Columbia strengthens ordinance: No more sex in the city parks

COLUMBIA -- People are having consensual sex in Columbia's parks -- primarily in Granby Park along the river -- and a loophole in the city's ordinance has kept the city from prosecuting them.

But City Council members approved an ordinance Wednesday that is expected to clear up any misunderstandings about what conduct is not allowed in city parks -- spelling out in explicit language what is unlawful.

It is now unlawful for anyone to "knowingly or intentionally" have sex on any "streets, sidewalks, bridges, alleys, plazas, parks, driveways, parking lots, automobiles (whether moving or not), and those portions of buildings open to the general public."

"We are not going to tolerate criminal behavior in our public places and parks," Columbia Mayor Bob Coble said. "This gives law enforcement and the parks the tools to enforce it."

The problem is mostly limited to Granby Park according to Allison Baker, Columbia's director of parks and recreation. It is one of the city's most secluded parks.

"It's not a new issue," Baker said. "It happened when I worked for the city of Suffolk, and it happened when I worked for the city of Richmond."

Granby Park has had problems before with men soliciting sex from other men. Over a five-day period in 1999, Columbia police arrested four men soliciting for sex at the park, which was the first portion of the Three Rivers Greenway to be built.

For years, Columbia officials would charge the offenders with disorderly conduct.