Sunset Park Closure Still Being Debated In Ocean City

OCEAN CITY — After months of debate, it remains uncertain what, if anything, will be done in terms of closing Sunset Park during nighttime hours.

In a debate that began at the Police Commission level in the fall and continued at the Recreation and Parks Committee level and ultimately before the Mayor and Council, resort officials are considering reducing the nighttime hours at Sunset Park along the bay at the south end of the resort. During a previous Police Commission meeting, it was brought to light the park was increasingly being used at night by some of the homeless in the downtown area and for other illicit and undesirable activities after the sun went down.

At the time, the Police Commission endorsed closing Sunset Park at night to cut down on the unofficial activities and reduce the need for enforcement. When the issue was presented to the Mayor and Council, elected officials tacitly agreed to close the park from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day, with the exception of certain special events. However, no formal action was taken and the changes to the park’s hours remain in limbo.

The issue arose again last week at the Recreation and Parks Committee meeting. Sunset Park falls under the purview of the Recreation and Parks Department, and any changes would come from that department. Recreation and Parks Department Director Susan Petito said she was still seeking direction.

“We are fine with setting some policies,” she said. “This should come from the Police Commission because the police had more specific issues with the park than we did.”

Councilman Dennis Dare suggested looking into an alternative to a complete closure of the park at night.

“Are we looking into lighting changes?” he said. “We could have lights down there on a time from dusk to dawn. That could be another way of addressing the issue.”

Dare told Recreation and Parks Committee members the department’s only real issue with a proposed closure is safety.

“As far as you’re concerned, you want safety in the park, and you don’t want any damage,” he said. “The rest of this in terms of sleeping in the park falls on the Police Commission.”

Petito agree her department’s priority was safely maintaining the park for the general public.

“My only concern is we didn’t want any closure to impact the special events in the park,” she said. “We’re very flexible. I’d also be okay with not closing the park at all and adding more lighting. We’ll consider whatever makes the park safer.”

The Police Commission will further review the issue before any formal action is taken by the council.