Your Gathering at Memorial Park Might Require a Permit. Or It Might Not.

Categories: Whatever

Hermann Park Hermann Park photo by Flickr user darkhairedgirl
If you and a group of friends are planning on training for April's MS150 ride by barraging the picnic loop at Memorial Park, be prepared to show police an official permit to gather.
While permits have always been required for large gatherings at the city's parks, an abundance of training groups, unofficial races and boot camps overwhelming Hermann and Memorial parks has led to a re-education campaign of sorts by the parks and recreation department and local police.

Hair Balls first learned about the permit requirements this week when we received an e-mail from a group of cyclists who were approached by a police officer who asked to see their paperwork. They got off with a warning -- and Parks and Recreation assistant director Rick Dewees stressed the interaction was a friendly one -- but were told that tickets would be issued the next time they gathered without an official document.

Dewees said that part of the problem is a lack of public knowledge of the permit requirements. "We probably could do a better job of informing people. Maybe we should have signs," he said.

But when it comes to determining exactly what kind of gatherings require a permit, Dewees seemed a little unclear.

"If it's a planned, organized event," he said. "I can't remember the exact wording, but if it's a gathering of organized activity. Ninety percent of the activity in Memorial Park is unorganized activity. Where it comes into play is if someone comes in with a large group to the point where they are interrupting the unorganized activity with their organized activity.

"Sometimes permits are handy because they allow you a first claim on the space."

He then directed us to the Houston Municipal Code's Chapter 32, which deals with the parks and recreation department. Except that code doesn't say anything about large, disruptive activities.

A) No permit shall be required to use the parks or to hold any public meeting or gathering except in the following designated areas of the parks: (1) Any building or facility for which a rental fee is imposed by the city pursuant to section 32-69 of this Code; (2) Any baseball field, basketball court, tennis court, swimming pool, golf course, or other area specifically designated and equipped for sporting or recreational events, whether a rental fee is imposed pursuant to section 32-69 of this Code therefor or not; (3) The Houston Zoo; (4) The Houston Arboretum; (5) Any other improved and specially maintained area so designated by a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to section 32-5 of this Code.

Unfortunately, regulations referencing section 32-5 of the code are not available online, and Dewees didn't point us towards any.

Still confused, we offered him a couple of hypotheticals: a family picnic? No problem. A gathering of five people? Okay, he said. Ten people is probably okay. After that, it gets conditional. Dewees suggested a group that large contact the permits office to get clarification.

As for how much a permit costs, he couldn't give us an exact number, but did say noncommercial groups would have to pay a "nominal fee." Organizations like commercial bootcamps, running clubs and other businesses pay a larger fee, plus some percentage of their earnings.

The ticket for failure to show permit can be as high as $500.

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11 comments
Bruce bSeen
Bruce bSeen

Did you know, a professional photographer is also required to have a permit to take a picture in our parks? I understand the requirement for say, a movie shoot with trucks and lots of staff but hassling one guy because he's using a tripod is going too far. Get used to it, Big Brother wants/needs your money and they will get it.

Kyle
Kyle

Yes, I had a lot of trouble with photography at Discovery Green. Pressure was brought to bear by others and they finally simplified the rules: you only need a permit if you want to block others from using part of the park. Also you might not be able to take pictures of special events, i.e. the Zumba lessons and etc. Otherwise photography is now allowed.

ribalding
ribalding

Here's a wild idea:

If the parks are over-crowded with "assemblies", BUILD MORE PARKS. Oh wait. Nevermind. I forgot where I live.

Carry on.

Kyle
Kyle

The whole thing is ridiculous...the only people using Picnic Circle in the evening are the cyclists. Nobody is being deprived of any parkland.

goldsberry
goldsberry

Here's 32-5. You all might've been looking in the wrong place.

Sec. 32-5. - Authority of the director.

(a)The director shall have authority to prescribe written rules and regulations for the administration of the department and for the orderly government and use of the parks, provided that such regulations do not conflict with valid laws or ordinances. A copy of such rules and regulations shall be maintained for public inspection in the offices of the director and the city secretary. Without limitation, the director is authorized to include provisions that govern the use of parks by the public and may prescribe such rules and regulations that promote the healthful and generalized use of the parks, including, but not limited to, setting forth rules that limit the possession or consumption of any alcoholic beverages while in the parks. Nothing in this subsection is intended to limit the ability of the director to prescribe rules and regulations relating to the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages by city-authorized vendors, park permittees and concessionaires operating within the parks.

(b)The director shall be authorized to contract referees for athletic contests and instructors for recreation classes. Fees paid to referees or recreation instructors shall be approved by the city council. No such referee or recreation instructor shall be considered an employee of the city.

Kyle
Kyle

I'm not 'assembling', I'm riding my bike in the park, City of Houston.

Heywood Jablome
Heywood Jablome

Who'd want to go to Memorial Park anyway ???

Kyle
Kyle

Plenty of people. Picnic Circle is excellent for evening bike riding because it's closed to traffic after dark. Everyone gets along fine and these guys are clowns for threatening the cyclists.

John O
John O

Houston, THE PROMISED LAND of no zoning, and imposing/interpreting their lame rules on same.... yet another fail. And the citizen suffers. I've been a victim of this hodgepodge of enforcement and application, actually went before the "Planning Commision" and pled my case... these clowns are clueless, and they adjuicate over your rights.....

Kyle
Kyle

Fine me for hopping on a paceline? Absurd.

Gaslight
Gaslight

I wonder if this will get a bit from CoH. Let's not even talk about the hassle once you try to obtain said permit. Per GS and RB, you're passed between Parks and Rec and the Mayor's Office of Special Events, no employee knowing exactly how you should proceed.

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