Article Published Date: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.
VENICE – Trainer Elin Larsen, the pied piper of Venice yoga enthusiasts, routinely draws crowds of 300 or more to her free beach sessions.
Seven days a week, three times a day, Larsen leads her followers though 30-minute yoga routines on Venice Beach. When the free classes end, participants patrol the area to make sure it is as clean as when they arrived.
More than 100 of her followers broke their yoga routine Tuesday to join Larsen at Venice City Hall. Their message: Larsen’s beach workouts should remain free, even as Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department wants her to pay a newly imposed hourly fee.
Carolyn Brown, Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Manager, said Larsen will be permitted to use the beach for free through May, but then she will have to pay the same $13.50 hourly fee other medical classes and yoga exercise groups already pay to use the public beach on Siesta Key.
“The fee is about making sure things don’t get double-booked and we’re equitable to other activities,” Brown said. “What if yoga instructors started competing against each other for use of the beach?”
James McNabb of Venice spoke on Larsen’s behalf before the Venice City Council. After relating how yoga has helped the health of many of Larsen’s followers, McNabb turned more pragmatic.
“There’s also a lot of economic benefit to the Venice business community,” he said. “These people spend their money in town. People are drawn here because Venice has this amenity.”
Outside City Hall, Larsen said Sarasota County special events coordinator Ann Marie Persico told her the yoga group will have to pay a permit fee to use the beach. Larsen disagreed.The end of McNabb’s five-minute statement was met with loud applause from the yoga contingent, which was not disruptive despite its size.
“Then it’s no longer free,” Larsen said. Larsen does accept tips in lieu of formal payments.
Sarasota County spokesman Curt Preisser said the interlocal agreement between Venice and Sarasota County complicates the beach permit issue for the large yoga classes. Venice owns the beach while Sarasota County maintains it.
Larsen said Mayor John Holic is sympathetic to her yoga group and has expressed his support. “The city likes us,” Larsen said. “They understand its value.”[emailpetition id=”2″]
Larsen said Sarasota County’s June 1 fee deadline is curious seasonal timing. “They know a lot of people who love yoga will no longer be here,” Larsen said.
Brown said the county is open to discussing the issue. Her prime concern is managing beach resources fairly, she said.
“It’s not just about yoga,” Brown said. “This is about anyone who thinks they have the right to use the beach in any capacity.”