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    County vows action on derelict property

    Neighbors say they are fed up with the mess. County officials say they will act after the holidays.

    By MICHAEL SANDLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 28, 2001


    LARGO -- Split wooden beams spear downward from the ceiling. Broken beer bottles litter the burned out grass.

    Charlie Carrao stares at the abandoned building at 1748 S Missouri Ave. that has become a nightly stop for vagrants and a daily eyesore for business owners like himself.

    "I've complained so many times," said Carrao, owner of Castrol Xpress Lube next door.

    "I was told the county was going to knock this building down, clean it up and put a fence around it. That was months ago."

    County code enforcement officials say that's about to end. They plan to issue owners Bill and Eunice Little a citation next week after the elderly couple failed to address the situation during the past four months.

    "We are waiting for the holidays to end," said Robert Nagin, director of Pinellas County Building Department. Nagin said the Littles were warned in August to clean up or clear out the property. The Littles told county officials they were in the process of selling the property, but have yet to act.

    "Any time a property is abandoned, it's supposed to fenced off and boarded up," said Nagin. "That does not appear to be the condition. The building appears to be wide open."

    The Littles did not return phone calls to be interviewed for this story.

    Robert Mortoro, the county's environmental code enforcement administrator, said the Littles were fined twice this year, a total of $176, for trash and debris. They were also charged $820 this fall after the county mowed and raked the unkempt grass, and cleared additional trash.

    The Largo Fire Rescue hazardous materials crew removed 10 gallons of fuel oil from the property this month after discovering a leaking oil drum on the property.

    Now, Nagin said the forthcoming citation includes a $160 fine, and if they don't fix the building after that, they must appear before a judge.

    "Right now, it's an unattractive nuisance," he said. "It's an abandoned building and its not secure. Vagrants are using it."

    Amid the strip of industrial businesses is a sign out front that hints at a time now past. The property just outside Largo once was J&K Auto Body, offering 24 hour wrecker service.

    These days, Carrao wishes a tow truck would haul the unsightly mess away.

    For years Carrao has complained about the building. He's called county officials and sheriff's deputies, telling them the trash and the squatters hurt business. But he said little has been done.

    This week, he added an overnight ambush to the list. A day after Christmas, he came in and found the windows of his 1987 Buick Century blown out by paint ball pellets. He walked over and saw an ironing board splattered with paint leaning against an overturned table on the property. Someone had found the lot and made a makeshift target.

    "When they got tired of shooting that, they started shooting my property and building," said Carrao. "This property is a total disaster. This ain't right."

    -- Michael Sandler can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or sandler@sptimes.com.

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