Not in our backyards

Some residents against use of portable toilets near parks
Jun. 21, 2014 @ 06:04 PM

Andrea Harris’ house sits secluded on West Rockspring Street surrounded by trees and bushes shielding her backyard from the noisy and busy thoroughfare that is North Chestnut Street.

Her property backs up to a mini-park with public basketball and tennis courts.

For the past several months, her home has also been located within 50 feet of a portable toilet.

It was moved to the North Chestnut Street park in response to people coming from the basketball courts into Davis Chapel Missionary Baptist Church during services to use the bathroom.

Charles Turrentine Jr., son of the pastor at Davis Chapel, approached the Henderson City Council with the issue last March.

He said kids from the basketball courts would use the church restrooms and water fountain, but it didn’t become a problem until one incident when several youths came into the church to use the facilities.

He said they left toilet paper on the floor and the faucets running.

But Harris, of 340 W. Rockspring St., said a portable toilet in a residential neighborhood should not be the city’s permanent solution.

“I know that Parks and Recreation was trying to respond to problems churches were having with people coming into facilities to use the restrooms,” she said. “I understand how they try to respond to that, but I would hope that would be a temporary solution. I would not like to think the answer to this is a permanent Port-a-John in my neighborhood.”

She wrote a letter to the Henderson City Council asking them to remove them toilet from her neighborhood.

“I am offended that a city mini-park has a portable toilet as part of the permanent landscape,” Harris wrote in her letter. “You need to find a way to fix it and fix it quickly. I request the immediate removal of a portable toilet in my neighborhood.”

Henderson City Manager Ray Griffin said the issue was referred to the Parks and Recreation Commission after Turrentine addressed the council.

“Alan Gill and the recreation folks decided the Port-a-John was a good solution to problem,” he said, adding that Harris was the only person he had heard from about the issue.

There is also a portable toilet inside the basketball court fence at the South Chestnut Street park.

Steve Osborne, interim director of the Recreation and Parks Department, said the parks at E.M. Rollins and South Henderson had portable toilets until this year.

“We just didn’t have that many teams out there this year to make it worthwhile,” he said.

Though city ordinances don’t prohibit portable toilets on city property, the park rules specifically about basketball court use states no basketball playing is permitted during regular church services within 500 feet of the church.

The rules apply to Jackson, Chestnut, Pinkston, Owen Davis, Jaycee, Cooper, North Henderson, South Henderson, E.M. Rollins, King Daughters I and II, Fox Pond, David Street Neighborhood and King’s Kids parks, the Aycock Recreation Complex and the recreation areas at old Aycock School — including the gymnasium — and old Zeb Vance School, plus the adjacent public areas and parking lots.

The city placed a sign on the North Chestnut Street basketball courts to inform people of the rule.

Turrentine said there isn’t a problem anymore with people entering church during services and creating a mess.

“Those rules are good for the community,” he said. “We don’t have any bad blood. Since the rules have been put in place, there haven’t been any issues.”

But Harris and her neighbor Sandra Davis don’t want a portable toilet within a stone’s throw of their backyards.

Davis, who grew up in the Rockspring community and is Harris’ goddaughter, said the toilet should be inside the basketball court or on church property, if it resolves a church issue.

“My feelings is if Davis Chapel wants a portable toilet, it should be on their property and not city property,” she said. “It creates havoc. The kids can’t come to the playground because you have all the grown people over there playing basketball and whatever else they are doing. It has brought more traffic over here; yes it has. There wasn’t as much traffic, but now that they have a Port-a-John out there, and it’s open and free.”

Davis said she felt the solution would have been different if the problem affected a predominately white area, like the Henderson Country Club.

“If this happened in the country club, they would have an indoor facility with female and male restrooms,” she said. “But because it is in an African-American neighborhood, they put a Port-a-John out here in my community. That’s not right.”

But Randy Oxendine, chairman of the commission, said there isn’t funding in the Recreation and Parks budget to begin that project immediately.

“We just don’t have enough money to build a restroom facility for that park,” he said.

Still, he said the portable toilet should not be permanent.

“The only permanent solution would be a permanent building,” he said. “I understand it’s on Chestnut Street, and it’s a Port-a-John, and it’s not a pretty picture. But that’s the only thing we can do right now.”

The city council’s adopted budget for fiscal year 2014-’15 allocates a total of $1.4 million for the Recreation and Parks Department. This includes $891,000 for recreation services, $164,000 for youth services and $348,000 for the Aycock Recreation Center and aquatics center.

Osborne said he is arranging a meeting between Harris and the Rev. Charles Turrentine Sr., the Davis Chapel pastor, in the hopes they can work out their differences through discussion.

As far as building new restrooms for the park, he said it likely wouldn’t happen anytime soon.

“That would be nice, but the money isn’t there to do something like that,” he said.

 

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.