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County sets deadline for junk removal

If the owner of debris-filled land doesn't clean it in 20 days, the county will do the work and bill him.

[Times photos: Douglas R. Clifford]
L.B. Richards collects a series of Elvis Presley prints Wednesday at his property as Code Enforcement Officer Mark Caskie looks on. The county gave Richards 20 days to remove junk from the property.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


The clock is ticking for L.B. Richards to clear out the OK Corral.

Dismayed that the junk-cluttered property on Commercial Way north of Weeki Wachee looks trashier than ever, county Code Enforcement Director Frank McDowell III on Wednesday gave Richards 20 days to get rid of the debris.

Otherwise, McDowell said, the county will bring out its trucks, remove everything and charge Richards the tipping fees and labor costs, which probably will run into the thousands of dollars.

photo
Code Enforcement Director Frank McDowell III, left, explains to Richards the deadline for cleaning up the property.
"That Rambler, it needs to go," McDowell said, pointing to a rusted 1950s AMC automobile with a hole punched through the windshield that sat amid old tires and metal scraps. "That old car, it needs to go. . . . Take 'em out of the county. I don't care where you go. You need to get 'em out of here."

Richards, a 74-year-old pack rat who has amassed his collection of "antiques, uniques and valuables" over 45 years, talked round and round with McDowell in a vain attempt to slip out of the ultimatum. What about 30 days? he inquired. Will the county haul away the trash for free as it did two months ago?

He even refused to sign the violation notices, referring McDowell and Code Enforcement Officer Mark Caskie to his lawyer.

Richards grinned and giggled, his eyes partially hidden by his beige felt fedora, as he spoke about deals gone wrong and those yet to come. Someone wants the steel, Richards told McDowell, but she won't be around until May 3.

A man has a contract to buy the land, he said, although he couldn't recall the man's name.

"You told me you were going to take all these hubcaps down to Hudson," McDowell said to Richards, motioning to the thousands of hubcaps strewn across the dusty property known to many residents as Hubcap City.

"That deal fell through," Richards replied.

"Well, there's always an excuse for you," said McDowell.

No more, he told the junk collector. If significant progress has not been made, and that means at least 75 percent of the trash gone from eight of the 11 lots, the county cleanup will begin, McDowell said.

"When does the 20 days start?" Richards finally asked, after about 25 minutes of verbal jousting.

McDowell stared at his watch, looked back up at Richards and answered: "It starts right now."

"Okay, I got it," Richards said, wandering to his car to shuffle through his latest find -- about 15 prints of Elvis Presley photos.

Walking back to his county-issue truck, Caskie said he had received calls and letters regularly since the county first cracked down on Hubcap City. A real estate agent wrote to complain that the mountains of junk were hurting his efforts to sell nearby property.

"People saw the articles that this was going to be gone, and it's not gone," Caskie said.

In fact, he said, there's more trash there now than before. As trucks hauled items to the landfill two months ago, he said, Richards retrieved several and then brought more truckloads to his land.

"More stuff than before, that's my business, because I'm still in business," Richards said. "I'm wanting to get out, but, you know. . . ."

He said he would comply with Code Enforcement's demands.

"It's kind of severe," Richards said as he watched McDowell and Caskie walk away. "But we have to go by the law. The law wins."

So McDowell hopes.

"Every time we come out here, it's, "I need more time. I need more time,' " he said. "Well, his time is up."

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