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Tampa nuisance abatement board revived

TAMPA — When Lynette Judge drives around her East Tampa neighborhood, she often sees dozens of people hanging around convenience stores and other small businesses.

She suspects drug sales may be transpiring.

Now, as a member of Tampa's revived public nuisance abatement board, Judge believes she may be able to curb criminal activity in the neighborhood by closing down or fining businesses that attract lawbreakers.

The nuisance abatement board has been essentially non-existent since 2004.

But the City Council has filled vacant positions and the reconstituted board is scheduled to have an organizational meeting later this month.

One part of the city where the board may be particularly useful: Drew Park. The industrial area near Raymond James Stadium is slated for redevelopment with homes. But it includes a large number of adult businesses.

The redevelopment plan for Drew Park includes increased police monitoring of those businesses for illegal activities.

Jeanette Fenton, manager of the Drew Park Community Redevelopment Area, said she will explore using the public nuisance abatement board to put pressure on the businesses.

Anyone in the city can take a complaint to the board, which has the power to levy fines, close businesses and issue orders for things like improved lighting, security staffing and video cameras at locations where crimes related to prostitution, drugs, street gangs and dealing in stolen property have occurred.

The sanctions can remain in place for up to a year.

Discussions of reviving the board began last year, when city officials struggled with how to address concerns about Gene's Bar in East Tampa.

Some blamed the club for stabbings, shootings and other crimes. Police were called there 137 times in 2006.

But with no nuisance abatement board in place, the city spent $200,000 to buy the bar and close it down.

"If we had had the board when Gene's Bar came up, we would have been ready to act on it," said City Council Chairwoman Gwen Miller.

The city launched its public nuisance abatement board in 1990. Two or three cases a year went to the group until 2000, when the board voted to close down a bar on Nebraska Avenue for 90 days after police charged customers and loiterers around the property with 92 crimes in six months.

The board met only a handful of times after that in 2001 and 2004, when city attorneys threw out a case saying the board had no authority over it.

Lisa Ledbetter, who coordinates St. Petersburg's nuisance abatement board, said property owners are often motivated to address problems as soon as they receive notice they may have to go to the board.

St. Petersburg's board hears up to 10 cases a year.

"Those are the worst offenders that don't want to do anything and are fighting us tooth and nail," she said.

Cases brought to the board are generated equally by neighborhood residents and the police department, she said.

Tampa police Chief Steve Hogue said he doesn't have any cases waiting in the wings for nuisance abatement but said he's glad to see the board functioning again.

"It's just another tool that we can use to bring pressure to clean up a law enforcement problem," he said.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa nuisance abatement board revived 03/09/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 9, 2008 11:41pm]

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