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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.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

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.

CLEARWATER

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.

Revenge.

• • •

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]
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