As the City of Kamloops helps restaurants move outdoors amidst COVID-19 restrictions, a Kamloops councillor has suggested similar support for fitness studios, also impacted by the health orders banning indoor activities.
At Tuesday’s (April 20) council meeting, Coun. Arjun Singh said indoor fitness facilities like yoga studios have been impacted by provincial health orders and suggested staff look into possible relief, such as waiving park permit fees to provide fitness classes in city parks.
Singh noted the city’s spending of $350,000 in COVID-19 relief funds to help fund sidewalk extensions, which have allowed restaurants to extend patios onto sidewalks.
“I know that from the yoga perspective, from the indoor fitness perspective, they’re also now forced not to be inside,” Singh told council, noting the city has been trying to support its business community during the pandemic.
Singh put forward a notice of motion on the matter. However, he ultimately withdrew the motion when he failed to garner support from council colleagues.
The city’s community services director, Byron McCorkell, told KTW a $20 parks use permit is required for use of public park space. He said it helps the city control parks usage and prevents conflicts. For example, the city won’t plan maintenance like lawn mowing or irrigation during the designated permitted use time and it prevents overlap of park users.
“It happens even in our sports groups, where we have permits for use of spaces, soccer fields, ball diamonds, and we have two groups. A guy or team decides to show up and do a practice in the midst of another team that’s booked it for a practice and then we get into these little confrontations in the park space and we have to go out and say, ‘Well, this guy’s got the permit, you’ve got to get out of here,’” McCorkell said.
In addition, permits allow the city to collect proof of insurance. McCorkell said in the event someone was injured during a yoga class on its property, the city could be held liable.
In speaking against Singh’s idea, Mayor Ken Christian suggested the parks use fee was minimal, while Coun. Sadie Hunter noted an issue of fairness, with respect to permits already obtained by sports leagues, non-profits and community groups.
McCorkell said if parks-use permit fees were waived for fitness businesses, there could be questions about waiving permit fees for sports leagues, non-profits and community groups, which have also been hurting financially during the pandemic.
McCorkell said the city has received more and more phone calls from businesses that cannot operate in their current locations, due to public health orders, with requests to operate in city parks.
Commercial use of public park space is not typical, but is allowed in certain cases. Yoga businesses would be permitted, due to their fitness component fitting within the mandate of a park, in getting people outside and moving, McCorkell said. Similarly, the city may offer a concession as a public service. However, not all businesses are allowed to operate in a park.
“Bringing in a jeans store into the middle of a park simply because they can set up a tent isn’t what a park is for,” he said.
If a business proceeds to host a fitness class in a public park and does not notify the city, McCorkell said the issue would be addressed based on complaints, such as from other yoga studios, attendees, neighbours or park users.
Asked if there is not sufficient green space in certain parks for all users, McCorkell said for-profit fitness classes probably do occur in less busy city parks. However, the city’s bylaw officers could request a permit and investigate. The city takes an education-first approach, he said, but could ultimately issue fines for operating without a permit.
“Currently, our parks are being extremely well used because of COVID,” he said. “That’s one of the activities people can do and they’re taking advantage because we have an amazing parks system. That doesn’t then give a commercial operation the ability to go utilize that space for their benefit.”
As for the difference between the city footing the bill for sidewalk extensions? McCorkell said the restaurant is on the hook for its own patio costs, while the city is funding the sidewalk letdown ramps. By contrast, a fitness studio would simply utilize city space. Permits can be obtained for public parks from city hall and are usually turned around within a few days.