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AUSTIN EDITION - Garbage, noise are common complaints from lot owners, neighbors

By Tim Ruzek

truzek@postbulletin.com

The parking lot that now borders the Spam Museum used to be a hangout for teenagers and their cars.

Known then as the old Kmart lot, it seemed like a good spot to let kids gather because it wasn't too close to residential places, Police Capt. Curt Rude said.

Too much garbage in the lot eventually got them kicked out, Rude said.

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Just south from that lot down Main Street, kids gathered at the Municipal Pool parking lot in downtown Austin. It also seemed like a good place for teens to gather, Rude said.

But in time, garbage cans started to get dumped over and broken glass began appearing around the lot and in the pool area, Rude said.

Several years ago, the city started closing the popular hangout at 10:30 p.m., which has been done for other sites, including the downtown lot near First United Methodist Church in 2000.

Numerous places around Austin have served as hangouts for teenagers only to be eventually put off limits to them, mainly at night.

According to Rude, some of them included the wall along East Side Lake (kids were too close to homes and left trash); Todd Park (trash and vandalism); and Dresner Park (picnic tables were chopped into fire wood). Problems also have occurred at the city lot by Austin Drug and the lots at Riverland Community College and Banfield Elementary School.

"It's just one lot after another," Police Lt. David Simonson said.

The parking lot on the south side of Austin High School's gyms once was a hangout, Simonson said. But that came to an end, he said, when garbage and glass debris created problems, especially with school buses using the lot.

Simonson said he has found kids smoking, using alcohol, littering and being loud with their cars at the lots. Building owners and neighbors near them also make complaints, he said.

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Teenagers could hang out with their cars at a lot of places, Simonson said, if they act like good citizens. If they keep quiet, they won't be bothered, he said.

"You try to get along with the neighbors," he said.

Police continuously try to be respectful of the kids' need to hang out, Rude said last November.

Many kids don't want problems, Rude said. A few, though, get caught up in their lives and don't realize they're affecting other people, he said.

It's easy to say police should just start arresting kids for trespassing in the lots, Rude said. "But sometimes the best way to go isn't the easiest way."

Dialogue needs to continue on how to handle the friction created by kids gathering in the lots, Rude said. He'd like to see a realistic solution for them.

In October 2000, the city council's ordinance committee suggested Riverside Arena's parking lot for teenagers. A place in the proposed Central Park also was mentioned as a possibility.

But the Riverside Arena lot, for example, wouldn't work because it's too far off the loop, Rude said.

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"Kids like to be in sight and in each other's minds," Rude said.

Most of the teenagers interviewed Thursday night at a few of the current loitering lots said they didn't think a place off the loop would attract kids.

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