By Frank Fernandez
DAYTONA BEACH - Bayberry Lakes’ new playground, with its slides and monkey bars, is more than a fun place for kids to play: It is also the community’s preemptive strike against sex offenders.
- Florida continues to play the sex offender shuffle and proving again and again that the laws and pocket parks are all about punishment and exile.
The playground was strategically placed to cover an open zone where sex offenders could have moved into the community off LPGA Boulevard.
The playground appears to be the first in either Volusia or Flagler counties built to block sex offenders from moving in to a community. A spokeswoman with the state Department of Corrections said she did not know of any other community in the state that had taken such an initiative. Sheriff’s Offices in Volusia and Flagler counties said they had not heard of a community doing such a thing.
- Well she's not been reading the news. Florida has opened several pocket parks to prevent offenders from moving in, or to force them out.
It was the idea of J. Ryan Will, a Bayberry Lakes resident who also happens to be a prosecutor for the local State Attorney’s Office.
“I just started looking for ways to keep sex offenders out of the neighborhood and I knew from my job that there were residency requirements with respect to parks and playgrounds,” Will said.
The community of 328 homes is nearly built out and already had Champion Elementary School in the north end and a park in its community center at the other end, each one creating zones where sex offenders could not live.
State law bars sex offenders whose victims were younger than 16 from living within 1,000 feet of a school, child care facility, park or playground. A similar Daytona Beach city ordinance is stricter, excluding sex offenders and sex predators from living within 2,500 feet of such facilities.
But an unprotected area existed in the middle of Bayberry Lakes and a sex offender had even lived there for a time before moving out, Will said. That gap was closed this month with the opening of the playground on Cinderberry Lane.
Red and blue balloons fluttered in the breeze as Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry cut a red ribbon at the gate to the playground Aug. 15 while Zone 4 Commissioner Robert Gilliland stood nearby.
“It’s a paradigm or model of what we would like to see all of our communities do, which is bond together in an effort number one to protect the children and number two to enhance the qualify of life for them,” Henry said. “I’m a big proponent of health and wellness and this is an extension of that, as well.”
- And if all communities did that, then you'd basically be exiling all offenders from the state, which is unconstitutional.
Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood said in a phone interview that he had never been told about a playground being built to keep sex offenders and sex predators away.
- Another person who hasn't been reading the news, or they are just playing dumb?
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of it,” Chitwood said. “It’s pretty proactive on the community’s part.”
Will proposed the playground to the homeowners association a little more than a year ago. The homeowners approved it, voting to assess each household $100 to build the $27,000 playground. Adams Homes, which still controls 29 lots in the community, also voted in favor of the playground and paid the special assessment on each lot.
But not everyone liked the idea. Some residents thought the proposed location was a bad spot because Cinderberry Lane was too busy a street. But Will said that the homeowners association already owned that land. Also, the spot was perfect since it would protect the entire open zone from sex offenders and sex predators. Moving it would mean two or three lots would fall outside of the protected zone, allowing sex offenders and sex predators to move in.
Now, the entire neighborhood is protected, said Bill Kamer, a father who is the president of the homeowners association.
“The middle of the subdivision was not covered at all,” Kamer said. “This will put our whole community under the safe zone, so no sex offenders or predators can live in our community at all.”
Another resident, Kim Wood, said she was on board when she heard Will’s idea for a playground, particularly since she has a 4-year-old granddaughter.
“And right now we don’t let her out of our sight, but as she gets older and wants to go to the playground and hang out with friends that would be a concern to me,” Wood said.
- Just because an offender cannot live nearby, doesn't mean they cannot visit the park and kidnap a child, if they wished, but you folks keep living in Wonderland!
Jim Powers, Wood’s fiance and an association board member, said the area needed a park anyway.
“This end of the community didn’t have any amenities. All the amenities were at the other end of the community so we definitely felt it was a good spot here and a good position and something that we needed in the community,” Powers said. “You can tell by the number of children here that it’s going to be well used.”
That was certainly the case on a recent afternoon. Kids dangled from the monkey bars, zipped down slides and clung to a small round platform with bars, which the youngsters spun in fast circles.
Adam Marcotte, 9, gave the playground a thumbs up: “It’s pretty cool.”
Arianna Corbin, 11, was at the playground with her sisters, 8-year-old twins, Gianna and Haley, and Elizabeth, 12. What was Arianna’s favorite?
“The spinner. You can get dizzy,” Arianna said.
The choice was simple for 7-year-old Sebastian Juracek who decided, “I like everything.”
- (08/27/2013) Residents build playground to keep sex offenders out of neighborhood (Video Available)