SUN CITY CENTER — The men in a neat white car cruised past houses that look almost the same. The sun beat down everywhere. Off the quiet streets, the white houses, the hood of the car. The car's windows were up, and Walt Cawain had not turned on the air conditioner.
They saw problems in almost every block. Bad lawns. An unkempt office plaza. Weeds.
Cawain, 71, and Ewing Smith, 86, are not going to let any of this slide. They have formed a group, Citizens for the Betterment of Sun City Center. They have written proposed codes addressing take-out and return times for trash containers, neat carports, stain-free sidewalks, limiting yard sales to twice a year and mandating pet vaccinations, to name just a few. The packet of new rules would apply to all of Sun City Center, but realistically would affect only the 20 percent of homes that are not in homeowners associations.
If the county legal staff and the County Commission go along with these restrictions, Sun City Center will join Town 'N Country and a stretch of State Road 60 in Brandon as "overlay districts" that merit special attention from county codes investigators.
This might not seem necessary, since Sun City Center's communitywide, 55-and-older age restriction already qualifies it as an overlay district. Moreover, the original covenants put in place by developer Del Webb in 1960 still apply to all 19,000 Sun City Center residents.
But the new rules would bring a layer of enforcement that code investigators now lack for residents who do not belong to homeowners associations.
Cawain and Ewing have been working on the upgrades to existing codes for at least 18 months. Both retirees bring a precision to their work honed during their careers — Cawain once worked for the CIA; Ewing was a college dean.
They drove through winding streets. They squinted through bifocals and pointed at a chewed-up lawn.
"How do the neighbors feel?" they both said at once. Passing a Century 21 real estate office, they glared at cars parked on the grass.
"That's not right," Cawain said. Commercial properties are on the group's watch list.
"I'll have to visit them," Smith said.
"I'll have to take a picture of it for my records," Cawain said.
The tour pointed up eyesores, such as a sagging block wall west of Prince of Peace Catholic Church on State Road 674. One of the Citizens for the Betterment of Sun City Center is talking to owners of nearby Rickenbacker Plaza about the discolored roof tile above a Bank of America branch. On the other side of the plaza, a mottled green satellite dish has collected mildew. A business owner has placed a Dumpster right by the entrance to Sun City Center Plaza.
"It just looks like hell," Cawain said.
Some of the sights remind them of battles won. An office strip shared by dentists on Del Webb Drive is being landscaped, after a word from Cawain and Smith's group. Business owners who live in other communities contribute to the problem, Smith said.
"We go to those people and say, 'Hey, you're a part of this community. You should take pride in this community where you work."
The work seems to be paying off. The county's Code Enforcement Department is taking the citizens' group seriously, and may delegate lawyers' time to draft their proposed codes into final form before they go to Sun City Center residents for a vote.
"It's worth considering," codes director Dexter Barge said of the group's proposal. "They are a very conscientious group and we have a good relationship."
If residents should pass the additional rules, they would be added to the area's existing building codes. That process could take another two years to complete — about the time, Cawain predicted, that Sun City Center could be close to built out. The group wants to get the rules in place before that happens. The developer WCI currently maintains a sparkling welcome center to greet potential home buyers, and contributes to landscaping the median along Sun City Center Boulevard.
The codes activists know their efforts will not be embraced by all. Cawain said the point is to protect neighbors from each other.
"We're not clipboard vigilantes," he said.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (813) 661-2431 or [email protected]