The city’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Advisory Board has denied a request to toughen rules that police say could help fight crime in Five Points Park.
The Five Points Neighborhood Association had asked the board to consider earlier closing hours, a smoking ban and tighter limits on permitting.
Currently, the park closes at 2:30 a.m. Smoking is allowed throughout the park, and those holding events only need a city permit if 75 people or more are in attendance.
The board denied the request to change the closing hour to 11 p.m. and the permit limit to 25 people. It did recommend creating designated smoking areas on the sidewalk.
The president of the Five Points Neighborhood Association, Andy Frank, presented her case, saying that the park is basically the front yard for the residents in Five Points condos.
Lt. Jeff Karr, of the Sarasota Police Department, was there to support Frank.
“I asked (the board), ‘If you had someone drunk, exposing himself and urinating in your front yard, how would you feel about it,’” Karr said.
Said Frank: “I found it unusual that a city board listened to a police officer and then ignored his recommendation.”
Both Frank and Karr said they felt the board members had their minds made up to deny the requests before they heard the testimony.
Board member Brie Ondercin said members may have formed an opinion as they read their information packets prior to the meeting, but there was no discussion among the members beforehand.
In addition, Ondercin said two years ago the board took up the issue to close the park earlier and rejected it, so the request to was unlikely to be approved now.
“We don’t want to change park hours, because it’s a park in an urban environment, with nightlife,” she said.
“It’s unfortunate the park has a lot of illegal activity, but that would happen at any urban park.”
Ondercin said it was city attorney Sarah Warran who recommended the board not change the permit limit to 25 people.
Warren said a U.S. Supreme Court case from Chicago stated that a 50-person limit allowed people to exercise their constitutional rights, such as free speech and the right to assemble. Warren thought going below that 50-person limit could be subject to a legal challenge.
Ondercin presented the results of the parks board meeting to the City Commission May 4. Commissioner Fredd Atkins asked whether confining smokers to the sidewalk was wise, because the non-smokers passing by would have to walk through the cigarette smoke.
Todd Kucharski, public works general manager, said the board would look at the smoking issue again.
Frank is hoping the parks board and the City Commission will also reconsider the other two issues.
“I would like for this to come up again,” she said.
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