeks of debate about whether and how to regulate street musicians who play for money — called buskers — have also brought to light concerns about the number of homeless people downtown, asking passersby for money.

Both are a concern for some Broadway businesses, with some business owners saying the crowds that gather around buskers have impeded access to their stores.

“What the business community is concerned about is people just getting into their businesses when there is too much going on and people are not feeling comfortable shopping downtown,” said former Mayor Kenneth Klotz.

“Downtown Saratoga is a business district. It is the heart of the economy here, and any measure should be taken to enhance what it’s supposed to be,” said Roger Goldsmith, who owns a Broadway craft gallery.

The Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce also supported the law.

As adopted, the law doesn’t include the licensing requirement city officials initially considered, but includes limits on where musicians can perform and how loudly.

The law states that performers and their spectators may not block pedestrians or vehicles, and performers must stop performing and move if directed by a police officer.

Assistant City Attorney Anthony Izzo said the effort to gather a crowd is what makes buskers different from others people on the street, and justifies regulations.

“People use the streets for all kinds of purposes. Only performers do it with the specific intent of gathering a crowd,” he said.

The final law says volume can’t exceed 75 decibels at 20 feet, which is less than in earlier proposals.

A provision that performers be at least 50 feet from each other is gone, but there are still limits on where they can perform. They may not perform within 50 feet of an area where a city-permitted special event is occurring, or within 10 feet of a street corner, bus stop, crosswalk, curb cut, driveway or designated handicapped parking spot. They also may not perform within 10 feet of a business or building entrance any time the business is open.

Performances are allowed between 10 a.m. and midnight weekdays and until 1 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Electrical cords, flames, sharp objects, firearms or replica firearms and animals may not be used in any performances.

Yepsen said the final rules were drafted in consultation with, and after having heard three nights of comments from, street performers, many of whom have objected to being regulated.

“This has been a very democratic process,” she said.

Violators of the law could be ticketed, but Police Chief Greg Veitch said he foresees only warnings being given until people become familiar with the law.

“We are victims of our own success,” he said. “The same things that draw visitors to the city also draw people who just want to hang out or perform music.”

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