Bill Wares was heading out for coffee when he paused in front of a long-vacant house a few doors from his own. In the months since foreclosure suits were filed at the county courthouse, the home's landscaping had gone brown and shaggy with neglect.
But on Saturday, while the morning was still cool, the place on Carrollwood Village Drive was an anthill of activity. Neighbors pulled weeds, chopped down dead shrubs, trimmed hedges, raked leaves and yanked long, ropy vines from a pair of sturdy oaks in the front yard.
They needed trash bags, though. So minutes later, Wares returned on his bike with a roll of jumbo heavy-duty bags.
"This is the greatest thing," he said, handing them over.
"This is the first of many," said organizer Jennifer Fritch.
This time last year, Fritch and Libbie Jae were leading the opposition to new speed humps in Carrollwood Village. One of their biggest complaints was that the scores of new traffic signs put up near the speed humps cluttered the neighborhood, lowering property values.
After that controversy cooled down, they looked around and saw that vacant and abandoned houses were doing the same thing. Carrollwood Village Phase I alone has about two dozen homes in some stage of foreclosure, they said.
So they put up four signs around the neighborhood asking for volunteers to neaten up the yard of the home at 4414 Carrollwood Village Drive. While the association pays to have the yards mowed and edges trimmed, that doesn't extend to taking care of overgrown shrubs, spreading vines or fallen branches.
Saturday's cleanup was an all-volunteer effort. Because of concerns over liability, it wasn't sponsored by the homeowners association, but it wasn't discouraged, either.
"This is what we call a grass roots neighborhood project," said Jennifer Kirschman, who is on the association board for Phase I and chairs its new ideas committee. "Everyone's delighted that it's happening."
Bank of America has filed two foreclosure suits on the home, saying that mortgages totaling $412,500 went into default in 2008. The home has a market value of $235,500, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser. The homeowner, Carol J. Cunningham, 57, could not be reached for comment by press time.
But as neighbors worked on Saturday, several residents said they knew the family who had lived at the two-story home. They remembered the kids, the big, friendly dog named Buddy and the family's attempts to keep up and sell the house even as the economy tanked.
It's sad, they said, but the continuing wave of foreclosures underscores the need for neighbors to come together to take care of their communities.
Fritch said she got about 10 volunteers just by putting up four signs. For the next cleanup, she said she planned to tap her list of speed-hump opponents.
And Wares sounded ready to sign up.
"This is just what we need," he said. "It's pretty amazing that people got together and did this themselves."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.