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Code enforcement starts 30-day sweep of Tampa neighborhoods

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Published:   |   Updated: July 22, 2013 at 06:57 AM

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She was one of six code enforcement officers who fanned out, embarking on a 30-day mission to lay eyes on every piece of property within their respective zones and hand out violations for things like overgrown lots, junk cars, derelict boats and any other unsightly things.

Urban blight has degraded these targeted neighborhoods, she said.

Coomey began on corner of 99th Street and 22nd Avenue.

"For me," she said, "It's easier to walk."

She headed west on 99th. In one block, she wrote up two citations for junk cars in the front yards and took the address down on a house with a fence fronting the street that was too high. She made note of a vacant lot with waist-high brush and a four-foot-tall pile of rotting limbs and yard trash just feet from the pavement.

"House by house," she said, "property by property."

She guessed there were as many as 400 houses and lots she will eyeball before the sweep is over. Her territory is from Linebaugh Avenue south to Busch Boulevard, from 22nd Avenue to west to Florida Avenue.

The day began with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and a gaggle of code enforcement and police officers in front of a dilapidated and vacant duplex on Brooks Street. The building, owned by a woman who lives out of state, was boarded up and rugged looking; in the front yard was a dump-truck-size load of rubbish including crumbling furniture; rolled up carpets and rain-soaked mattresses.

Standing in front of the garbage pile, Buckhorn said the time has come to clean up the neighborhoods of central and north Tampa from Grant Park through Seminole Heights and Castle Heights.

He pointed to the mess on the side of the road.

"There are folks all over the community who have to deal with this type of situation," Buckhorn said. "And it's not of their making. It's like a cancer in the neighborhood. It spreads from house to house to house."

He directed his comments to absentee "slumlords" and uncaring home and land owners who let blight take over their properties.

"Shame on them," the mayor said. "Shame on them and we are coming for them and we are coming hard."

Houses that go vacant attract illegal dumpers and drug users and prostitutes, he said, and those elements further downgrade neighborhoods. The city is poised to lower the boom, he said.

"This is a 30-day, take-no-prisoners sweep," he said. "We are not asking permission. We are going in, kicking butt and taking names. It's long overdue. We're going to get this place cleaned up."

Jake Slater, director of the city's Neighborhood Services division, was unsure exactly how many vacant, dilapidated homes are in the targeted zones. "Probably thousands," he said. He estimated there are 6,000 vacant homes throughout the city, "and those are just the ones we know of."

Code enforcement officers will be on duty during the sweep working from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., seven days a week, he said.

"We're going at this strong," Slater said. "This is unacceptable. There's no excuse for this."

Andrew Lasserre watched from a distance as Coomey, the code enforcement officer, made her way down the street, armed with a clipboard and a handful of bright orange code-violation door hangers. Lasserre lives on 98th Street and said he didn't notice many code violators around his home, where he has lived for two years.

He pointed to a retention pond across from his house. The grass, about knee high, barely moved in the breeze-less morning.

"How about this?" he asked. "This right here is city property. Are they going to ticket themselves?"

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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