CLEARWATER — Sandwiched between a vacant home and a problematic neighbor, Anthea Kirkcaldie, a seven-year resident of Clearwater, called the city's code compliance office for help.
She worries that bees and termites could enter her home on N Lincoln Avenue from the vacant building to her left or that a pit bull could break through the fence and attack her cat. She contacted the city because her neighbor would not fix the fence on his property.
"I was shocked that people just let things go, just let it run down," Kirkcaldie said. "If they don't take care of it themselves then the group has to take care of it for them, one way or another."
Vicki Fletcher, a city code inspector, met with Kirkcaldie to survey the potential code violations. Armed with a camera and a note pad, she identified various concerns, including the fence.
This meeting was part of a broader sweep of the East Gateway District, bounded by Drew Street, Missouri Avenue, Court Street and Highland Avenue.
"The concept of the sweep is to put more eyes in the area," Clearwater Code Compliance manager Terry Teunis said. "We're trying to get the ownership and the tenants to be responsible for these violations."
The district fell on tough times after beach access moved from Cleveland Street to Court Street, said Ekaterini Gerakios-Siren, the district's community development manager. Because of the reduced traffic through the area, local businesses suffered and fell into disrepair.
Absentee landlords are a big problem in a district with 70 percent of property being used as rentals.
"When you have rentals, you have frequent traffic in and out," Gerakios-Siren said. "By the time you teach people what the rules are, someone else has moved in."
The sweep differs from daily code enforcement operation by concentrating eight inspectors in a small area instead of spreading them across Clearwater.
The city sent postcards to residents of East Gateway before the sweep urging them to get their properties into compliance by listing the main violations inspectors will be seeking. These include overgrown lawns, inoperable vehicles and outdoor storage of property.
The point of the sweep was to inform and work with residents on getting their property in compliance before fines were issued. The city will contact any resident with code violations identified in the inspections and work with them to get their properties up to code.
Those property owners who do not reply to the requests or fail to remedy violations could be given a request to appear in court or have their violation brought to a code board. The fines can be up to $250 per violation per day.
This push in code enforcement is part of a five-year plan aimed at improving the district through the combined efforts of police, the Economic Development and Housing Department and the Code Compliance Division. The plan involves increased community policing, loans to improve the appearance of businesses and stricter code enforcement.
Past sweeps of the area have resulted in noticeable aesthetic improvements, Teunis said. Residents repainted their houses and removed eyesores from their properties.
"Code enforcement works best when you are continuously addressing problems in the area," Teunis said. "When neighborhoods are allowed for a long time to go into disrepair, it becomes harder for us to do our job."