City Council supports code crackdown

A plan to get tougher on repeat violators wins preliminary approval.

By Janet Zink, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008

TAMPA - People who violate city codes are about to lose their second chances.

The City Council on Thursday gave preliminary approval to rules that would allow code enforcement officers to issue instant citations, such as parking tickets, to those who violate city codes more than once.

The citations also would be issued immediately for infractions deemed irreversible, such as cutting down a protected tree.

Fines would range from $75 to $450, based on the type of violation and the number of previous infractions. Break the rules three times, and you'll go to court.

Neighborhood leaders lauded the changes, which they say would force property owners to keep lawns mowed and to store unused vehicles properly.

Susan Long, president of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association, told the council the rules would help stop "scofflaws ... who have spent many years making their neighbors miserable."

Mayor Pam Iorio made code enforcement a top priority after her election in 2003. She turned what had been a division into its own department and in 2005 pledged to foreclose on properties owned by severe offenders.

Council members have complained for years that city code enforcement takes too long and is ineffective. Over the past decade, the city has accumulated tens of millions of dollars in unpaid code violation fines.

"The system we have now doesn't work," said Gary Ellsworth, president of the South Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association. "It's time we looked at something different."

Not everyone loves the plan.

Mike Peterson, governmental affairs counsel for the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, said his organization generally supports the instant fines but worries that individuals who own multiple properties will end up being fined as repeat offenders, even if the violations occur on different properties.

Land-use consultant Steve Michelini agreed.

"It has a very long arm," he said of the ordinance.

City Council members were not swayed. The ordinance passed 5-0, with council members Tom Scott and Joseph Caetano absent.

"It's going to give code enforcement the teeth they need," said council member John Dingfelder.

The ordinance is slated for a final vote on March 6.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.