During the past 20 years, a cluster of three tan buildings on the 1100 block of Tangerine Street have been slapped with more than 50 building code violations and have been the site of hundreds of police responses, many related to illegal drugs.
But early Tuesday morning, the corner of North Greenwood Avenue and Tangerine Street began to see some change. A city-hired wrecking crew began demolishing one of the dilapidated buildings, a two-story structure at 1109 Tangerine.
Clearwater officials ordered the demolition because the building's owner, Jeralne Burt, failed to correct the most recent round of housing violations, including unsafe exposed electrical wiring and a lack of heat. The city had given her 11 months to fix the problems.
"We've tried to work with her for a very long time," said Jeff Kronschnabl, who oversees code enforcement for the city. "She didn't take care of these things. This building was truly a detriment to this community, and the community was looking to us to take it down."
Burt, a former City Commission candidate, showed up extremely angry Tuesday. Burt says she owns the properties, although another person is listed as the owner in county records.
"Where is that Jeff Kronschnabl?" Burt asked, as she drove up at the scene in her black pickup truck. "I'd like run over the son of a b----!" Then she screamed at city workers: "Get off my property!"
Burt said that she had not been given ample warning about the demolition. But Kronschnabl said Burt has been told multiple times about the impending demolition.
Burt's son, Willie, came home from college to help deal with the situation, Burt said. He, too, appeared angry and jumped on an excavator when it began knocking down the building, shouting vulgarities at city officials. A police officer warned him to stay off the property during the demolition, Kronschnabl said.
The Tangerine Street apartment houses have voluminous city files for violations dating back to the 1980s.
Fines for various problems added up to more than $70,000 in 1988, records show. Burt said earlier this year that she declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy to avoid paying the city fines. But her problems didn't end there.
From 1994 to 1996, records show, city code enforcement inspectors continued to investigate problems at 1109 and 1113 Tangerine Street, which they described as a "crack house."
Problems included a lack of adequate heating systems, dangerous electrical wiring, lack of smoke detectors, roof deterioration, broken windows and lack of appropriate floors and sanitary facilities in kitchens and bathrooms.
After a December 2000 inspection, city code officers again cited 1109 Tangerine, listing 10 violations of city housing codes. A few months later, they cited 1113 Tangerine for 20 violations, records show.
In May, the city's Municipal Code Enforcement Board reviewed the problems and gave Burt until Aug. 9 to fix all the violations.
She didn't. So the city demolished on Tuesday the first of the properties at 1109 Tangerine. The other two buildings left on the property are slated to be demolished within the next 60 days, unless Burt can fix all of the violations there, Kronschnabl said.
Neighbors who have denounced activities they say took place at and around Burt's properties cheered the first demolition Tuesday.
"Please don't stop!" yelled 65-year-old Mary Jeter, who lives across the street. Although she feels bad for Burt, Jeter said, "I'm not sad about the building because (Burt) rented to the wrong kind of people, you know, the rock heads."
Regina Kirkland, a 41-year-old resident who lives across the street, said that she is tired of the drug dealing, crack smoking and lewd acts of prostitution she has witnessed around the buildings. There have been stabbings, shootings and people outside fighting naked, she said.
"I've seen so much, it's just such a relief to have it gone," Kirkland said. "I'm very happy about the situation. It will get rid of a lot of the problems in the area. If I could help push it down, I would."
David Littlejohn, who stood outside the Blue Chip bar Tuesday watching, said he hopes that something beautiful is built to replace the Tangerine Street structures, maybe a few new small businesses and a new house or two.
"They needed to take it down," he said. "These buildings won't be missed."
The city plans to file liens against the properties for past code enforcement fines that have been adding up at about $1,000 daily since August and for $5,000 so far in demolition costs. Then the city could try to foreclose on the properties, Kronschnabl said.
Clearwater Neighborhood Housing, a nonprofit group, has expressed interest in buying the properties and building new housing on them, but negotiations with Burt have never been concluded, said the group's executive director, Isay Gulley.