Four years ago, when Rich Coumont was drinking with a few friends at a bar one night, they got to talking about how they have always wanted to build their own skateboard ramp.

“I was like, ‘You know what? I own my own house, as long as she’s okay with it — the wife — then I’m building a ramp,’” says Coumont. “And everybody was all stoked, so that was it.”

After Coumont got his neighbours’ blessing, the ramp was built. He was able to enjoy it with his friends and two kids until one winter day last year.

Coumont found out that one of his neighbours did, in fact, have an issue with the ramp.

New changes to a Calgary bylaw makes it easier for skateboarders to have some fun closer to home. Audio profile by Paul McAleer

“I don’t know which neighbour complained, I think there’s some new people that moved in that I had never had the chance to talk to and I’m pretty sure they’re the ones that complained,” says Coumont, who said the complaint came after he had a party at his house.

A bylaw officer issued his residence a notice that was not immediately brought to his attention. He says the notice said he would be charged $500 per day, for each person living in the household, until the fine was paid.

“They tried to fine me like $60,000,” says Coumont.

He then had two options: tear the ramp down or pay the fine.

Skateboarding enthusiasts such as Zev Klymochko, co-founder and co-chair of the Calgary Association of Skateboarding Enthusiasts (C.A.S.E.), say Coumont’s desire to build a ramp is not unusual, as people that wanted ramps built them. But a recent bylaw change will help Calgary in its hopes of “catching up” to other cities that do not have a punishment in place.

After nearly two years of deliberation, the City of Calgary recently decided to cut the red tape and allow skateboarders to build ramps within the confines of their backyards. Prior to this bylaw change, the legal construction of backyard ramps was a serious jump to land for most local skateboarders.

Coumont was about to make the obvious choice, preparing to take his ramp down, but then Klymochko caught wind of his predicament and stepped in. Klymochko put Coumont in contact with a reporter from CTV who was interested in doing a story on the skateboarder’s predicament.

Through the process of that news story, Coumont learned he would not have to take the ramp down or pay the fine. He was also told that he never should have been told to take it down in the first place because the city was considering changes to the bylaw.

“I think it’s a big win,” says Klymochko, adding that in addition to being able to build ramps on private property, Calgary is in the process of getting more skate park facilities.

“It’s just making us normal, and a cool city.”

A brief history of the bylaw in Calgary

The bylaw was originally put into place in 1986, making Calgary the first city in Canada to implement a bylaw effectively banning the construction of private skateboard ramps without a permit.

Throughout the next few decades, as the popularity of skateboarding grew, many steps were taken to support skateboarding in public areas throughout the city.

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, there was only the periodic operation of mobile vert ramps and the temporary construction of a wooden skate park near the East Village.

In 1997, Calgary introduced a program to bring mobile skate parks to areas throughout the city.

Calgary built Shaw Millennium Park on the west side of the downtown area in 2000. At the time, Shaw Millennium was the biggest skateboard park in the world, according to the city’s Skateboarding Amenities Strategy released in 2011.

A skateboarder enjoys the ramps available for free at Shaw Millennium Park on Nov. 4, 2016. Photo by Paul McAleer

Despite the city’s efforts in making the city better for skateboarders, the bylaw pertaining to the construction of private ramps was not part of a governmental discussion until 2015. During that year, Calgarians were asked if they thought changes to the bylaw were reasonable and those responses were brought to the Calgary Planning Commission (CPC) the following year.

On Sept. 22, 2016, the CPC approved changes to the bylaw, allowing Calgarians to build skateboard ramps in their backyard permit-free, as long as the ramp falls within size and safety regulations.

“I think this is just a move towards understanding that skateboarding is not, in fact, a crime. It is something that people do. There’s nothing wrong with it. Our noise bylaws will take care of excessive [bother] to neighbours,” says Jyoti Gondek, a citizen member of the CPC who was especially “stoked” to recommend the changes to council.

“And frankly, this land use amendment allows people to get things approved quickly as long as it abides by certain standards.”

The process was finalized when city council reviewed the CPC’s recommendation and finalized the changes in early November. The new bylaw came into effect near the end of November.

“I already know about four people, like guys and women my age, that are building ramps for their kids next summer,” says Coumont, who is 37. He is relieved his ramp is legal and that no one else will have to go through the same experience he did.

“It will just breed a new generation of kids that can skate really well. Who knows, maybe we’ll have more pros that’ll come out of Calgary because of it.”

pmcaleer@cjournal.ca
mbenning@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this piece is Brett Luft, and can be reached at bluft@cjournal.ca