CLEARWATER — This summer, the city closed the public restrooms at Crest Lake Park after hearing reports that homeless people were using them at night for drug use, sleeping and prostitution. The six restrooms, located next to a playground, remain welded shut.
Now the neighborhood surrounding the park is asking that the restrooms be reopened. Neighbors say closing the restrooms didn't help. Instead, they say, families are staying away from the park and vagrants are relieving themselves in the bushes.
The City Council will take up the issue at a future meeting.
The restrooms were closed in June at the park, which is east of downtown between Cleveland Street and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The restrooms used to automatically lock every night at 8:30 p.m. However, the city's homelessness consultant, Robert Marbut, recommended removing or redesigning the restrooms because he found that homeless people were jamming the doors' automatic locks with toilet paper, allowing the facilities to be used at night.
But residents of Skycrest, the neighborhood that includes the park, want the decision to be reversed. In a unanimous vote, members of the Skycrest Neighbors recently decided to send a letter to City Hall.
"Our neighborhood, again unanimously, agreed that we are not seeing the numbers of families, especially families with children, who have enjoyed our park in the past," the letter states. "Many of the walkers, joggers and even dog walkers have remarked about the growing number of unsavory people monopolizing the park, especially the picnic tables, more than ever before."
"The park is dying. We don't see the families there that used to be there," said the Skycrest group's president, JoAnna Siskin, who added that the group's active Neighborhood Watch is willing to help clean and monitor the bathrooms.
"Families can't use the restrooms," said another Skycrest board member, Elizabeth Cruickshank. "These other guys show up, and they don't know the restrooms are locked. When you gotta go, you gotta go. So there's a lot of that going on."
City Manager Bill Horne, who received the letter, said he'll speak individually to each City Council member about the issue, and they'll discuss it at an upcoming public meeting.
"I really don't think we should have bathrooms there," Horne said. He said the city had planned to keep the restrooms closed for at least a year to "break the attractiveness of this location to the chronic homeless who were using the bathrooms and creating issues."
Mayor George Cretekos said in an interview Wednesday that budget cuts have forced Clearwater to close public restrooms in parks all over the city. "Personally, I would like the city to have a bathroom in every park, but it's not economically feasible," he said.
Cretekos would like to see a major redesign of Crest Lake Park. He'd like it to be more like Largo's popular Central Park.
"Largo Central Park — when I drive by it, you know you're in a park. It's inviting," Cretekos said. "There's no reason we can't do the same with Crest Lake Park."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.