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    Toilets at park power debate

    Some residents worry that permanent restrooms at Blossom Lake Park could provide a haven for vandals and vagrants.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 15, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- The city figured residents would be delighted that restrooms could be on the way to Blossom Lake Park.

    Yet not all are, especially some who live in the park's surrounding neighborhoods: Gem Village and Blossom Lake Village. They fear the restrooms could be a haven for vandals and vagrants.

    And, for now, the neighbors get their way. No permanent restrooms. Just portables.

    After a story about the restrooms appeared in Tuesday's Times, both Mayor Dottie Reeder and General Services Director Mitch Bobowski received calls from residents opposed to having restrooms in the park.

    "Right now most of the feedback we're getting is negative," Reeder said at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

    Some of it came from Tony and Lori Mulder, who live in Blossom Lake Village. Both say a permanent structure could attract pot smokers and pedophiles.

    "I don't think it's a place for (restrooms)," Mrs. Mulder said. "We definitely think it's a very bad idea."

    Council members voted 6-1 against applying for a state grant that would cover 80 percent of the cost to build restrooms at the park. Council member Pete Bengston was the lone dissenter.

    He said children need a restroom at the park. "When they got to go, they got to go," he said.

    But the overall consensus of the council was it needed more time to find out if the community really wants restrooms in the park. The deadline for applying for the grant is March 15.

    So the council came up with a solution for the time being: portable potties. Installing two portable toilets in the park would give the city an idea if permanent restrooms were needed there.

    The park sits along the Pinellas Trail near 62nd Terrace N, east of Seminole Boulevard. The grant, funded by the Recreational Trails Program of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, would require the restrooms to be near the trail.

    Bobowski said the city could apply for the grant next year. He said other grants also were available.

    The city spent $400,000 to build Blossom Lake Park on 11 acres of city-owned land that had become scruffy and overgrown. Workers installed lights, playground equipment, a fitness trail, charcoal grills, water fountains, picnic tables and benches. A parking area, shade trees and palms were added.

    The city decided against putting a restroom in the park because some of the neighbors feared the vandalism that was rampant there in the early 1990s would return.

    Brian Abbott says those days are over. He says he doesn't understand what the big deal is about putting a restroom in the park.

    "I think it should have them," said Abbott, a resident of Gem Village neighborhood. "I think they should have been put there in the first place."

    The Mulders said they weren't against portable toilets. They probably wouldn't attract the wrong people to the park, they said.

    "I'm sure we'll come up with something that will work for everyone," Tony Mulder said.

    - Staff writer Maureen Byrne can be reached at 445-4163 or at byrne@sptimes.com.

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