In response to health and safety concerns, Kalispell city officials temporarily closed the gazebo in Depot Park on Wednesday morning, a location that homeless individuals have continuously occupied for the past several months during its daytime hours.
While the park is still open for public use, city officials have blocked off the gazebo in the southeast corner until the city council can review possible ordinances that would limit the structure’s use.
No city councilor objected to the closure.
City Manager Doug Russell said at Tuesday’s council meeting that city officials have received daily emails from residents complaining about the use of the gazebo, which has been consistently occupied by individuals who are leaving human waste and trash on the public property.
“With the footage we’ve seen, we would not want the public being around that,” Russell said. “In the daytime it’s turned into a party at this encampment … That is not what our public parks are for.”
“Massive” amounts of trash are also being left behind in the structure, he said, which is cleaned up by law enforcement at night when the park closes.
Additionally, city officials have received complaints about violent behavior and drug and alcohol use in the gazebo during its hours of operation from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The gazebo will be temporarily closed until the council reviews a possible ordinance that would limit the structure’s use, if passed. A potential example of an ordinance would entail requiring a permit for the facility after 90 cumulative minutes of use.
Following an incident involving a city employee at Depot Park, Russell said he does not feel comfortable sending his staff to the public space.
“Basically, for the last X number of months, it has been occupied at all hours of the park operation from 6 to 11,” Russell said. “It’s isolated to that one group of people, which is outside of the intent to that public facility. We heard complaints and statements of violent behavior and unwanted behavior.”
Russell acknowledged the constitutional protections surrounding loitering but said cities like Whitefish have established ordinances to prevent overuse of public structures.
“It’s not removing people from the park, it’s basically taking possession of one of our facilities within the park and eliminating our public use with it,” Russell said.
The city council will meet Monday, Jan. 23 to review potential ordinances to limit the gazebo use at Depot Park at a work session.
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