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St. Pete Beach leaders to focus on Corey Avenue crime

ST. PETE BEACH — Concerns over persistent drug, alcohol and prostitution criminal activity in the Corey Avenue area will be addressed by the City Commission in February.

One idea that already has some support on the commission is installing British-style surveillance cameras as a deterrent.

"I think cameras would work real good in there," said Commissioner Marvin Shavlan after the idea was proposed by Vice Mayor Jim Parent.

The special workshop was requested by Parent, who recently met with area residents who want the city to better control the area.

"Hookers are negotiating under residents' windows at 3 a.m.," said Parent. "I heard that the going rate for a prostitute is $13."

Parent said that although residents "recognize the efforts the police have put in" to control crime in the area, they are considering starting a Neighborhood Watch program to aid in crime prevention.

"The people are frustrated," Parent said.

Mayor Mike Finnerty plans to meet with the residents this week, along with representatives of the city Police Department to discuss crime statistics and enforcement efforts in the area.

"We have done a lot in the area. Corey Avenue is tremendously better than it was nine years ago," said City Manager Mike Bonfield.

Bonfield said Friday that one of the biggest problems for the city is the age and disrepair of many of the buildings.

"You have to realize we are dealing with 50-year-old small, substandard rental units. Code enforcement is a constant challenge," he said.

The street west of Gulf Boulevard is lined with aging, low-cost motels that too often attract a criminal element.

Since last summer, rumors have been circulating that some of the motels would be converted to drug rehabilitation centers. Today, some of the units are being used for transitional housing for people who have completed rehabilitation, according to Bonfield.

At the time, area residents were angry that the city could not prevent what they viewed as drug addicts and alcoholics moving into their neighborhood.

"I can't take it anymore," said resident Susan Hershman. "We are losing our peace of mind and homes and probably our health due to the stress."

In December, a St. Petersburg man crashed his red 2002 Jaguar into a condominium bedroom just off Corey Avenue as he fled police who had seen him selling narcotics on Coquina Way.

When police found 80 pieces of crack cocaine and $2,168 in cash inside the car, he was arrested on a number of drug-related charges.

In 2006, St. Pete Beach police and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office arrested 28 people on drug-related charges after a six-month investigation dubbed Operation Sand Spur in the west Corey Avenue area.

"We have done four or five sting operations down there, but the people keep coming back," Bonfield said. "Ultimately, the solution is reinvestment and a better use of the property that is more palatable to the neighborhood. The $64,000 question is, 'What will it take to accomplish that?' "

The current code allows only commercial development along Corey Avenue, he said, and in the present economy it is unlikely to happen.

Other proposals, such as creating a nuisance abatement board with the power to seize properties that are crime-ridden, present a host of legal issues and may not be feasible, according to Bonfield.

As for the surveillance camera proposal, he cautioned that the cost of monitoring the cameras, particularly if other areas in the city also request them, could be prohibitive.

Surveillance cameras, a nuisance abatement board, police presence, code enforcement and other ways to control crime along Corey Avenue will be the sole topic at a special commission workshop at 3 p.m. Feb. 10 at City Hall.

St. Pete Beach leaders to focus on Corey Avenue crime 01/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 12:11pm]
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