TAMPA — For a while, it wasn’t just a sliver of city land wedged between houses. You might have called it a pop-up park, except it stayed for years.
Then just like that, on a cold day in January, the Dundee Dog Park, or just “the soccer field,” as residents called it, was no more — a victim of neighborhood conflict, or maybe its own success.
“It was just such a cool meeting place. All the neighbors have gotten to know each other that would have never gotten to know each other,“ said resident Rick Terrana, whose dogs, Finn and Maxie, romped there. “I think it’s shameful this kind of stuff happens.”
The not-actually-a-park in a South Tampa neighborhood off Westshore Boulevard goes back at least four years. On a skinny vacant lot on N Dundee Street, soccer goals went up for the kids, along with a stash of poop bags and water jugs for the dogs. They had those child-shaped fluorescent barriers you see outside schools warning drivers to slow down. And not long ago, a black metal fence went up.
Kids had bake sales there. At Christmas, an elderly woman brought everyone cookies. The unofficial park got particularly popular in the hardest days of the pandemic, when everyone was itchy to get out.
“It really provided a little sanctuary,” said resident Eryn Zeller.
Neighbors knew it wasn’t theirs, but who was it hurting?
“It was nice to see people being creative and utilizing what’s around them,” said resident Anne Santomaggio. “I feel like people were really respectful any time I’ve been out there.”
Steve Yerrid, the well-known, high-powered Tampa attorney, owns two houses on one side of the lot. Because the city property is considered right of way — like that piece of grassy land between your sidewalk and your street — he was required to maintain it. For years, he has had his lawn service keep it mowed. He said he donated a couple of soccer balls at one point and also the services of a striping machine.
Yerrid’s son Gable and his wife moved into the house that borders the property last summer. His son told him the dogs barked every morning. Yerrid said adults started using the park, bringing kegs and playing flag football. He said he was especially concerned when those metal gates went up.
“You know what I do for a living,” he said. “I said, ‘Somebody’s going to get hurt there.’ ”
One day in January, locks appeared on the gates. Yerrid said it wasn’t him. The city said it wasn’t them. The locks disappeared.
Recently, Yerrid said, someone put an anonymous note in his mailbox saying they had broken an arm on the property and were holding him responsible.
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“I’ve got nothing to do with the field. I have no responsibility,” he said. “I don’t even have a dog.”
Yerrid called city officials. “I think the city then realized they had an attractive nuisance out there,” he said.
City spokesperson Adam Smith said they got a complaint that city property had been converted into a soccer field and dog park. And if someone got injured, he said, the city would be liable.
“Sure enough, when we looked into it we found somebody had erected a fence and big soccer goal,” Smith said. “You can’t fence off public rights of way. So we went out and removed it.”
“Whether it’s been up for five years or one week, it’s illegal,” Smith said. “And we have an obligation to act when we hear about it.”
Zeller walked past the not-a-park-anymore soon after everything had been hauled away. She knows they had no right to be there, that the property wasn’t theirs.
But “it looked really lonely and just sad,” she said. “It was just a really nice place to gather.”