June 6 public hearing set on proposed changes to County Code involving parks

One modification will allow the county administrator to set hours appropriate for each facility

Carolyn Brown. File photo

On June 6, the Sarasota County Commission will hold a public hearing on proposed changes to the ordinance governing activities in the county’s parks.

Among those modifications is a new section that provides for the setting of specific park hours. It says, “Except for permitted uses, County Parks shall be open to the public only during posted hours. Hours of operation shall be determined by the Code Administrator [the county administrator]. This provision shall not apply to Designated City Parks or School Board Facilities who shall designate their own hours.”

Other proposed changes are a prohibition of overnight camping “of any type except in those areas designated for such use or by Permit upon payment of … any required reservation fees”; expanding the examples of vandalism to include damage to birds’ nests and “nesting habitat of protected wildlife”; removal of the prohibition against smoking — on the beaches as well as in the parks — to conform with a state law; and allowing the use of propane grills in parks.

As Carolyn Brown, the director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), explained it to the County Commission on May 23, Article II of Chapter 90 of the County Code regulates the use of parks, beaches and public lands and authorizes the department to charge entrance fees, admission fees, rental fees and user fees.

One other major modification of the section, Brown noted, would convert each reference to the department from “Parks and Recreation” to “Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources,” to reflect the reorganization of certain division responsibilities County Administrator Harmer implemented a couple of years ago.

Tricia Wisner, the department’s operations coordinator, noted several additional changes that have been proposed. For example, she said, Section 90-33(a)(6) says, “Unless otherwise permitted, leaving boats, trailers or vehicles unattended for more than 24 hours at a County Park” would be prohibited.

In regard to grills, Wisner explained that the original prohibition was an effort to prevent injuries or damage to public property resulting from hot charcoal. Given the advances in grills, she continued, staff feels propane-fueled equipment should be allowed.

“That would also include areas on the beaches?” Chair Paul Caragiulo asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “It’s within the whole park system.”

‘Smoke-Free Zone’ signs used to be posted at county beaches. However, a 12th Judicial Circuit Court ruling several years ago made it clear that state rules take precedence over local regulations on that issue. File photo

“In talking with the staff,” Commissioner Nancy Detert said, she had found the changes “a lot more complex than [this] looks.” For example, she noted, some areas allow parks to be open from dawn to dusk. However, she added, that would not be appropriate for parks where baseball games are played under lights. “We have such diversity in our park system, it almost calls for different rules based on different uses.”

She told Wisner and Brown, “I certainly support what you’re doing.”

Caragiulo asked for clarification that the board’s decision in December 2016 to allow dog-friendly areas in 71 more parks was part of a separate policy for the department. (The designations took effect on Jan. 1.)

“We determined that we would evaluate the entire dog-friendly situation for a period of six months,” Brown replied. “It’s going quite well, honestly,” she added. However, if any changes to that policy prove necessary, she told Caragiulo, she would come back to the board after that six-month period ended.

“Fantastic,” Caragiulo responded.

Commissioner Charles Hines made the motion to authorize the advertisement of the June 6 public hearing, and Commissioner Michael Moran seconded it.

Before June 6, Hines encouraged the staff members to continue their discussions with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office regarding the proposed changes. That department’s employees, he added, are “the ones that are going to be enforcing this. They need to understand what it means.”

Then the commissioners voted unanimously to authorize the advertisement of the public hearing.