Tennis Moms Flood City Hall To Protest Proposed Parks Fees

With son Jack in tow, Katie Simons participates in a "baby boot camp" at Curtis Park in 2009. (File photo: Christina Barany)

The council chambers at University Park City Hall were unusually full for Tuesday’s meeting. Most of the new faces were tennis moms with kids in tow or longtime instructors who wanted to weigh in on proposed changes to park fees.

In their work session just prior to the meeting, City Council members got the full lowdown on the proposal, so they knew to anticipate many varying opinions.

“I don’t think our goal is to ever inconvenience the resident,” said parks director Gerry Bradley.

The proposal would eliminate the $80 annual fee for families, maintain the $40 individual fee for individuals, and raise the annual fee for seniors and youths from $7.50 to $10. But the most controversial issue is the new $1,000 annual free for tennis instructors and personal trainers.

“I completely understand the predicament you guys are in,” Marquette Street resident Jenny Wood said. “It’s our parks that have fostered the sense of community and hold our values together. [Instructors are] instilling values in our kids, too.”

Many residents have complained about being unable to secure courts because tennis instructors monopolize the reservations, according to Bradley. There’s also an issue with damage done to the parks by equipment used during trainers’ boot camps. So the $1,000 fee was hatched as a resolution, based on calculating the average instructor’s salary.

“A thousand-dollar fee seems a little excessive to me,” said Amherst Avenue resident Matt Drazner.

The fee was calculated based on three hours of teaching a day, five days a week. But many residents said their instructors teach smaller or fewer classes, and therefore don’t generate as much revenue.

The city ordinance regarding tennis court reservations was recently posted on University Park’s website. It says police may check to make sure players have permits and that reservation times are observed. A number of residents said having the ordinance on the website has improved reservation issues.

“What precipitated our proposal were complaints from citizens who could not use our tennis courts and open areas because they had observed people using our parks for commercial ventures,” Parks Board member Bill Skelton said.

Ultimately, the issue just wasn’t ready for a vote Tuesday. A revised ordinance still needs to be drafted.

“It’s not that I want to prohibit people from using our parks,” Councilwoman Dawn Moore said. “I want our parks available to our residents.”

But Stanford Avenue resident Nicole Richter, whose online “Keep Our Parks Awesome” petition has garnered 551 signatures, still isn’t sure.

“Based on what I saw, it seemed like there was a pretty clear public opinion on the matter,” Richter said after Tuesday’s meeting. “There’s a big difference between people actually using the parks, and people who are disturbing the parks.”

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