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Waterfront homeowners want slice of city land

BEACH PARK — The vacant, grassy stretch of waterfront at the end of the cul-de-sac on Neptune Way features such an open view of Old Tampa Bay, you can see St. Petersburg on the horizon. It's a scenic spot on jogging routes, where crabs scamper across the sand as small waves lap onto the rocky shore.

This might be the most peaceful spot in Tampa.

But these days, it's among the most controversial — at least in Beach Park, where two home­owners have asked the city to give them nearly half the land.

Now a city right of way, approximately 136 feet out of the 286-foot stretch could become private land belonging on one side to Gregory Henderson and, on the other, to George and Wendy Hickey. Each of their properties is worth more than $1.5-million, as is, and sits adjacent to the city property in between.

They want slices of the land for security reasons, saying strangers wander too close to their homes and that the city has created no distinctions between their land and the public's.

"After the bars close some evenings, there would be some rowdy adults there at 2, 3 in the morning," George Hickey said. "It's a beautiful spot. I can't blame them. I just want to control it a little bit, keep them from spilling over our yards."

But more than 100 of their neighbors who signed a petition against the request don't see it that way.

For Roberta Ann Tarcza, this is where her family — and the rest of the block — gathers to watch for comets in the sky.

For Emmy Purcell Reynolds, this is where she came to sit as a teenager, where she later brought her babies to see the bay for the first time, and where those babies, now teenagers, come to sit.

Tarcza asks, "Why do they want to take it away from us?"

Hickey says they don't.

He and Henderson already have been paying to preserve the seawall and irrigate the public grass.

If the city gives them ownership of the total 136 feet of land adjacent to their homes, they will pay to add new park benches and light posts to the remaining 150 feet and leave it open to the public. They plan to present their proposal to the City Council on May 15.

Neighbors, however, feel the homeowners have already encroached on the public land.

Henderson, at 5224 W Neptune Way, has landscaped on most of the land on his side. The Hickeys, at 5219 Neptune, have erected a small fence and landscaping.

Kevin Amos, with city code enforcement, said neighbors can technically landscape on public rights of way, as long as they don't interfere with traffic or utility access. It happens all the time on patches of grass adjacent to sidewalks, but those patches aren't neighborhood destinations, Amos noted.

Creating visual barriers, in this case, "is sending a message and making it appear as if it was private property," Amos said. Right now, the city sees that as "a gray area."

The fence, he said, is a definite violation. But Amos added that because the case is in the application process, the code enforcement department doesn't want to cite the Hickeys or take any other action that might be reversed. And, he said, the department gives higher priority to violations that are hazardous to the public.

Reynolds, the Beach Park Neighborhood Association president, says her group opposes any reduction of public land. The City Parks and Recreation Department also objects, since the site provides public access to open water and there aren't many parks in the area.

Steve Michelini, a land use consultant representing the applicants, says a lot of misinformation has circulated about the plan. Some people think the home­owners want all the waterfront land. Others think they want to eventually gate off the cul-de-sac. He says neither rumor is true.

Michelini plans to meet with neighbors before the City Council hearing. Hickey said some of his neighbors are behind him, and that they will all continue to enjoy the property.

"I've lived my whole life within 10 miles of that spot," Hickey said. "I call it paradise."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

. IF YOU GO

Hearing May 15

The application to vacate parts of the right of way on the Neptune cul-de-sac will be heard at a City Council hearing on May 15 at 10 a.m. in City Hall, 315 E Kennedy Blvd. Members of the public will be allowed to speak.

Waterfront homeowners want slice of city land 04/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2008 12:30pm]
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