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Palm Coast Fence-Sitting Over Black and White Divide Around Ralph Carter Park

| May 31, 2011

Trench warfare: Ralph Carter Park on one side, Richardson Drive on the other, with the proposed 1,000-foot fence in hot pink. Click on the image for larger view.  (© FlaglerLive)

Trench warfare: Ralph Carter Park on one side, Richardson Drive on the other, with the proposed 1,000-foot fence in hot pink. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Ralph Carter Park is a handsome, popular, 13-acre playground for basketball enthusiasts, skateboarders, tiny children, soccer and football players and, on occasion at midday, when the park is not in much use, golfers practicing their tee shots. As with all of Palm Coast’s parks, Ralph Carter is well maintained, the grass is always manicured, the grounds are kept clean, and aside from the occasional vandalism—which occurs at any of the city’s high-use parks—the place remains welcoming, which partly explains its popularity. The park is named after Ralph Carter, Palm Coast’s first black council member. He died in 2005.

The $2.2 million park, on Palm Coast’s southwest side, opened two years ago along Rymfire Drive to the west and Rymfire Elementary school to its south.

Then there’s Richardson Drive, curving around the park’s northeast in the shape of a machete. It’s not an exaggerated comparison: many people who live along Richardson Drive—mostly white, mostly older, mostly middle class people—don’t like the people who hang out at and around Ralph Carter Park, who happen to be mostly black, mostly young, and like teenagers from here to American graffiti, often boisterous. The people of Richardson Drive, led by Marion Petruzzi, have called the users of Ralph Carter Park “undesirables,” among the relatively printable things that have been said of them, and complained vehemently to the city against park users who cut through their properties as shortcuts, littering, peeing and supposedly dropping condoms along the way, among other alleged nuisances.  Petruzzi has taken her case to the Palm Coast City Council several times on behalf of the Richardson Drive neighborhood.

To Bill Lewis, one of two black council members, the criticism of park users is racially motivated. “There are people who don’t like black folk,” he told the News-Journal last month. “That is Ralph Carter Park. That’s what I’m talking about.” Petruzzi denies it in the same sentence as she specifies that the problem is black people short-cutting through woods, vacant lots and properties.

For over a year, the fault line between the park’s younger users and its Richardson Street neighbors has been a headache to the city, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and young park users, whom the sheriff’s office has filmed secretly and questioned frequently while the city used the park as the starting point of a permanent camera surveillance system. Judging from a year’s worth of police reports from across the city, however, Ralph Carter Park is not a particularly volatile area: complaints are far more frequent than arrests for cause, which suggests antipathy or harassment rather than criminal behavior.

The conflict culminated in a forum on the matter in late April, where City Manager Jim Landon heard demands for a fence between Richardson Drive and the park.

It wasn’t a new idea. Last year Landon and Mark Carman, the sheriff’s office head of Palm Coast operations, said a fence would not solve the problem. Fences can be scaled, cut, vandalized, they said.

On Tuesday, Landon, who’s been at somewhat of a loss on how to address the matter anymore, submitted to the council a set of options on building a 1,000-foot fence along Richardson Drive. It was the result of several suggestions from the city after many were batted down by the Richardson Drive neighborhood.

The cheapest option would be $14,500. The most expensive would be $69,000, or close to the cost of two sheriff deputies’s salaries for a year, not including benefits, training and equipment (the city contracts law enforcement services from the sheriff’s office). The range reflects varieties in the robustness of a fence, though once the city goes above $25,000, it must go through a formal bidding process for the project (as opposed to gathering  three quotes if it’s under $25,000).

Cost, at a time when the city is looking toward a loss of more than $2 million in revenue as it prepares next year’s budget, was not much discussed.

Landon made no recommendation. “You really need to let the public come and talk to you again,” he said, noting the persistent divisions on the matter. “You’ve also seen input from people who don’t think a fence should be there at all.”

A decision would follow yet another round of public comments, though on Tuesday council members seemed to lean toward two options: a fence around the park, its strength and cost yet to be determined, but also a back-door way into the park, though Richardson Drive residents—who want the park users caged in, not accommodated—would oppose that approach. Council member Frank Meeker used his father’s experience to describe how his father’s citrus groves in Fort Pierce were used and misused by young people when a convenience store opened nearby until a fence was built. A fence, in Meeker’s view, channels traffic.  “Can we keep the casual person from strolling through people’s property, take a shortcut to the park, yeah, I think we can,” he said. “And most normal people I think will avoid the fence, they know what it means.”

Lewis doesn’t buy it. Lewis: “You already know where I stand on the fence,” he said. “We’re spending taxpayers’ money to put out something that supposedly is going to stop criminal activity, so we’re putting up a fence, the city, to do law enforcement, which is not our role.” The sheriff’s office should be doing that, he said. “My concern is those people who are silent, those people who are not boisterous, who sit back and send emails and that sort of thing, those people who say well, I take my kids to the park, and I take the shortcut—so we keep them out also.” The park, he said, should be open and accessible to everyone. He’s displeased with the city acceding only to the noisier complainers.

It was as a concession to Lewis that talk of a back-way into the park mixed with discussion of a fence. But that entails escalating costs, though Landon didn’t have those ready, since the notion hadn’t been proposed before. He’ll be producing the numbers at a subsequent meeting, when those who complain of “undesirables” are certain to make their voices heard again.

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20 Responses for “Palm Coast Fence-Sitting Over Black and White Divide Around Ralph Carter Park”

  1. palmcoaster says:

    If all that is vandalized around our cities and towns will have to be fenced up, we will all leaved caged in and in a very disgusting environment. I think neighbors in both sides of this issue need to have a neighborhood meeting that will involved the parents of kids, the affected complainant residents our law enforcement representatives and also a city official representative and all together talk about transgressions and or violations if any taking place and as well a common sense collaboration for the benefit of all and enforcement of civility rules if any laws are being ignored. Maybe in a second meeting the kids should be involved as well. Cutting thru someone’s property if taking place is illegal also should be illegal the loudness and specially loud cussing, if really taking place. Also the proper placing of vandal proof surveillance and monitoring cameras should be installed and with sound registering capabilities in order to count with proof in court. That is a great deterrent I know by fact. After a couple of troubled people is camera caught and prosecuted, the problems will subside. We are all in candid camera when we go shopping otherwise check Walmart. Vandalism in public and private properties is costly and rowdy behavior including loudness is a violation of our city ordinance. When it comes at being a black and white issue…I would not believe so, as I experience in Palm Coast my share of rowdy and vandal teens in our block for a while and were all white kids and after cameras installed the problems subside 80 percent. The mortgage crisis resolved the other 20%. Problem is; kids are bored and some busy parents do not supervise them well. Kids are kids, some more rebelious or aggressive than others and need their parents discipline watching over them.

  2. palmcoaster says:

    Sorry, was supposed to be “we will al live caged”.

  3. suewho1010 says:

    When the James Holland Park was built the city promiised the abutters that a fence would be erected to deter people from cutting thru their private property. The fence was never erected and they have been waiting for over ten yrs but home owners who insisted on their privacy erected their own fences. Why in todays economical downturn should we spend money we don’t have to please a few loud mouths. let them put up their own fances at their own expense if they are so worried about a few undesirables walking thru. I believe Mr Lewis hit the nail on the head this is racially motivated.
    Justify this fence and then watch the homeowners surrounding James Holland start bitching fits, Then where will it stop

  4. lawabidingcitizen says:

    The race card is completely devalued now, so all the left has left is the class warfare card? Rich white landowners against little black children.

    What a crock!

    Unruly teenagers are annoying and frightening, mostly older, property owners and some elected officials are taking sides with them because they share an added dollop of melanin.

    That’s the issue and it’s disgusting.

  5. just a citizen says:

    Laughing at the City of Palm Coast residents and officials and their elitist attitude…..Let’s fence in Carter Park…..Madison Green Aparrtment complex is now the East Projects….laughing…but make sure your grass is not over 6 inches high…LMAO. Hey Plam, Coast why don’t you you put barbed wire fences around your parks…just make sure the medians have nice flower beds. Hey Petruzzi…that’s why they are called neighborhood parks….because they are in the neighborhood….

  6. palmcoaster says:

    C’mon all involved need to use some c,ommon sense…The color code does not longer apply to humans as per our constitution and in our country. Kids are kids wether black, white, red, yellow or brown. Some like I said are more rebellious or even aggressive and petulant than others and only their parents supervision can keep them on line. Fenced in parks will not really help to preserve the value of our homes actually will erode it. Would anyone buy a home nearby a beautiful but fenced in park? Not me for sure. So this time city staff is correct about not spending tax payers $$ to fence in, that beautiful park. Let the cameras roll and catch any violations and problem will solve itself.

  7. elaygee says:

    If the residents want a fence, let there be a special tax on those residents and they can pay for the fence.

  8. Itchey says:

    The only ones who would benefit from a fence at the park are the adjoining residences.
    Let them pay for their own fence. In fact if this lady was so concerned she would have erected that fence long ago at her own expense around her yard. It would increase the value of her property and she wouldn’t have to worry about the vandals.

    It is not fair to have the whole of palm Coast pay for a few of palm Coast, we have enough of that already.

  9. Ella says:

    If any of you actually HEARD what these people are worried about or this was happening in YOUR backyard, you would be in front of the city council asking for a fence and some help too. One lady had her garage door kicked and dented by these punks. One guy had a rock thrown through his window. Is that something you would tolerate in your area? I doubt it! The police are helping and the community is trying to band together. WHY NOT try the fence and see what happens?

  10. Rymfire Mom says:

    It’s sad and unfortunate but both crime and race have become issues at Ralph Carter Park. The last time I took my kids to the park (who both attend Rymfire) was a year ago on a Saturday afternoon. While we were there, my daughter had to use the restroom. Another mom and her kids were trying to do the same thing and the group of young adults/ teens hanging out in the pavilion would not allow the family to use the bathroom. There was an exchange of words between the other mom and thugs, which my kids & I overheard before she asked if I had a phone to call the police. When I tried to intervene between her and the “Thugs” refusing us access to the public restrooms, I was shocked by the complete lack of respect and rudeness from these kids. Of course when the police arrived the “thugs” were well on their way out of the park. Ironically, the officer who responded to the call told me that the park was not safe and I was better off taking my kids elsewhere. That was enough for me.

    It’s really sad that I don’t feel comfortable taking my kids to the park directly next to the school they attend. I know many friends and neighbors who feel the same way and have had encounters they that make them stay away from what could have been an awesome community park. Security cameras? Fences? More frequent police patrols? The City of Palm Coast clearly hasn’t identified a solution or right combination of them to handle the issues at Ralph Carter Park. Fence or no fence, it’s a shame that many local residents don’t feel safe at this park even during the day.

    I hope the City of Palm Coast will take action and find a workable solution so that local residents can feel secure bringing our children back to Ralph Carter Park.

  11. palmcoaster says:

    Why our law enforcement took that long to arrive to the serious incident related by Rymfire Mom? Why the comment from the officer? I see that more frequent police patrols are needed. We pay handsomely for law enforcement to the county and Palm Coast pays additional for it, then service has to be rendered. I have witness myself law enforcement being too soft with aggressive, substance abusing, loud cussing and loud boom box teens, that were here and there exposing themselves while urinating outdoors. I was told also by a sheriff deputy several years ago, when I called on a very rowdy cussing teen group in my block that, “if he were me and had the chance he would move elsewhere” For sure no way to enforce the law. Like I replied to him, if the sheriff would not stop it, I will find the way to document the incidents for court appearance, if no other choice. I did and 80% or more of he problem was solved. Cops took less time to show up afterwards and showed less leniency with the young thugs. I am still in the same house and these thugs are gone. Their environment became somewhat complicated and our surroundings are so peaceful now.
    There are solutions that at times can feel drastic but no one should hesitate to labor and reach the goal of peace and quiet we all pay for, as tax contributors..

  12. palmcoaster says:

    No one is around Ralph Carter Park with a cell or I-Phone that can take video or pictures?. I carry my small digital camera with me everywhere and for $92 that I paid, takes short videos as well. I would have taken anyone cussing or with aggressive rowdy behavior to document the deputies on the incident. Is admissible in court. My little camera had paid it self times over and became a problem solver.

  13. Rob says:

    Please originate a new code word.

    The word thug is passé.

  14. Justadumbff says:

    The city is talking about laying off firefighters to cut down on the budget. What is more important? Spending money toward your safety? Or, a fence for just a few people that have kids walking on their lawn? Why should the tax payers pay for ur fence? If you buy the materials, I know a lot of firefighters that will install it for you for free if it helps save a brother’s livelyhood so they can support their family!!

  15. Rymfire Mom says:


    Actually the police arrived in a fairly timely manner. I was amazed how quickly the group of thugs moved after I told them the cops were on the way.

    I wish I’d thought to tape the conversation on my Iphone that day, but I hadn’t been involved in the initial altercation. My first concern was the safety of my children; my second was helping another mom & her kids. I just wanted to help as much as I could then go home.

    It’s very sad to say we haven’t been back to Ralph Carter Park to play on the playground ever since, much to my kids’ disappointment.

  16. Rymfire Mom says:


    Call these “individuals” whatever you choose, I don’t care. Whoever they are and whatever the “code word” what I do care about is that they are keeping other residents and innocent children from enjoying a PUBLIC park. How fair is that?

  17. Miss B says:

    move to the mondex better life out here

  18. Justadumbff says:

    Just close the park..the city will save money on maintenance, there won’t be a park for the “thugs” to go. The money saved can go towards giving city employees raises they haven’t received in two years!!!

  19. Elana Lee says:

    Rymfire mom, it’s a shame that happened – that older kids intimidated adults from taking their smaller children to the restroom. I would suggest having a few little gray-haired gramdmothers out there on a regular basis to remind those “tough guys” to mind their manners. There’s enough of us here, and some might be willing to volunteer, who knows? I would. Just my opinion but a legion of grandmothers unleashed upon them might prove more effective (and less expensive) than a fence.


    just put the fence up ! whats the problem?

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