NEW PORT RICHEY — The City Council has given its blessing to a new ordinance that will restrict the frequency of group feedings for people who are homeless in two of New Port Richey's most popular parks.
During a meeting Tuesday night, the council passed on first reading an ordinance that will restrict organizations to two public feedings each per year in Sims and Frances parks for people who are homeless. If the ordinance passes on second reading, groups also will have to obtain a $100 permit from the city to hold feedings.
In addition, the ordinance will ban any such feedings in Cotee River, Orange Lake, Grand Boulevard, Jasmine, High Street, Kulhawik, Rivers End and Orange Grove parks because there are no restrooms available.
The council also directed the city's attorney to craft an ordinance banning roadside memorials and passed on second reading a tougher alcohol ordinance that allows police to enforce the city's open container laws in semi-public parking lots, strip centers and in alleyways.
All of the measures are part of a push by the City Council in recent years to combat blight, nuisance properties and vagrancy in New Port Richey, with several ordinances geared toward beautification efforts to spur redevelopment. The council has passed ordinances establishing a rental inspection program and tougher code enforcement restrictions, as well as one to combat loitering and prowling.
The new homeless feeding ordinance is designed to deal with what New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart described as a "pretty serious concentration" of feedings that were taking place in Sims Park prior to its closing for renovation. Bogart said the city was receiving complaints from members of the public who were intimidated by the gatherings.
With the newly revamped park set to reopen with a new playground and other amenities in the coming months, the city needed to look at restricting how often the feedings can take place, City Manager Debbie Manns told the Times.
Manns said balancing the rights of people who are homeless with the public's need to feel safe must be maintained. She added that the feedings had begun to interfere with the public's ability to enjoy the park, with one church from Zephyrhills hosting a large group event at Sims every Sunday.
"Of course, we want to be compassionate in helping the homeless. They have rights, and we respect that," Manns said. "We'd like to see the homeless population get the help they need and don't want to be an impediment to that, but it's also our duty to protect the rights of all of our citizens who may be made uncomfortable by such large gatherings in our parks."
The council also came to a consensus that roadside memorials should be banned in the city. The move came in response to complaints from several residents that some of the memorials have remained for indefinite periods of time and have grown out of the control.
Tuesday night's discussion centered on a proposal by the staff to offer a uniform memorial sign to the public. But the council ordered that tabled and called for an ordinance that mandates an outright ban on memorials, which Mayor Rob Marlowe called "intrusive" and "ugly."