Amid surge in photo shoots, permit system sought for Schenectady’s Rose Garden

A youngster takes off her mask to smell the roses in the Central Park Rose Garden in Schenectady Wednesday. Photos by Peter Barber/Staff Photographer

A youngster takes off her mask to smell the roses in the Central Park Rose Garden in Schenectady Wednesday. Photos by Peter Barber/Staff Photographer

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — It’s a calm scene at Central Park’s Rose Garden, with rows of neatly-trimmed namesake flowers and rippling water providing a soothing pocket of peace in the urban landscape.

But while roses are in bloom, tensions are rising.

Interest in the site from professional photographers has surged this year, so much so that volunteers are seeking a permit structure from the city to control the influx.

“What we’ve seen over the past several months is an extremely high number of visitors to the Rose Garden,” said Matt Cuevas, president of the Rose Garden Restoration Committee. “There’s a line between being used and possibly abused.”

Cuevas didn’t indicate if the events, which also include gender release parties and modeling shoots, were damaging the city-owned, volunteer-maintained site.

And while most photographers are well-behaved, some aggressive shutterbugs have shooed visitors away on occasion, and the crush has resulted in social distancing guidelines being flouted.

“You name it, it’s being photographed in the garden,” Cuevas told the City Council on Tuesday.

Some shoots are increasingly elaborate and include props, lighting and wardrobe changes.

“A lot of this is at the expense of the general public,” Cuevas said. “They’re utilizing it way above and beyond what we’ve been able to control before.”

Councilman John Polimeni proposed legislation after meeting with volunteers. He floated a flat annual fee of $50, but said the rate would be subject to negotiation.

The proposed permit structure would contain ethical guidelines, and allow for the creation of a scheduling system.

The permit would not apply to weddings or proms. Currently wedding parties can reserve time in the Rose Garden for a fee so they are the only party shooting at that time.

“We’re not talking family shots of proms and graduations and that type of thing,” said Sean O’Brien, a volunteer.

Volunteers would take an “educate first” approach when it comes to enforcement, handing photographers a card directing them to where they can register.

“We’re not trying to limit people from making money in the garden,” Cuevas said.

Volunteers are usually on site several times per week, and tend to boost presence during high-volume weekends.

City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo wondered how bad weather would factor into a scheduling system, and a contingency plan would be needed.

“A lot of these photographic shoots hinge upon a beautiful day,” Perazzo said.

Councilwoman Ed Kosiur wondered if the city could simply create a smartphone app.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said any fees would be invested back into the garden.

“I think it’s actually a good sign we’re dealing with this problem,” McCarthy said.

Lawmakers will discuss it again in two weeks, working with volunteers in the meantime on a draft for the permit system.

Kristen Bordonaro, owner of Sophia Sabella Photography on Union Street, said the garden has been swamped since roses began to bloom in early June.

“I think with the whole lockdown, everyone was getting out at the same time,” Bordonaro said. “There were times that I had to edit people out of pictures because there was so many people there.”

Bordonaro said she’s supportive of a potential permit system.

“The park is beautiful and a great location to photograph,” Bordonaro said.

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