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County may ban public drinking

Residents of unincorporated areas, such as Lealman, cite problems they say an open container law could curb.

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2000


Knocking back a few cold ones in the privacy of one's own yard is one thing.

Doing the same while walking down a busy road past schools, churches, homes and businesses is quite another, say residents pushing for an open container ordinance in the unincorporated parts of Pinellas County.

While several cities, including St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tarpon Springs, ban the consumption of alcohol in public places, the county has no such law on the books except for one that applies to public parks.

People working and living in Lealman, an unincorporated pocket surrounded by St. Petersburg, Kenneth City and Pinellas Park, pointed out the absence of the ordinance to County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd about two months ago.

Todd, in turn, has asked her fellow commissioners to consider enacting a law. Commissioners will get their first look at the draft ordinance tonight during their 6:30 meeting at the County Courthouse in Clearwater, 315 Court St. The county will host a public hearing before any law is enacted.

"In my opinion, we need it," said Lealman resident Marcie Lauster, who complained about the matter to Todd. "People can just walk up and down the street and drink their beer and throw (bottles) in ditches or people's yards. Especially when you have children outside and they see this, it's a bad influence."

The proposed ordinance would prohibit the consumption of alcohol in all public places, including public rights of way, parking lots and other facilities owned or controlled by the county.

The law also would ban the possession of open containers within 250 feet of a package store or grocery, and within 500 feet of a school or religious institution.

Todd said she learned of the need for the ordinance after meeting with residents, sheriff's deputies and fire department officials in Lealman who were trying to clean up their neighborhood.

"There were numerous incidents of crime, vandalism, public drunkenness and similar situations," Todd said. "They said some of these people go into stores, buy a bottle of wine or beer and stand around drinking and creating problems, and they couldn't do anything about it."

Commissioner Sallie Parks, a Palm Harbor resident, said she had not heard complaints from people who live in the unincorporated parts of North Pinellas.

"But I suspect there could be neighborhoods that are problematic," said Parks, adding that she hoped law enforcement officials would weigh in on the proposal.

Lealman residents complained that public consumption of alcohol later led to vandalism, trespassing, littering and other crimes. Lauster said that one man passed out in her neighbor's carport.

"He had his quart of beer right next to him," Lauster said. "It's gotten to the point where if you want to have a beer out on the road, you just go to Lealman. If people are having a backyard barbecue and want to drink, we don't mind that. But on the street in front of businesses is uncouth.

"We're doing everything we can to make Lealman a better environment for our kids," she said. "All we can do is keep trying."

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