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Complaints answered as Hyde Park home fails inspections

By Elizabeth Behrman
Tribune staff
Published: August 31, 2013 Updated: September 1, 2013 at 08:44 AM
This house at 722 S. Fielding Ave. in Historic Hyde Park is just a block from Bayshore Boulevard. It failed inspections according to city code and historical preservation guidelines this week.

HYDE PARK — After more than six years, neighbors of a dilapidated house on Fielding Avenue are going to get some relief.

City code enforcement and historic preservation officials on Wednesday inspected the house at 722 S. Fielding Ave., which has been in extreme disrepair since the owners began renovations that have not been completed.

The wood-frame house, which was built in 1913, failed inspections according to city code and historical preservation guidelines, officials said. Herbert and Jill Wax, the property’s owners, are scheduled to appear before a magistrate in December to discuss the violations, said Sal Ruggiero, manager of the city’s neighborhood enhancement department.

“We want to settle this once and for all,” Ruggiero said.

Property records show that the Waxes bought the property in 1989 for $375,000. They received city approval and began work to restore the house in February 2007, court records show.

A minimum amount of work has been done to keep renewing the building permits, Ruggiero said. The house has been reduced to bare plywood walls with a plastic tarp for a roof.

Neighbors have complained about rats and other vermin coming from the overgrown lot, said Tish Thornberry, a Hyde Park resident and member of Hyde Park Preservation Inc., the immediate area’s neighborhood association. After Halloween and annual Gasparilla parades, the house essentially is a bulls-eye target for litter, she said.

“I just got so incensed,” Thornberry said. “How can this go on in this neighborhood?”

Attempts this week to reach the Waxes for comment were unsuccessful.

Thom Snelling, the city’s director for planning and development, said the house has been left exposed to the elements and has severe rain damage which has gotten into the foundation. The city is citing the Waxes for “demolition by neglect.”

Snelling said it “hurts a little more” when the city encounters a situation such as the one on Fielding Avenue — in a historic area with a neighborhood association as dedicated as Hyde Park’s.

“It’s terribly unfortunate that it happened in a historic neighborhood,” Snelling said. “But when this kind of stuff happens we have an obligation to protect the neighborhood and the neighbors near there.”

At the hearing in December, the magistrate will decide what to do next with the house, Snelling said. The Waxes will be able to give their version of events and present design plans for the house, after which the magistrate will make a decision.

Demolition is usually a last resort, Snelling said. The Waxes’ building permits still are good through January, he said, so they could keep repairing the house until the hearing, which could have an effect on the magistrate’s decision. If not, the house potentially could continue sustaining water damage.

“It might be in worse shape by the time it gets to the magistrate,” Snelling said.

No one lives in the house, and the structure is secure, Ruggiero said.

Thornberry said the neighbors contacted Councilman Harry Cohen’s office about the house, and Cohen’s staff helped bring the matter to the attention of code enforcement officials.

This week’s inspection of the Fielding Avenue house came while code enforcement sweeps, initiated by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, have been taking place in parts of Seminole Heights and North Tampa. The sweeps began last month after it was revealed that then-Tampa Port Authority Chairman William “Hoe” Brown had run a decrepit, illegal trailer park for more than a year on land he owns in Old Seminole Heights.

Ruggiero said code enforcement cases such as the one involving the Waxes’ property are unusual in Hyde Park. “They’re not common at all in that area,” he said.

Thornberry said members of the neighborhood association plan to attend the December hearing to show they are committed to keeping such a problem from happening again.

“It’s really been a good partnership,” Thornberry said of the work done by neighborhood residents and city officials. “It’s my idea of how these things should work.”

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Twitter: @LizBehrmanTBO