The “Who you gonna call?”question asked during last weekend’s outdoor viewing of “Ghostbusters” at the Vaska Theatre appears to have been answered by the City of Lawton’s Neighborhood Services with a complaint made to police.
LPD Detective Ken Parsons reported being assigned Tuesday to investigate the Sunday night showing of an outdoor movie in the west parking lot of the theatre, 1902 NW Ferris.
Corey Bowen with the City of Lawton Neighborhood Services reported to Parsons that multiple vehicles were in the parking lot where the movie was being shown. Vaska owner/operator Justin Hackney was credited with being responsible for the event and that he was aware it was a violation of city code but chose to show the movie anyway. Bowen filed a citizen complaint and signed a citation for failing to obtain a permit. An officer’s dash camera images were included with the report.
Deputy City Manager Richard Rogalski said that the citation comes from the theatre not being zoned for drive-in movies as it adjoins a residential neighborhood. He said that Hackney is welcome to apply for a special-use permit; it’s the fastest and easiest way of moving forward with an event. Those applications usually are approved within three days.
The Constitution made Hackney aware of the police report Thursday. He said it was the first he’d heard of the complaint and he had not been presented with a citation at that time.
Rogalski said that could be because it is under consideration with the prosecutor’s office. Citations are then sent through the mail and it is anticipated to arrive shortly. He said a municipal judge would determine the punishment of a citation; first time offenses are usually punished far less punitively but could be punishable by up to a $750 fine and between 30 to 60 days in jail.
Although the report identified the event as a “drive in” type movie viewing, Hackney said it was an “outdoor screening,” which wouldn’t necessarily mean visitors had to be in a vehicle. And even if it was a drive-in, he blames the City of Lawton for shutting down the process to be able to stage an event like this legally at the moment.
“It’s impossible to obtain (permit), that’s not my fault,” he said. “They’re not issuing event permits, they’re not opening up City Council meetings, you can’t rezone, you can’t do anything.”
Rogalski said this isn’t the case. The office for licensing and permits opened May 8. He said when he’d last talked with Hackney it was at a time when the offices were closed. He offered that if Hackney wished to make these monthly events, for example, it would most likely be approved. But, if several neighbor complaints filed in, he said, it would cause a revocation of the permit.
“You don’t want to overly impact the neighborhood,” he said.
That would be taken into consideration if Hackney petitioned for rezoning to allow drive-in screenings on a steady basis, Rogalski said. Following making an application, the residents in the neighborhood would be able to voice their concerns and be offered due process during a public hearing. He said that since the theatre is zoned to conduct its business indoors, there has to be a balance to the adjoining neighborhood’s concerns.
“They want things to be basically quiet when you’re outdoors,” he said.
After holding intermittent outdoor screenings for three years without blowback, Hackney said a screening was held during the early part of the COVID-19 shutdown. It was shortly after that, he said, that the City of Lawton informed him the Vaska wasn’t zoned to be a drive in.
Hackney said last weekend’s “Ghostbusters” event had a “great turnout.” Enough so that he plans on holding outdoor viewings this weekend. “Terminator 2” is slated for tonight and “Wreck It Ralph” is on the bill Saturday. Both viewings are slated to begin at 9 p.m. Tickets are on sale for $8.
When asked if he’s going to fight any actions taken against the Vaska, Hackney was unhesitating with his answer.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” he said. “That’s what court dates are for.”