Honesdale artists nervous about ordinance

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 3/10/21

HONESDALE, PA — Local artists and filmmakers are voicing their opposition to a potential ordinance they fear will hamper creativity in Honesdale borough’s public spaces.

Called the …

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Honesdale artists nervous about ordinance

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HONESDALE, PA — Local artists and filmmakers are voicing their opposition to a potential ordinance they fear will hamper creativity in Honesdale borough’s public spaces.

Called the Media Production Regulatory Provisions Ordinance, the proposal is the borough’s first attempt to set specific rules regarding the production of media. Reading the proposal’s language, available for public inspection now at www.honesdaleborough.com under the Public Information-Public Announcements tabs, it would seem that its primary focus is preventing large film-production companies from causing residents headaches like shutting down sidewalks unannounced or causing traffic backups on Main Street.

“Honesdale borough is fortunate to have a number of unique locations to attract movies and television productions to the borough,” the proposed ordinance reads. “Despite many positive benefits a media production may offer, certain inconveniences may result [if] the production company and the borough cannot work in concert to assure minimum standards are met and to assure that a [thorough] production schedule is followed.”

But residents are concerned that the ordinance doesn’t seem to make any specific exceptions for small, independent film productions—the kind that involve a few friends walking down Main Street using their cell phones to record a movie, or a visiting travel vlogger who wants to document his time in Honesdale using a handheld GoPro camera.

“The permit required under this ordinance shall be a requirement for all movies, television, or video series, pilots, feature films and documentaries, commercials, music videos, photoshoots, infomercials and public service announcements and or any similar media type events, whether the final product is intended for commercial use or not,” according to the potential policy.

Derek Williams, a River Reporter columnist and local movie festival planner, was among the first to hop on the issue.

“Maybe this sort of thing is necessary in places where large productions regularly come to town. Maybe it’s necessary here for the extremely rare cases where a large production does come to town,” Williams said in an emailed statement. “But from one movie festival-producing neighbor speaking to the greater neighborhood, it’s clear and easy to share with you that 99 percent of the media production activity taking place in Honesdale is made up of local productions that are so low key you’d never notice them happening.”

Borough secretary/manager Judith Poltanis emphasized that this ordinance has only been advertised—not yet passed—and so nothing is set in stone. She encouraged members of the public to read the ordinance online.

“After reviewing the ordinance, if they have questions [residents can] submit them to the borough so that answers could be sought for them,” Poltanis said. “Obviously they’re invited to participate in the virtual [council] meeting on [Monday,] March 15 and they can bring their questions to the councilors at that point.”

Through these pandemic months, people from outside the area have had several opportunities to see, hear and learn about the small community of Honesdale—often marketed to city-dwellers as a not-so-distant escape from New York City and Philadelphia. The borough was recently featured in Philly Magazine as a “town that accidentally got cool,” in Country Living as “one of the country’s best small towns” and in an episode of the HGTV show “Self-Made Mansions.” And on occasion, though not as recently, Hollywood has made its way into this little northeastern corner of Pennsylvania with film productions like the 2010 movie “Blue Valentine” and the 2001 comedy “Wet Hot American Summer.”

Poltanis said that after a film production company had logistical issues with the borough and PennDOT some years ago, Honesdale council sought advice from Troy Bystrom of the Pocono Film Company. At a meeting toward the end of 2020, Bystrom explained options available to the council and provided sample media policies. Borough solicitor Richard Henry was then tasked with developing the proposed ordinance in question.

There is currently no sample of the application that would need to be filled out if this ordinance is passed; the fees involved in the application and permitting process have also not been specified. Having these available would likely illuminate some of the vaguer points of the proposed ordinance that have local filmmakers anxious.

The proposal does say that a penalty of no less than $300 and no more than $1,000 would be imposed for violations of the ordinance.

The council meets again virtually on Monday, March 15 at 6 p.m. Honesdale is encouraging participation from any residents with concerns.

“The public should tell the councilors how they feel,” Poltanis said. “Ultimately, the ordinance is for them: It’s their town.”

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