With a new city ordinance regulating what you can and can't do in Palmetto's city parks, officials have backed away from an idea to close at night Riverside Park, one of the city's most popular parks.
To deal with problems at the park, namely the mess caused by certain "disturbing" behaviors," the city instead will take a much simpler step: Locking the doors to the bathrooms at night.
"We didn't realize the bathrooms weren't being locked," said Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler, who had pushed for instituting park hours. "If there is an ongoing issue, we can always bring this subject back up for discussion."
Officials pin the majority of problems on the homeless, not just at Riverside Park but in other parks as well.
However, most of the parks close 30 minutes after sunset and Sutton Park closes at 10 p.m. Enforcement issues at those parks was easier because no one is supposed to be there after closing.
Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant pointed out, too, that not all homeless are without vehicles and there has been an issue with overnight parking at Riverside. The city does want to take a compassionate approach, but Bryant said too many of those using the park as a place to stay all night are making a significant mess.
Until recently, there has been no enforcement measures in place. The new law lays outs specifics on how police can identify and approach the homeless.
The city grappled for weeks to come up with language as to how to close the park, but keep the adjacent boat ramp, fishing pier and Green Bridge open for fishermen and walkers. Officials decided to go another way.
"It's not a Palmetto thing," Community Redevelopment Director Jeff Burton said. "It's happening everywhere, but there is another route you can take and that's where we are heading. The long term goal for any city, if you have amenities that are useful to the public, is to encourage the best way for more public access, not less."
The only other 24-hour park is Martin Luther King Jr. Park. It's open all night because, like Riverside Park, it is part of the city's trails system. In 2021, the Florida Department of Transportation will begin construction on a multimodal trail connecting the city's parks.
Burton said as part of that construction, more lighting will be included and the entire trails system, like Bradenton's Riverwalk, will have video surveillance.
"So you can either try and control these issues by putting more restrictions and regulations into it, which requires resources, which equates to dollars, or go the opposite direction and create a lot of standards which encourages your local population to use it," Burton said.