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Residents discuss unifying neighbors

This much is clear: Interbay residents value individuality.

They want no part of the community rules and deed restrictions found in many suburban Tampa neighborhoods.

"If my neighbor wants to paint his house purple, I don't want anybody going over and saying "I don't want that,' " said Debbi Rapp, who has lived in Interbay since 1976. "I'm concerned about people moving down here and turning this into another Carrollwood."

Rapp and her husband, Dan, were among about 30 Interbay residents who gathered Feb. 16 at Victory Baptist Church at 6202 S MacDill Ave. to discuss starting a neighborhood association.

Members of the city's Neighborhood and Community Relations office had invited more than 400 Interbay residents in an attempt to help organize civic associations in areas that do not have them.

But before Interbay residents agreed to organize, they had to overcome fears.

The Rapps wanted to ensure elections are inclusive and democratic. Jorge Ugarte voiced concerns about the power of neighborhood associations, which he suspects often speak for only a few homeowners.

Another woman asked whether an association might force property owners to remove things they deem unsightly, such as chain-link fences.

Longtime community leader Al Steenson, chairman of the Gandy Civic Association, tried to allay residents' concerns.

"A neighborhood association is not about deed restrictions," Steenson said. "It's a democratic association. Trust me. Whoever's there, those are the ones present, and they make the decisions. People outside, who didn't take the time to attend, have no reason to complain."

So far, the city has helped jump-start neighborhood associations in Grant Park, Bayside West, Courier City and Macfarlane Park.

Shannon Edge, director of the city's Neighborhood and Community Relations Department, said her office also plans to aid struggling neighborhood groups, including Sulphur Springs and Palmetto Beach.

"We will literally hold their hand through this process to make them a success," Edge said. "Having an organized neighborhood association is great for getting feedback to our department before (situations) escalate. But it's also a great unifier of neighbors."

Edge told Interbay residents that the concerns of their neighborhood, which is roughly bounded by Interbay Boulevard, Dale Mabry Highway, MacDill Avenue and MacDill Air Force Base, also resonate with her.

She moved to the area about two years ago.

Residents listed illegal drug sales, speeding and installing sidewalks among their top concerns.

The possibilities excited Patrick O'Boyle.

"I see the community association to be an arm that we can use to raise our hands a little bit higher to the city," said O'Boyle, a home care agency director. "This is a way to have the city come down here and work."

Edge plans to help the residents establish a leadership structure for the new association, which has not yet been named. Once the group's leaders lay the groundwork, they plan to hold another community meeting to continue organizing.

Sherri Day can be reached at sday@sptimes.com or 226-3405.

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