TAMPA - In the first week of Mayor Bob Buckhorn's month-long hunt for city code violations, investigators have issued warnings to 269 property owners. The warnings cover everything from uncut grass to broken-down cars to running a business in a residential neighborhoods. Most properties have more than one violation. "I think that we're finding about what we thought that we would find," said Code Enforcement Director Jack Slater. "I anticipate over 50 percent of the people we've issued warnings to will take some kind of pro-active approach." Felix Beltre got a warning for the two dead trees towering above the overgrown vacant lot next door to his house on Lotus Avenue.
Beltre's neighborhood is a mix of low-slung, aging houses bookended by Nebraska Avenue and the eastern sound wall of Interstate 275 just north of Busch Boulevard. The houses there run from the neatly kept to sloppy wrecks. There are a few vacant lots. Many of the residents are, like Beltre, low-income people willing to fix whatever the city has found lacking in their properties. A letter from the city dated July 29 orders Beltre to take down the trees on his property by Aug. 16 or end up in court. "I don't want to go to court," Beltre said. "I'll do anything they want." But Beltre lives on $600 a month in Social Security payments. He doesn't have the money to take down the tree at the moment. "If they give me one more month," he said. "I don't have the money because I've got to save the money for rent." Buckhorn launched his 30-day press against code violators last week in the wake of revelations that William "Hoe" Brown, then chairman of the Tampa Port Authority, ran an illegal trailer park on his property in Seminole Heights for more than a year. The park was dismantled July 9, about two months after the city told Brown it violated the city's zoning ordinances. Councilman Frank Reddick, whose district contains many of the neighborhoods Buckhorn is targeting with is sweep, has asked Tampa Police and the city's Code Enforcement officials to explain how they plan to reduce the number of cases like Brown's. "We all agree that we need to fix this problem," Reddick said. "My focus is on those that are serious violators." Buckhorn declared his sweep would target the "worst of the worst" code violators. A review of the citations issued so far show a preponderance of investor-owners, but only a few with multiple properties. Bri Dougherty lives in one of those rentals with her four children. She got a warning for her knee-high grass and a crib mattress lying next to her trash can. She said she called her dad to come mow her grass. "I'm a single parent of four," Dougherty said. "I don't have a lawn mower just sitting around." Councilman Frank Reddick said the city needs to help people like Beltre and Dougherty meet the city's code. "I can understand senior citizens can't get things done as quickly as Code (Enforcement) would like" Reddick said. "But those who totally overlook the law, those are who we should be going after." firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7871 Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO