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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Despite uproar, Clearwater closes Crest Lake restrooms



CLEARWATER — The City Council had a fiery and passionate meeting about public restrooms Thursday night.

Despite an outpouring of arguments, stern words, frustration, negotiating and outright pleading from residents of the city’s Skycrest neighborhood, council members decided to demolish the bathrooms at Crest Lake Park, which had been closed since last summer.

Several of the dozen people advocating for the restrooms were elderly residents who have lived in Clearwater for decades. Neighborhood activists said they’d been assured the restrooms’ closure would be temporary. And a number of speakers said they see visitors relieving themselves in the park anyway, restrooms or no restrooms.

“We are only asking you to give us back what you have taken away from us,” said Shannon O’Leary-Beck, a Skycrest resident who showed the council a photo of toilet paper and feces left under an oak tree not far from the park’s playground. “We have been so diligently trying to explain to you how important our park is to us. If you choose to turn your backs on us, turn a deaf ear on us, we won’t forget it at election time.”

Council members voted 3-2 to demolish the small building containing six restrooms. The bathrooms are next to the playground in the park along Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard east of downtown.

Mayor George Cretekos, Vice Mayor Paul Gibson and council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito approved the demolition. Council members Bill Jonson and Jay Polglaze wanted the restrooms reopened — at least during events at the park.

The officials seeking to eliminate the restrooms said that neighborhood residents had previously complained when they were open and were attracting suspicious characters. The city closed the restrooms last June after hearing reports that homeless people and others were jamming the automatic locks and using the restrooms at night for sleeping, drug use and prostitution.

“Those restrooms as they are currently configured, where they are currently located, have not done the community any good,” the mayor told the crowd at City Hall. “You complained when they were open and causing you problems. You complain now because they’re closed and they’re causing you problems.”

At the same time, council members also said they want to have Crest Lake Park redesigned and improved in the years to come. There’s $1.5 million in future Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue earmarked for reworking the park. The money is scheduled to become available in 2017 and 2018.

But Skycrest residents don’t want to wait four or five years.

[Last modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 2:14pm]


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