Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Retired Clearwater city employee refuses to sell land to city

Helen Davis, 72, left, and daughter Vanessa Polk, 50, stand in front of the family’s home, 1140 Brownell St. The city would pay full market value for the land.


Helen Davis, 72, left, and daughter Vanessa Polk, 50, stand in front of the family’s home, 1140 Brownell St. The city would pay full market value for the land.


This patch of grass on Brownell Street belongs to Helen Davis, a small woman in big glasses and fuzzy slippers. This yard with its birdbath and cinder-block bench. This patio with its smoky wicker furniture and potted fern. This front stoop with its pink doily reading "Home Sweet Home." Her family, she said, moved here nearly a century ago. She is 72. When her parents' old home was condemned, she rebuilt, spending years of savings. After retiring, she hoped to live here the rest of her life.

Then one Friday morning last month, a city real estate manager named Earl Barrett knocked on her screen door. He held plans for a new Clearwater fire station and administrative office that the city wanted to build on this land. He asked if he could come inside and talk about her move.

But Davis wasn't moving. She said she didn't care that the complex would surround her, or that the three-story station would dwarf her home, or that engines with lights and sirens blazing would speed down her street all hours of the night.

She wouldn't let Barrett in. She said he could stand out there in the sun.

"I'll stay here," she said, "'til I rot."

She had only wanted a little peace, a little quiet, a place to call home.

Now she realized she wanted something else.


• • •

Davis spent much of her life working in the city's finance department, processing water bills. She was a hard worker, she said, often staying late and coming in Saturdays to help.

For her loyalty, she said, her bosses mistreated and insulted her. She said she never received a raise. She felt, she said, like a caged rabbit, relentlessly jabbed.

Few slights hurt as much as the day in 1998 when she retired with a pension after 20 years with the city.

There was no going-away party. No goodbye cake. Not so much as a cup of punch.

"They did me like dirt," she said.

At home she cried and cursed the city. The years passed. She never forgot.

"One day. One day," she told herself. "They'll need me."

Barrett returned to the office that morning to tell Clearwater Fire Chief Robert Weiss they had a problem.

The plan to relocate the downtown fire headquarters was years in the making. The city had chosen that corner on Court Street as the best place to move, assembling nearly all the needed land just east of S Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Davis' 920-square-foot home was the last remaining piece.

Barrett wrote Davis to say the city would give her full market value — $64,284, according to the county — for her home, and a chance for "more compatible" neighbors. She wouldn't budge.

The city created what it called Scenario 2, a plan for the $8 million station to border her home on three sides. Davis would live between a staff parking lot and the 30,000-square-foot station.

Barrett said the city would not likely try to force Davis out through eminent domain or, he said, "do anything contrary to her wishes."

Davis said if they did, she would sue the city and write a letter to President Obama.

"I'ma be so hot," she said, "the fire department would not be able to put me out."

But what about the bright lights, the rushing firefighters, the sirens blaring without end?

"As long as I can still get help," she said. "Tell 'em I like noise."

Contact Drew Harwell at [email protected] or (727) 445-4170.

Scenario 1

The city pays Davis full market value of $64,284 for her 920-square-foot home.

Scenario 2

The city would build its station bordering her home on three sides. Her home would be between a staff parking lot and the 30,000-square-foot station.

Retired Clearwater city employee refuses to sell land to city 05/07/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 7, 2011 2:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Astros rout Yankees to force Game 7 of AL Championship Series


    HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to outduel Luis Severino for the second time, and the Astros bats came alive in their return home as Houston routed the Yankees 7-1 Friday night and forced a decisive Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

    The Astros’ Brian McCann, who has struggled during the ALCS, breaks a scoreless tie with an RBI double during the fifth inning off Yankees starter Luis Severino.
  2. Review: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw shower love, star power on Tampa's Amalie Arena


    Near the end of their potent new duet Break First, Tim McGraw stopped singing, and let Faith Hill's powerhouse voice take over.

    Faith Hill and Tim McGraw performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Oct. 20, 2017.
  3. Senate to take up AUMF debate as Trump defends reaction to Niger attack


    WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking up a long-awaited debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State as President Trump comes under unprecedented public scrutiny for his treatment of dead soldiers' families, following an ambush on troops helping to fight Islamic …

  4. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath


    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    More than 50 people gathered and walked in the Southeast Seminole Heights community Friday to pay respects to the victims of three shootings. The crowd took a moment of silence at the corner of 11th Street and East New Orleans where Monica Hoffa was found dead. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  5. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.