What a difference a year and a pilot ordinance make.
In 2013, when City Council discussed requiring the public park-using fitness trainers to shell out permit fees, dozens of people showed up to expressed their opinions and both sides wound up frustrated.
On Tuesday, in discussing an update to the ordinance, only three members of the public weighed in.
“We were in the middle of a tempest on this issue a little over a year ago and the storm has calmed substantially,” Councilmember Ted Winterer said, lauding Director of Community and Cultural Services Karen Ginsberg for the work of her department on the ordinance.
Last year, neighborhood groups wrote to council, asking that they ban all training in Palisades Park. The residents said that the trainers were disturbing the park’s calm and ripping up the landscaping.
Some trainers said that the fees were way too high and would effectively ban fitness training in Palisades Park.
Ultimately, the ordinance drastically reduced complaints by residents and violations by trainers, Ginsberg said, and trainers still forked over the cash to hold classes in the park.
City officials and the Recreation and Parks Commission recommend that council amend the ordinance, making it stricter in several ways. The proposal, for instance, restricted use of Virginia Avenue Park on the weekends and required later start times at all parks on Saturdays.
Under the recommendations, trainers and trainees would have to keep away from the bases of trees, which can be easily damaged through wear-and-tear according to city officials. One trainer who spoke at the meeting, who runs a class for parents with kids in strollers, said that the trees provide necessary shade for the babies.
Councilmember Gleam Davis suggested allowing “nonambulatory” (kids, those with disabilities) trainees to gather underneath the trees. Ultimately, council passed all the new restrictions but asked city officials to figure out a way to allow strollers and those in wheelchairs to work out underneath the trees.
Another aspect of the recommendation would have charged trainers making over a certain amount of revenue a percentage of their annual earnings.
City Hall has similar agreements with other vendors using public land and one beach group disclosed to City Hall that it brought in about $200,000 in 2014.
Another trainer noted that, as a small business, she pays for everything so her gross income in not representative of what she takes home at the end of the year.
Winterer first suggested only charging percentage-based permit fees for groups making more than $100,000.
Before council got a motion straight, outgoing City Manager Rod Gould broke in: “Rather than reengineer the entire fee structure for this permit that seems to be working on the basis of evidence, we suggest that council keep the rates the same but instruct us to come back as part of the next two-year budget A) with an impact fee for the cost of the additional maintenance fees that’s necessitated by the fitness trainers in the park and B) with a change to the beach permit ordinance to capture the special circumstance that has been discussed this evening.”
In 2014 the fees brought in just under $100,000 while city officials spent about $10,000 to run the permit program.
Council approved Gould’s plan unanimously.