Berlin Council Wants Say On For-Profit Park Activity

BERLIN — An ordinance that would update the rules and regulations of parks in Berlin has been re-introduced with some clarifications regarding when and how business can be conducted on park property or facilities.
“I think it just makes the situation, hopefully, not ambiguous at all,” said Mayor Gee Williams.
An earlier version of the new rules and regulations ordinance was reviewed at a Mayor and Council meeting but stalled over an issue with the language being used as well as from opposition coming from some council members. Wordage has since been tightened and the document has returned for review, though not for any actual action, yet.
As it currently reads, the ordinance would update a few park rules with mostly commonsense language, such as not allowing motor vehicles to be parked overnight or driven in an area not designated for parking. The ordinance would also clarify the rules for the exchange of goods or services in town parks, which has never been clearly defined. Previously, it was left up to the town Planning and Zoning department to manage, though Williams was unsatisfied with that approach.
“As an enforcement issue, regardless of who the planning director is, on what basis are they to make a decision on what is appropriate and not appropriate?” Williams asked. “And it seems like it’s not fair to have that kind of judgment made by a department head when it clearly is the responsibility of the Mayor and Council.”
The issue was examined last month when local personal trainer Pam Green appeared before the council to address a proposed ordinance, specifically continuing to hold some of her personal training sessions at Stephen Decatur Park that she had discussed a couple years ago with the town’s previous Planning and Zoning director.
What had seemed like it would be a simple rubber stamp became more complicated when Councilman Dean Burrell announced his opposition to any private business being conducted on park property. The issue was further muddled over whether anyone doing business in the park would need a business license or a more temporary vendor’s permit.
Burrell also took the view that a Planning and Zoning director should be able to enforce a code that prohibited business transactions in parks, even those like personal trainers working out clients, which is not obvious as no goods or money tend to change hands on park grounds. He took a hard view when Planning and Zoning Director Dave Engelhart and Town Attorney David Gaskill both said that, in their professional opinions, enforcement on the issue would be nearly impossible.
The ordinance was tabled until this week. Williams, at least, is comfortable with where it stands now, though the council won’t vote on the document until next month. Unlike Burrell, Williams isn’t against the idea of a private business making use of town parks as long as it is done responsibly and with little to no impact. All business requests will also have to be screened on an individual basis with the council.
“Quite frankly, I think that any reasonable request that makes sense and is in the best public interest and the community’s will certainly be given a fair hearing,” he said. “And it would take any ambiguity out of the formula.”
Those appearing before the council would also have the option of purchasing a $75 per year business permit or a daily vendor’s license, though the mayor expects most will opt for the “simpler and more straightforward” business license.
First reading on the new ordinance will be held Nov. 12 with a public hearing to follow on Nov. 25.