NEW PORT RICHEY — The city improved and revitalized Sims Park and the adjacent Orange Lake for the purpose of increasing the public’s enjoyment of it.
Last week, City Council moved forward with helping people do that while still abiding by the rule of law.
Council voted 5-0 in favor of the first reading of an ordinance that would make Sims Park and Orange Lake accessible until 11 p.m. According to the current municipal codes, all city parks are closed to the public from sundown to sunrise the next day, except during times of events or special permits issued by the city manager or parks and recreation director.
Improvements to both parks in recent years included more lighting and a pair of boardwalks with pavilions extending into Orange Lake. This was done for aesthetics as well as for safety purposes and making the areas more inviting during darker hours. But under the current city code, no one is allowed to be at the parks when the sun is set. Barring an unlikely change of heart during the ordinance’s second reading Aug. 3, that language will change.
“We lit up the park for a reason,” Councilman Jeff Starkey said. “We built those boardwalks to have lights on them so people can enjoy them.”
Starkey and Councilman Chopper Davis requested city staff and police to keep an eye on the situation after the change is made.
“I just urge our police department to continue to patrol Sims Park after it does get dark because we’ve had issues with people spending the night in there and people doing things that they shouldn’t be doing after hours,” Starkey said. “I’m all for people enjoying the boardwalk and exercising in the park and coming and going and doing the right thing, but you’re always going to have people in there after hours not doing the right thing.”
For Davis, an issue may be that 11 p.m. isn’t late enough, given the parks’ proximity to downtown bars and restaurants.
“I’d like to have a review of this in, like, 90 days,” Davis said,” because we’re opened up downtown until about 1, 1:30, especially on the weekends. There’s a lot of adults down there so if they want to go down and walk around the park … I want to look at it as a positive.
“I’d like a report back in 90 days on whether we’re having problems down there and is 11 o’clock still okay?”
Council will hear the second public reading of the Sims Park and Orange Lake extension of hours ordinance at its next regular meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. on Aug. 3.