Sidewalk sentinel remains vigilant

Published May 14, 2007

ZEPHYRHILLS - Leo Gray has become the city's "watchdog" when it comes to sidewalks.

And he's getting results - his recent complaints to the City Council have prompted a proposal to raise the fine for blocked sidewalks, which is currently $10. Council members will discuss the issue during tonight's meeting.

"I'm all over the city, " said Gray, a member of Disabled American Veterans. "We have veterans coming back from Iraq. These kids are on crutches or in wheelchairs and they have to go out of their way" when people's cars block the sidewalk.

The city will consider new penalties ranging from $25 to $100 for each offense, with an increase for any fine not paid within 10 days.

Gray wants the fee to be $50.

"That ($10 fine) apparently doesn't raise everyone's eyebrows at all, " he said.

Infractions include a car parked in a driveway that sticks out far enough to block the sidewalk.

"This is a preliminary discussion; our sidewalk ordinance is out of date, " said City Manager Steve Spina. He said Gray is alerting the city when sidewalk problems arise, such as uneven pavement, overgrown tree branches or blockages.

"I go around inspecting the sidewalks" said Gray, who will be at Monday's meeting in what he calls his "BMW wheelchair."

The council is also scheduled to discuss a pending sale of the CARES building.

CARES, or Community Aging and Retirement Center, of Port Richey is a nonprofit agency that provides craft classes, dancing lessons and other activities at the Zephyrhills senior center.

It now plans to sell the 6, 000-square-foot building; the city donated the land to the seniors' organization in 1995, and a sale of the building would bring money to the city - about $80, 000 in this case.

"If they were transforming it to another senior center it would be okay, but it's a private buyer, " Spina said.

CARES will move to the Community Chapel Church of God, leasing space once a week for bingo.

In other news, the city hopes to build a 40, 000-square-foot building at the airport industrial complex, with help from an interest-free loan from Progress Energy.

The city hopes the new building would enhance economic development and serve as a draw for businesses looking to relocate to the city.

"We would have something to entice people with, " Spina said.

Bryan Kamm with the Pasco County Economic Development Council has been working with the city for several years on the potential facility.

"We always have companies coming to us looking for sites in that area, " including Dade City and Zephyrhills, he said. "It's more central than west Pasco. It's only 15 miles north of Lakeland, a central hub of Florida for transportation. Also they're avoiding traffic on 75."

A boat manufacturer may purchase the proposed building, Spina said.

Progress Energy offers three of these loans a year as part of its economic development and relationship-building efforts, Kamm said. This is the only one in Florida.

Having an actual building would help attract businesses.

"When we just show them the land they kind of keep going, " Spina said.

The City Council will talk tonight about whether to buy into the building.