At its Nov. 6 meeting, the Kingwood Service Association Parks Committee heard a number of Kingwood residents and photographers question a longstanding, but little known, seldom-enforced policy against the use of Kingwood parks by commercial photographers and other businesses. The cause of the criticism was a recently installed large sign at the entrance to Kingwood’s East End Park that prohibits the conduct of commercial photography within the park.
Jennifer Farrar, resident of Hunters Ridge and owner of Kingwood-based Sassy Stills Photography raised the issue by asking about the recent appearance of the sign.
“I was curious to know if this is something that could be dealt with when a client who is a resident in Kingwood chooses East End Park for family photos. I understand that we as photographers can go elsewhere, but is there an opportunity to possibly have legitimate photographers have permits to use the park for that purpose?” Farrar asked.
“No, the parks are nonprofit and we do not have a program set up for permits,” said Ginny Eckley, vice chairman of the committee.
A second comment about the sign immediately followed.
“I am a resident and I paid another resident to take pictures of my daughter in the park because the park is my favorite spot in Kingwood,” said Susan Connelly of Woodstream Village. “It always has been and I’ve always had my pictures there. She (the photographer) is a resident and all we brought was a camera and I don’t think we are in the way of anyone and certainly would never do anything to mess up the park. I guess I was just wondering why that is not allowed because I have seen the comments recently.”
Connolly was referring to a host of comments she had seen on various local websites and Facebook pages that were condemning the policy and the sign. Many of those comments included unfounded speculation and unconfirmed reasons for the policy. They reflected the opinions by many who believed it to be an unreasonable and unacceptable policy.
Following Connelly, two more residents, one from Sherwood Trails and another who was an area photographer, said they also disagreed with the policy. They raised questions about other businesses that conduct “for profit” business in the park such as baby sitters and pet caretakers.
Eckley and other members of the committee explained the policy was not new and it has been in effect for years and applies to all “for profit” businesses including photographers as included in the text of the sign. In recent years, especially during Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holiday periods, the situation has grown worse in terms of abuse. Residents have complained about the impact on their ability to enjoy the park. Eckley noted that in the past when the problem was expected to increase due to the holidays, temporary signs had been put up but they were always quickly stolen or destroyed by parties unknown. As a result the Parks Committee installed the permanent sign this year.
“What has happened in the past is that people have brought furniture, including a pumpkin stand, and our park steward for East End Park has been concerned because they actually will bring vehicles into the areas where there should not be any,” Eckley said. She explained some photographers have booked their clients for portrait sessions all day long, taking up prime space along the trails and favorite areas which is a nuisance to other residents. Commercial vehicles, even if not driven into the park grounds, cause problems because the trucks and trailers are blocking multiple parking spaces normally used by residents.
Dee Price of Sand Creek and president of the KSA Board of Directors explained that as a matter of prudent business practice and in accordance with KSA’s bylaws, all businesses, including photographers, must have substantial liability insurance to conduct “for profit” business on KSA property. The requirement is for the protection of KSA and ultimately all the residents of Kingwood. She pointed out that the sports teams using the athletic fields are required to have insurance as part of their specific lease and contractual arrangements. Parks in Kingwood not used as dedicated athletic fields, including East End Park, are considered nature areas for the private use of Kingwood residents. As such, KSA has no current provisions to maintain and enforce liability insurance arrangements at a cost to the association and the residents of Kingwood.
The discussion ended with the suggestion that residents who strongly believe the policy needs to be changed to allow residents to use professional photographers should formally contact the KSA Board of Directors about changing the KSA by-laws and policies.
In other business, the committee approved access by the contractor performing work on the Woodridge drainage project through the KSA Northpark Recreation Area in order to get equipment and workers into the adjacent worksite. The actual work to be performed is not on KSA property but access to it is. The contractor will repair or restore any damage to the area if any occurs.
The next KSA parks meeting will be Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. at the South Woodland Hills Community Room, 2030 Shadow Rock Drive in Kingwood.