CLEARWATER — Crest Lake Park is one of the biggest and most heavily used parks in Clearwater. Years ago, the city added lights to the park so it could stay open later.
Now the park's neighbors are asking city leaders to close it down earlier at night because they're seeing problems with vagrants in the late hours. But Clearwater's police chief isn't convinced that crime is a big problem at Crest Lake.
The City Council will decide the issue at its meeting tonight.
The park, in the middle of Clearwater along Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, is open from sunrise to 11 p.m. Some residents of the Skycrest neighborhood, which borders the park, would like to see it close at 9 p.m. instead. A dog park at Crest Lake already closes at 9.
Mayor Frank Hibbard brought up the subject at the council's work session Monday. "I'm in support of changing it to 9 p.m.," he said.
Councilman Bill Jonson asked why some Clearwater parks close at sunset while others stay open later. Parks director Kevin Dunbar said it depends on how well-lit the parks are.
"Typically, parks that are open until 11, they have illumination," Dunbar said. In the case of Crest Lake, "There was a time when there was a request to put lighting around the park so that people could go walk and enjoy the park in the evening."
JoAnna Siskin, a longtime Skycrest resident who's part of a citizens patrol at Crest Lake Park, was among those who contacted City Council members to request the earlier closing time.
"It would be a tool for the police to ask people to leave the park who shouldn't be there," she said. "It's dark by 9. The families go home. There's vandalism, vagrants, drugs, prostitution. If someone would still like to walk there, they can walk the outer perimeter, which is safe and lit."
Police Chief Tony Holloway told the council Monday that officers have been patrolling the park, but he didn't think they'd seen a rise in crime.
"Some people like to use the park around 10 or 11 o'clock to walk or run," Holloway said. "We do have some transients that are in the park. … The transients do speak to people late at night, but they're not committing any crimes while they're in the park."
He added: "There is more activity in the park after 9 o'clock. There are more kids in the park. But we are addressing those issues."
The chief said he would present updated crime statistics to the council tonight.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.