MADEIRA BEACH — Drug dealers, thieves and others involved in criminal activities are not welcome in this beach community — and the city intends to crack down soon on such nuisance activity.
Residents along 144th Avenue are particularly angry about renters in their neighborhood they believe are selling drugs and breaking into nearby homes and cars.
"Cop cars are going up and down the street most of the day," resident Elaine Poe told the City Commission on Tuesday as she presented a petition signed by 17 of her neighbors calling for city action.
"If anybody comes in my house, I will shoot them," warned resident Roger Pryor, who said he has seen people running through his yard. "We have got to do something. It is really bad."
Nancy Gorsky complained about "unreputable people" living near her home. Some leer at her nieces, others have people and cars coming and going at all times of the day, she said.
"We have a very big investment in our properties," said resident Bob Hyps as he urged the commission to take action.
Mayor Travis Palladeno, who lost several guns when his nearby home was burglarized several weeks ago, did not have to be convinced.
He had already asked City Attorney Tom Trask to begin researching how the city could strengthen its codes to discourage, if not prevent, such crimes.
"The city can't regulate the occupants of a structure. The only thing you can regulate is the activity or inactivity within that structure," Trask reported to the commission.
He suggested beginning with a strong public nuisance ordinance that would be enforced by the city's special magistrate.
Another option would be to establish a formal nuisance abatement board that would investigate and adjudicate nuisance complaints.
Nuisances can be defined broadly to include littered yards, buildings not properly maintained, inoperable cars, green swimming pools, homes in foreclosure that are public hazards because of open doors or windows, and even grass that is too high.
In cases of criminal activity, the nuisance would have to be defined specifically, such as listing the actual kind and number of charges or convictions before a formal complaint could be issued, Trask said.
A lot of suspicious activity at a house or even frequent visits by police cars would not necessarily qualify as a nuisance.
Trask said fines, which could run daily, would be levied against property owners and the violator.
A proposed nuisance ordinance will likely be considered by the commission at its September workshop. It will also be reviewed by the city's Planning Board before it can be enacted by the commission.
St. Petersburg's Nuisance Abatement Board, formed in the 1980s, hears crime-related complaints generated by the Police Department. Cases involve strictly property-based criminal activity such as drug sales and possession, prostitution or stolen goods at residences or businesses.
Under city rules once a combination of six nuisance cases accumulate at a particular property, the matter is referred to the city's Nuisance Abatement Board.
The board can levy fines and investigative costs, can shut down businesses, force vacation of rental properties and require a variety of security measures or institute sanctions to end the nuisance activity, according to Elizabeth Ledbetter, the city's nuisance abatement coordinator.
Indian Rocks Beach also has a nuisance abatement board on its books, but officials there have never activated it.