San Diego County

Poway Small Business Owner In Squabble With City Over Temporary Pandemic Tent

City says tent was erected without a proper permit and is offering comparable rent at a city-owned parcel for a relocation site

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A Poway woman says she is being ordered to tear down a temporary tent she set up to operate her fitness business -- months after she claims the city gave her the OK to put the tent up in the first place.

“We made this massive investment and business decision predicated on what they said back in August. I would have never gone all in and made this business decision to do this without that ‘Yes, let’s do this,'" said Stephanie Firenze.

Firenze, 37, relocated her small business, FWRD Barre + Fitness, from Rancho Bernardo last year. She says she lost 50% of her customer base as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Firenze says in August 2020, she and her husband approached city officials in Poway about setting up a temporary tent. She characterized the support from city officials as amazing.

“I thought it was so supportive. I felt like it was a good positive decision for me to move my business to the community that I reside in. It felt really good,” said Firenze.

Firenze claims a city official told her no permits were required for temporary tents and canopies during the pandemic. So, she spent $25,000 to erect the large tent on property near the North County Soccer Park off Espola Road in Poway. She pays the property owner rent.

She reopened at the location, with strong member support, on October 7.

But on February 16, Firenze says she received a letter from the city's building department, ordering her to remove the tent within 30 days.

“For something that’s temporary, this is not like I’m trying to be here long term. I’m trying to keep my business afloat during COVID. That’s been so hard,” said Firenze.

According to city council member Barry Leonard, the structure was built without a permit and is also on a federal floodway. He says it's unlikely Firenze was told the tent could be erected without a permit.

“The Poway City Council encourages small businesses to locate and flourish in our fine city. We want them to do this in a safe and legal manner,” said Leonard in an email to NBC 7.

Firenze said she didn't feel the city's support in their response.

“'Maybe we made a mistake, we overlooked that this is in a floodway, but let’s work together,' and it was never -- that’s never the feeling I’m getting. It’s not supportive,” said Firenze.

But on Wednesday Poway Mayor Steve Vaus says the city is offering a parcel of city-owned land near the current site for her to relocate.

“Poway hopes FWRD Fitness can continue their operation but it must be in an appropriate and safe location. That’s why we’ve offered them a larger parcel, next to the soccer park, outside of the floodway, at a cost comparable to what they are paying now,” said Vaus.

In response late Tuesday, Firenze said she appreciates the efforts by the city to assist her, and is now exploring her options.

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