VARIANCE REQUEST FOR 2120 BARCELONA WAY
At a meeting of the Development Review Commission on May 3rd, the representatives of Lakewood were able to defeat a request by a landowner to divide a parcel in order to build 2 houses where now there is only 1. This was an important victory for the forces determined to maintain the flavor and character of Lakewood, and we want to explain why.
All over the city developers are buying up large lots with the aim of either tearing down the existing structure and replacing it with two buildings, or just adding another building to the lot. In a neighborhood on the north side, the leadership has not been able to do this and the developers are buying up lots left and right and doubling the houses on them while at the same destroying old, historic buildings that might otherwise qualify the neighborhood for preservation status. The entire character of the area is going to be changed forever.
This scary practice has become known among some Lakewood residents as a “BOGO” – buy one get one free. It is in fact a very unhealthy thing to do to a neighborhood like ours, which is known for its large lots. Two houses on the property in question here would have resulted in nothing short of “squashing” them together and reducing the current 150’ lot line to two 75’ lot lines. And allowing this variance to go through would have created a dangerous precedent for all the other many large lots in Lakewood.
To some extent we created this situation ourselves by not properly rising to the previous variance request, at 1834 Bonita. Because of our inability to organize, that variance went through, and predictably the developer who went before the DRC on May 3rd referred to that as setting a precedent for him to do the same thing.
The May 3rd variance request was denied based on our argument that the current lot line requirement is 100’ and it would be going backwards now to allow a developer to create 2 new 75’ lines. We emphasized that squashing houses on a lot is not in conformity with the character of this neighborhood and that it would be counterintuitive for the Commission to allow this variance to go through only minutes after denying a similar request for a parcel on Snell Isle.
The request was also denied – and here is the point of this writing – because the city had received more than 50 voices in opposition to it from Lakewood residents, either by phone or email. That may have seemed like a lot of people to the city gathering these statistics but out of a membership of 500, it is not impressive. It is important to remember that part of the review process of this panel is to count as precisely as they can and then take into account how many calls, letter and emails they receive from the public and then weigh that information into their decision. Had we got our act together about 1834 Bonita, the developer would never have been able to use it against us.
So we’ve learned something here. When someone wants to come into Lakewood and do something that is not in our best interest, as we did with the proposed Wal-Mart and as we did with the proposed “tent city” for the homeless at the Lakewood United Church of Christ, we can and must rally our residents and make our voices heard loud and clear. As we have said before, the worst enemy of a community is apathy.
Lakewood and the St Pete Police
There is no denying that the relationship between Lakewood Estates and the St. Petersburg Police Department is a strained and unhappy one. Some people wonder why this continues, why we don’t just make peace and move on. If only it were that simple.
First, let’s be clear. Our problems with the SPPD arise from the Community Service and Crime Prevention units. The officers who respond to our calls for service are not now and have never been an issue – they respond when they’re called and they do a good job. As bad as things have become between these two organizations, dating back over 10 years, the bad feeling has never spilled over to the men and women who protect us on a daily basis.
So, what happened? The first crime watch in Lakewood began in late 1995 after a strong-arm robbery in which the victim was shot in the leg. This was unheard of in Lakewood, and the outrage resulted in the formation of the crime watch. It was a separate organization from the Association, and the PD insisted it be kept that way, even though it made no sense to divide us into two groups that eventually developed a Them/Us mentality.
The crime watch met monthly under the leadership of what was then called a Community Police Officer. They had presentations on how to prevent crime, how to watch for crime, how not to be a victim of crime. They were a passive organization, designed not to act but to react, so even though there was a lot of talk about the members working with the police, in fact they were not working with anyone. Block captains were appointed; their job was to distribute the CPO’s monthly newsletter, door to door. In the absence of social media, instant messaging and email, this made perfect sense.
In 2006, Chief Harmon abruptly disbanded the CPO system and set up Community Service Officers. We were originally given 4 officers in District 1, and a 551- phone number to call asking for assistance with ongoing neighborhood issues, things the street police could not or would not respond to. Officers were under a mandate to respond within 24 hours, and for quite a while this worked well.
But the end of the CPO system also meant the end of the officer-driven crime watch and it was then that the first problem occurred. Without a police officer to head the crime watch, leadership was thrown back to the SPPD, and the officer in charge of the Crime Prevention office appointed a Lakewood resident to lead our watch. The man was a convicted felon, which is on the list of things that automatically disqualify someone from being a Crime Watch Coordinator. When asked about this, the Crime Prevention officer said he could “take circumstances into account.” The reality is that the new CWC was a friend of his. The Association considered this a terrible breach of trust, and in the 18 months that it took to find and install a suitable replacement, the crime watch fell apart along with Lakewood’s confidence in the SPPD.
The crime watch, left without leadership, gradually merged into the Association so that by late 2007 we had one, cohesive organization united with a single purpose and actively finding ways to protect ourselves. But with confidence shaken and no indication of any benefit to be gained, Lakewood continued function without any official sanction from the SPPD. And we were not alone. To this day there are neighborhood organizations that deliberately do not engage the SPPD’s crime prevention office but prefer to find their own ways of protecting themselves. As recently as this past October I received an email from my counterpart in a large northside neighborhood, saying, “CW is a good idea but implementation here has all but ruined any supposed benefit to be derived from all that ‘watching.’ I’ve stepped out from ours, having heard nothing that would make a difference here one way or the other.” Other neighborhoods have discovered what we have learned: Gathering people together for monthly meetings about crime accomplishes nothing.
With the departure of Chief Harmon, whose last visit to our meeting was a very unhappy event, as he tried very hard not to answer questions or commit himself to anything our membership wanted, Lakewood installed a new crime watch coordinator, sanctioned by the PD, hoping to find a working relationship, only to be presented with the Dennis Kelly situation. The misinformation we and the 7 other neighborhoods on this side of town were given about the removal of this highly effective officer was very discouraging and did nothing to restore Lakewood’s trust and confidence. The PD seemed strangely determined to pull its wagons into a circle and not deal with the anger it had generated. Meetings between the chief and the heads of other concerned organizations, including the Council of Neighborhood Associations, as well as the City Council and the mayor, were met with a lot of nodding of heads and verbal expressions that something needed to be addressed, but nothing ever happened. The PD even canceled a meeting with neighborhood representatives when it learned it could not control the attendees or the agenda.
The same sergeant that deprived us of Officer Kelly continues to make things difficult for the organizations on this side of town. The very reasons for setting up the CSO program are applied in District I, the officers do not respond to what we believe are legitimate request for their services, several of them do not seem to know what a CSO is, the program as it was originally established by Chief Daryl Stephens has been abandoned here. One of the more curious things is what we now call the “entourage,” because instead of a single CSO showing up at a meeting, an entire herd of uniforms arrives, all but one of whom usually sit in silence, contributing nothing. We are not the only ones who see this, and after one meeting at a nearby neighborhood, a resident asked the sergeant “Who’s minding the store?” because she was there with 4 CSOs and, for reasons no one understood, the SPPD’s new housing officer. The consensus among the area neighborhood leaders is that this is being done either as a show of force, a fearful need to travel in a pack for safety, or, most awful to contemplate, they have nothing else to do!
One nearby neighborhood leader told me that if the PD ever shows up at his meeting in such unnecessary numbers, “I’ll throw them all out.” The PD is not making friends.
And now we have an involuntary and unnecessary, not to mention outdated program that harks back to the way we did things 10 years ago, before email, and before we developed our large and effective organization. Despite our protests that we do not want this, the PD continues to try to impose it on us, so that our pleas that the system is not broken and therefore requires no fixing fall on deaf ears. The PD’s inability to be flexible as it deals with individual neighborhoods – it tends to treat them as though they are all the same – belies their claims of wanting to work with the public, cooperate, collaborate, etc.
The consensus among the SPAN neighborhoods (Coquina Key, Bahama Shores, Lakewood Terrace, Greater Pinellas Point, Lakewood Estates, Broadwater, Maximo Moorings and Bayway Isles, plus the Skyway Marina District committee) is that the PD is in some sort of disarray. There are always things going on in any police department that are hidden from the public — internal disorder, fear of unrest in the streets, the effect of large numbers retiring in one year – and we hear a lot of rumors that tell us that anything we try to do to influence the way the SPPD works or responds will be met with a polite stone wall. We were recently told by a retired officer that, “The St Pete Police Department is known for being the worst in the state.” That’s pretty severe. Is it true? We don’t know. What we do know is that as has happened before, the only way to protect ourselves on a day-to-day basis is for us to be responsible for ourselves. As another neighborhood leader said, until the PD gets its act together, “We are all on our own.”
By way of an update, one of the area’s leaders and the heads of the Council of Neighborhood Associations met with the Chief on September 28th with a list of the items that were on the agenda for the canceled meeting mentioned above. In the minutes of that meeting, the following was recorded:
Chief Holloway said that Crime Watch is an ongoing SPPD program and welcomed Neighborhood associations who set up Crime Watch. Details of the program are on the Police Department website. The Chief noted that “the selection of Crime Watch Coordinators and members is up to the neighborhoods; the SPPD will not intervene in the selection of coordinators.”
Meanwhile, the PD’s crime prevention officer continues to recruit and assign crime watch coordinators in Lakewood in the face of our opting out of the program and over our protests. This disconnect between the policies and procedures presented to the public and what actually happens at 1300 First Avenue North is ongoing, and discussions between the neighborhoods and both current and past PD administrations have not been able to dislodge it.
Several businesses in the area have joined us in a program to increase our Association membership and keep shopping local. The list of these businesses and what they offer is available on this site under Sponsors. Visit it now and then because it will be updated from time to time. Note that you must be a paid, current member with a Lakewood membership card to take advantage of these discounts. Notify one of the Association officers if you wish to pick up your membership card; you will need it to show the store when you ask for your discount.
Remember to bring non-perishable food for the Free Clinic’s Food Bank. We also collect dry ad wet food for cats and dogs, as well as old towels and blankets, for local rescue groups.
Meetings of the Association are held 5 times a year, in January, March, May, September and November, usually on the 3rd Wednesday, at the St. Petersburg Country Club, beginning at 7:00 p.m.
Save the Date – Our Next Meeting
Sept. 20, 2017, 7 p.m. at the Country Club.
If you have a book to share, or want to borrow one, there is a neighborhood ‘library’ in a display box at the curb at 1912 Bonita Way South. Bring a book, take a book, pass the books around.
Fishing in the ponds – what’s the problem?
Here is an explanation that will allow Lakewoodians to better understand the fishing situation and enable us to explain it to outsiders who want to fish here.
The bottom line is that it is in the interest of everyone who lives here to ensure that the Country Club and the golf course continue to thrive. Without the golf course, we are just another St Pete neighborhood. All that open space, all that greenery and blue sky, all that wildlife is what sets us apart and makes us special. It doesn’t matter whether you play golf or even belong to the Club – the value of your home depends in large part on the health of the golf course.
Trespass. Most of the ponds are in areas that belong to the Country Club so that anyone wanting to fish in them has to trespass over Club property. No one who is not a member of the Country Club has any business on the course. Very often after one person begins fishing an area, others join in and create groups large enough to become a real hazard for the golfers. Little children are often left to wander around dangerously close to the water – and there isn’t a single pond on this course that doesn’t have at least one resident alligator.
Danger. A golf ball travels 90 mph and does considerable damage when it makes contact with a human head. Golfers often cannot see what’s ahead of them and have to trust that no one is foolish enough to be sitting in their path.
Fish. The fish are put in the ponds and paid for by the Club to keep down the alga. Golfers do not want to play among scummy ponds that smell. The fish are therefore not up for public grabs. Moreover, the fish are full of pesticides and fertilizer and are suitable for ingestion only by birds (who mercifully don’t seem to be affected, if the success of our osprey nests is any indication).
Intrusion. Many of the people who want to fish here do not understand the protocols and rules governing golf courses. They pull their cars up onto the easement (which is illegal) and then walk right into the path of golfers preparing to swing.
Parking and Litter. Along with a lack of knowledge about proper behavior, those wanting to fish often park illegally and leave behind dead or dying fish, litter, and/or beer bottles. In some areas, people pulling their cars up on the rights of way – also illegal – have destroyed the grass and turned the area into a sand lot. Someone has to pay to fix that.
Cast nets. A lot of fishing folk prefer cast nets, which quickly get them a lot of fish to sell for bait. Unfortunately, cast nets are illegal everywhere in this city except Lake Maggiore. And again, that ‘bait’ is really stocked fish owned by the Club so this is nothing more or less than stealing.
There are people, such as the woman who visited our meeting on January 20th, who believe that if they are sitting on a city right-of-way, they are on public property and can therefore fish. They can in fact stay on that public property all day long… but they cannot fish. Once they put that rod in the water, they are trespassing.
What you can do
If you see someone fishing in one of the course’s ponds (and the only one that isn’t Club property is Summit Lake, the entire rim of which is privately owned by residents), you can point out that they are on private property politely ask them to leave. This rarely works. You can then let them know the police are being called and move away. Or call the club at 867-2111 during business hours (ask for the pro shop or the manager), or call the police non-emergency number at 893-7780, or notify the Association president at 460-1586.
NEW CITY ORDINANCE REGARDING SOLICITATION
Enforcement of the new solicitation ordinance is going to be essentially a police matter, since Codes will not be around when someone rings your doorbell. This is going to make enforcement somewhat tricky.
We have to bear in mind that while the day-to-day annoyances are a problem, the bigger picture is the need to get the permits pulled or rejected for companies like Vivint that come in here and consistently ignore the rules. If the word gets out that you can forfeit your permit in this city for breaking our law, we will see a lot less of this.
With that in mind, here’s what we recommend:
If you have a NO SOLICITING sign (and we urge you to hop over to Ace Hardware and get one) and a commercial vendor rings your doorbell, do one or all of the following:
- Call out “Do you see that sign? We’re calling the police.” Then call 893-7780 and report the person – male, so tall, wearing this shirt and those pants, etc. – and your address. If you see the person walking way, try to determine which way he’s going and tell that to the PD. It’s important that the PD gets involved so that there is a record of the problem.
- Take your cell phone camera to the door, open the door, say smile, take the picture, close the door. Then do #1, above. We recommend you try to see what’s out there before you open the door – a permitted solicitor will be wearing a photo ID. Be cautious.
- If you do not have a sign and a solicitor manages to get you to the door and then refuses to show you his ID, refuses to leave or becomes abusive, call 893-7780 and report as above in #1.
- Call the police any time a solicitor refuses to identify the company he’s with or becomes evasive or shifty. Remember that with Vivint, one of their many big lies was that they are from your home security provider and are there for an ‘upgrade.’
- Keep a log of when a solicitor did any of these illegal acts because we may have to back up our complaints if and when the City writes up one of these folks and they end up in court. Note the date and time and the offense – no solicit sign, refusal to leave, threats, intimidation, obvious lies (we had one household last spring who was told they needed an update and they didn’t even have a system!). This will become part of the book the city will use if they decide to revoke a permit or not grant one.
- The city cannot be the plaintiff in a court case for this sort of thing – it’s going to require one or more of us going into court and testifying as to which part or parts of the ordinance were violated. Most of us don’t want to do this but it will take only 1 or 2 of us to get a company fined and then the word goes out – remember, the long-range goal is to send a message back to places like Vivint that they can’t come in here and prey on us. We don’t want to give the judge an excuse for throwing the case out of court.
- 6. Never hesitate to call my cell, 460-1586, and let me know there’s someone breaking the law here because if it’s during regular daytime hours (and sometimes even on weekends), I can often get some immediate attention.
Unwanted literature, flyers, posters, door-hangers: Keep what’s left at your door and turn it in to me – the new law also prohibits this stuff and this is evidence that someone has ignored your NO SOLICITING sign. If you leave it at my door (!), be sure to note on it where it was left (address) and the date. Realtors, pizza places, solar energy companies, so-called “energy auditors” – they are not allowed to do this if you have a sign. The Association will notify the offending company that they have broken the law and strongly suggest they not do it again.
This law makes no changes to the way we handle unpermitted solicitation, but while we’re on the subject, here’s a review of what we see and what we do:
Kirby Vacuums – they use lies and deception to get into your house
Window cleaners – they really want to get a good look inside your house to see what they want to steal at a later date
Driveway repairs – the first time it rains, the “asphalt” you paid for goes into the storm water system
Magazine subscriptions for college students – they get the money, you get no magazines
Meat from a wagon – Some of these are licensed and we know people who have bought from them and found the meat of good quality. It’s your call.
Fish from a wagon – ditto
Mrs. Pump It Off – young teens with a squirt bottle full of ‘magic liquid.’ It’s ordinary household cleaner; they are licensed but they hide their badges so you can’t see their names. Mrs. Pump It Off is being pursued by the attorneys general of several states.
Tree trimming – there are several very good services that do solicit (although most without a permit) but there are a lot of others that know nothing about trees and sometimes the tree doesn’t survive. If you need a tree trimmed, contact the Association – we have a reliable source.
Any time you have an unpermitted solicitor, call that 893-7780 number and ask for an officer to run them out of here. It’s a low priority call but if an officer can get loose, he’ll oblige. Same rule about calling my cell phone –let me know right away who’s been at your door, what they look like and which way they went.
The new law does not apply to charities, non-profits and religious groups, who may ring your bell despite a NO SOLICITING sign. Very few of these still go door to door – the Girl Scouts are at the malls, and others are now using the internet to raise funds. (One of those excepted is “vendors of milk products.” When is the last time you saw a milkman?) We don’t want to single out any particular group, but we heard from a lot of people about “keeping the religious away,” so we will pass this on: If you don’t want the Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door, call the Kingdom Hall on 31st Street and asked to be “put in the book.” The Witnesses carry that book with them so they know which houses not to approach. It works. 866-0710
There is a list of exempt groups in the new law but the city is not quite happy with it and some time in the near future they will be revising that. In the meantime, the law goes into effect on July 16, as is, and we encourage everyone in Lakewood to do what they can to support and enforce it. If enough of us raise a stink, we can severely curtail the amount of “scamming” that goes on here.
Ace Hardware on 34th Street South, a Lakewood sponsor, is carrying a supply of two different sizes/types of signs. We encourage you to patronize them — Lakewood is always supportive of local businesses.