Denham Springs — A Tuesday evening Denham Springs City Council meeting intended to address whether to allow bicycles in a city park sprawled into a discussion of safety issues at Willow Wood Park.
Neighbors accused park visitors of vandalizing property, leaving trash in the area and allowing unescorted children to run wild. Several speakers wondered what people were up to in the park after the sun goes down, and Ernest Vasquez, who lives nearby, attested to seeing “shady deals” he believes to be evidence of drug sales.
Ultimately, the council voted to table the issue of whether to allow bikes in the park, to give the city time to develop a more cohesive plan for the 11-acre park in the Willow Wood Park subdivision.
Neighbors and council members suggested a few ideas Tuesday night, including increasing police presence in the area, setting park hours and demanding that children of a certain age — perhaps 12 — be accompanied by an adult.
Councilman Robert Poole, who lives in the neighborhood and brought the issue to the council, said he will look for grant money to improve the park, by widening paths or building new ones to give more space to both riders and walkers.
During the forum, no one spoke in favor of allowing bicycles in the park, though Councilman Rene Delahoussaye said he has heard support for the idea. The four neighbors who spoke against the idea said the paths in the park, which are 5 feet wide, are simply insufficient to give enough room to those who would like to bike and those who would prefer to walk.
Poole said, as a father of three girls under the age of 12, he simply wants a place for his daughters to be able to ride safely rather than on the streets of the neighborhood, one of which he called “a drag strip.”
“My concern is more with a 7-year-old daughter … dodging an automobile,” he said.
Mayor Gerard Landry said the city first needs to address the underlying issues of “illegal and immoral activity” at the park before ruling on whether to permit bicycles. He suggested bringing the city Police Department into the discussion.
The council eventually voted to table the issue until its meeting June 9. Councilwoman Lori Lamm-Williams challenged the council to come back with a more complete plan for the future of Willow Wood Park. Councilmen Chris Davis and Delahoussaye voted against the timeline, explaining after the meeting that they wanted to address the issue when they had such a plan, rather than trying to come back to the issue in less than a month.
In other business, the city received grant money for two public works projects intended to upgrade and expand sewage facilities. The money has been allocated through the Pontchartrain Restoration Program, though it will still have to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The city was awarded $77,500 to design a new sewage treatment plant after requesting $85,500. It must pay $3,875 in matching funds.
The PRP also granted the city $24,000 to extend sewer lines to Hillon Hood Road on 4-H Club Road. Previously, the Denham Springs Sewerage District had erroneously reported it would seek $90,000 in grant money, but clarified Tuesday that it had sought $24,795. The city must pay $1,200 in matching funds for the grant.
The city had also sought funding to improve two ponds at the treatment facility site, with tentative plans to fill in one and turn the other into swampland. The PRP awarded no money for that project.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.