City leaders could restrict public park access

COLUMBIA (WACH) - A war of words happening in Columbia over what to do with Elmwood's Roy Lynch Park.

City Council is talking about creating a child protection zone around the park.

The zoning change would mean the only people allowed here would be children under 12 and their guardian.

Some council members think the change would keep out illegal activity

"You have folks drinking, you have folks smoking. We've had videotaped evidence and reports and people arrested for people having sex and prostitution in the park. Drug use. You've got all sorts of things." says Cameron Runyan, a member of Columbia City Council.

The problem is, as the ordinance is written, it would mean that the entire park would have to be designated as a child protective zone, and that is causing big problems.

It's causing problems because state and federal funding is attached to every public park in the city.

Councilman Moe Baddourah says designating a child protection zone not only discriminates, but also means the park wouldn't be public any more.

The city would then have to repay the cost of it or build another park

The only way around that is designating 48% or less of the park as a child protective zone.

"We've talked about how we can police these parks and how we can do what we can. Install cameras, add more police officers, to make them safe. And that's what makes the park safe. A piece of paper or a sign saying 'not allowed to come in without a child' is not going to make the park safe." says Columbia City Councilman Moe Baddourah.

"When we are having prostitution in that park, when we are having drugs in that park, when the remnants of those two activities are found in the park by children and by adults, as I've even seen myself, i think we've reached the point where it's time to say this park was designed for children, let's just legally designate it for children." says Runyan.

A decision that looms for a Council that has yet to see eye to eye on the future of this park.

Council reports they will pick this issue back up at their meeting next week.