Commerce in parks still a question

How much commerce in parks does the public want?

It looks like the issue of commercial developments in Penticton parks, highlighted by the 18-month controversy over leasing a portion of Skaha Lake Park to a developer who wanted to build a commercial waterslide complex, still hasn’t gone away.

You might have thought the discussion ended when the city finally renegotiated the deal, eliminating the prospect of a major commercial intrusion in that park.

The Parks and Recreation Master Plan Steering Committee is having trouble working out a policy for commercial activity in parks, and the Save Skaha Park Society vows to stick around and keep an eye on city hall, at least where it comes to preserving parkland.

On one side, there is the city’s ongoing desire to increase revenue in the face of economic pressures like aging infrastructure and on the other, the public’s clear desire to preserve green space in parks.

Core to both sides is question of what is an amenity. When this controversy started, the city seems to be working on the idea that an amenity in a park is simply defined by it adding to the recreational experience.

According to a survey conducted by the master plan committee, the public is okay with temporary commerce, like jet ski rentals and those more typical to parks, like a concession. But they’d rather see green space than buildings, free splash pads than private waterslides.

Getting to a policy for commerce in parks, might be easier if you don’t try to leave the door open for future deals like the Skaha Park waterslides. Yes, there are existing examples like LocoLanding that clearly add to Penticton’s recreation profile, but there survey showed a limited desire for adding similar operations.

Let’s just scale back that definition of amenity to only include free or temporary additions, along with pre-existing, and leave projects that require land leases to public referendum, where they always should have been.