LACONIA — There will be lots of vroom, vroom on Lakeside Avenue on Motorcycle Week. But how many vendors will be allowed and whether beer tents will be permitted remains an open question.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday to authorize the traditional traffic plan for Weirs Beach, which is the epicenter of the nine-day event which historically attracts tens of thousands of motorcyclists to the area.
The vote came after close to 30 minutes of debate among councilors over whether there needs to be any special limitations as the COVID-19 pandemic decelerates from its winter peak.
“We need as many outside activities as possible,” Councilor Tony Felch said as he asked the council to approve the full complement of vendor booths, allowance for beer tents and special entertainment stages. He also sought special parking arrangement for motorcycles on Lakeside Avenue, a place that normally draws about 1,000 motorcycles at any one time.
Last year’s Motorcycle Week was scaled way back because of the pandemic. There were no vendor booths except for non-profit groups. Food, drink, and entertainment were provided only at existing establishments. The traffic pattern remained as it does through the rest of the year. The intent of the restrictions was to discourage people from gathering in crowds. City ManagerScott Myers called it Motorcycle Week “in name only.”
Councilor Henry Lipman found Felch’s proposal rash, and urged a more cautious approach.
“We can have a good time without having no holds barred,” he said.
Felch countered that the council should acquiesce to the will of the majority of those people who had reached out to the council by email, overwhelmingly urging that Motorcycle Week be allowed to run as normal.
“I’m representing the 95 percent that I’ve heard from,” Felch said.
But Lipman said it was not right for the council to totally disregard the views of those residents who have concerns about having an unrestricted Motorcycle Week while the pandemic continues.
“We are asking people who have some health concerns not to be considered,” he said of the unrestricted approach.
Councilor Bob Hamel said a restriction on the number of vendors was warranted.
Myers has urged vendors be kept to about half their usual number and that beer tents and Motorcycle Week-only entertainment stages be banned as a way to keep crowd sizes down.
Mayor Andrew Hosmer said data needs to play a paramount role in deciding how restricted or open Motorcycle Week should be.
“I’m not convinced that this is the time (to loosen things up), given the data we have right now,” he said.
He urged that the council delay its decision until it has more up-to-date data regarding new COVID infections, as well as statistics on the number of people who have been vaccinated.
Also, Gov. Chris Sununu’s executive order imposing COVID-related restrictions on businesses, including bars and restaurants, is due to expire on May 7 and there has yet been no announcement of what regulations or guidance will be in place after that date.
In light of that, Hosmer recommended that the council take up the vendor and beer tent issue at its next meeting on May 10.
Hamel urged that the council also receive the latest COVID data for the rest of New England as well as New Jersey and New York state.
Felch removed the references to vendors and beer tents from his motion, leaving only the language about the traffic plan. That measure passed unanimously.
Myers said it was critical that the council make a decision at the May 10 meeting in order to give the Police Department adequate time to arrange for however many additional law enforcement personnel will be needed to police the event.