Code Violations Drive Business Away


The chambers may have been quiet, even low key, but the Special Magistrate program for the City of Gulfport already had the intended effect, even before it began.

At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, attorney James D Thaler, Jr. began hearing cases as Gulfport’s new Special Magistrate. His inaugural case was a combination of mixed signals, misunderstandings and a business owner who is leaving the city.

It was certainly an inauspicious start for the Special Magistrate, with the case of Deno Crawford and his business, Urgent Tree Service of 2205 52nd St. S.

In the chambers at City Hall, Crawford and property owner Lyta Reichbach of Gizmo Property Management in St. Pete Beach appeared before Thaler. They were the only violators to stand at Thursday’s hearing.

The pair was called on four code infringements; two assigned to each party:

Two violations of City Code 7-2, for construction without permit fees related to a metal enclosure built against one of the main structures; electrical work/junction box installed outside of rear fence. There was also plumbing water lines installed on the exterior of one structure; exterior sheathing replaced on the structure, and a new covered porch framed with a metal roof attached.

The second pair of violations concerned Code 22-5.10 (j)—Outdoor Sales and Displays. Urgent Tree Care had several large vehicles parked on the property, which sits across 52nd Street from a gas station. On the side of the building, there is a large wooden fence. Code requires the equipment, such as a wood chipper and earth mover, to stay behind the fence and not visible from the street.

Crawford corrected and complied with City Code 7-2 prior to the hearing and was assessed a fine of $374.50 on Thursday. Gizmo was also fined $374.50 for the first violation.

Code enforcement officer Bruce Earling suggested Crawford be found guilty of the first two charges, which Crawford resisted, suggesting he plead “no contest.”

“It just sounds better,” Crawford said.

“These are civil proceedings,” Thaler replied. “With civil cases, people are either liable or responsible. ‘Guilty’ is usually reserved for people put in handcuffs. We don’t have that around here.”

The second violation was not corrected. Crawford said that he had difficulty keeping his equipment behind the fence at all times.

Five years ago, Crawford received a business license by the city to operate Urgent Tree Service. For years, he had no trouble. Starting in 2010, Crawford began to get violations on the visibility of his equipment.

Crawford said it is necessary to use this equipment to conduct his business. With the regular code violations, it has become difficult to continue to do business in Gulfport. His argument was that since the city awarded the license, they must have been aware of what type of equipment he would be using.

“City of Gulfport gave me a license to have a tree service,” Crawford said. “When you have a tree service, you have to have equipment trucks. It’s a Catch-22.”

“They gave me a license for the last five years,” Crawford said. “Now they say I cannot have trucks on the property. I have kept my license up to date every year.”

“You are saying because they (the city) issued you a permit to run a business out of that location for a tree service,” Thaler asked, “and because you have been storing things there, that they allowed you to operate in this way as an exception?”

“You could have asked for special permitting,” Thaler said.

“They never contacted me about that,” Crawford responded.

Earling insisted the pattern of code violations were consistent.

“Mr. Crawford and Gizmo both had been sent numerous violations in the past,” Earling said, “in regards to storing roll-offs, trailers and trucks outside the fence.”

“No doubt the city was probably remiss in letting him continue to put heavy equipment behind the fence,” Earling said. “He was never in compliance. He would be in compliance for a few days or a week then he would be right back, putting those trailers and trucks”

“It would generate numerous complaints from residents,” Earling added.

Instead of fining Crawford and his landlord for every day of non-compliance, Thaler charged each defendant $374.50 to cover city and Magistrate expenses, with the stipulation Crawford would bring his business up to code within 60 days. The fine was in addition to the $374.50 both Crawford and Reichbach were each assessed for the other pair of violations.

Crawford agreed, since he was planning to move from the property soon anyway.

“Are you staying in Gulfport?” Thaler asked him.

“Oh no,” Crawford responded.

He will be moving to a location off 49th Street, adding that it was too much hassle for him to stay in the city. “It will be right next to Gulfport, though.”

“I hate to lose any kind of business in Gulfport,” Thaler said before adjourning.

Crawford’s appearance was not the kind that will be common for the Special Magistrate, according to city officials.

“That was an unusual case,” said Community Development Director Fred Metcalf. “Most people will come into compliance before it gets to this point. It is an effective tool.”

According to Metcalf, the program has already had the intended effect—keeping code violations at a minimum.

The next Special Magistrate hearing, if there are any cases to hear, will be August 23, 2012, 9:30 a.m. at Gulfport City Hall, located at 2401 53rd St. S. For more information, call  (727) 893-1000 or visit mygulfport.us.

Gulfport Municipal Marina: Time to Grow!


Living in Gulfport, chances are you love beaches, art, music and a friendly, small-town sensibility. However, the heart of the city is more than just on land; it’s on the water as well.

A real jewel in Gulfport is the Municipal Marina, on Boca Ciega Bay.

According to officials, improving the marina also makes good money sense. It has been a consistent moneymaker for the city. Harbor Master Denis Frain estimated the marina paid Gulfport nearly $600,000 over operating costs in 2011.

The marina needs a few repairs; and if new plans are approved, capacity should be expanded by at least another 50 boats. To steal a line from Jaws—it is not that Gulfport needs a bigger boat, they need a bigger marina.

“The marina has had a long history for paying for what it builds,” Frain said, “the rest is profit. We have a good history for return on investment.”

This consistent stream of revenue is the reason Ward 2 Council Member Barbara Banno pushes the city council to help the marina grow from current capacity. As it stands, the marina has about 250 slips.

“We want to be competitive with other marinas offering additional amenities,” Banno said. “We requested plans to build a bigger marina store and engineering designs. Once we understand the costs; we really hope to put it on our five-year plan.”

“What I would like to see is about 10 to 15 boat lifts, Banno added.” Some of the new marinas in the area already have lifts.”

Frain also looks to a bright future for boaters wanting a fun place to stopover, or to stay for an extended visit.

“There are a couple things on the radar,” Frain said. “The big thing now, since the economy is kind of tight, is keeping your boat on a trailer in a storage facility.”

Gulfport recently renegotiated the lease at the Boca Ciega Yacht Club, affecting about 85 boat slips. The city owns the property and controls the slips, giving “right of first refusal” to Boca Ciega. Earlier this year, the marina began monthly kayak storage, as well as a new launch ramp.

For $15 a month, kayak owners get storage and all the amenities, including showers and a keyed entry. Frain said he would like additional storage for 12 more and said the improvement would pay for itself within the first year.

Some renovations have been completed, such as the addition of two gates and a fence dividing public and private sections. Frain hopes the City Council approves additional improvements; all with the goal of accommodating more boats, with more revenue.

The next priorities for the marina, according to Frain, should be boat lifts, dry storage renovation and a bigger ship store, where visitors can pick up supplies like ice, beer, bait, tackle and other sundries.

“In expanding the ship store, what council looked into was the possibility to have liveaboards,” Frain said. Liveaboards are people who use boats as a residence, and they stay in a marina for several weeks at a time.

“We are 75 percent occupancy,” Frain said. “Liveaboards could fill the remaining 25 percent.”

“Right now we don’t have the facilities to sustain liveaboards,” said Frain, “so what we have to do is expands the ship store, with a larger restroom, more showers and laundry facilities.”

Another amenity would be to add lifts to a few of the empty slips, making Gulfport Municipal Marina viable, when compared with surrounding marinas catering to liveaboards and transient boaters. Gulfport marina has always been well-liked, not only with boating clubs from Dunedin, Punta Gorda and St. Petersburg, but boaters from around the country.

“Many people take a boat down here,” Frain said, “and they love our downtown area.”

“Boat lifts are very popular right now,” Frain added. “Isla Del Sol marina (off the Pinellas Bayway) installed 50 to 60 lifts and they are currently all full. What this does is lift the boat out of the water. That cuts down on maintenance you have to do and saves a tremendous amount of maintenance on your vessel.”

The marina operates through an enterprise fund, paying the city from revenue. This system makes the Municipal Marina one of the chief money making operations for Gulfport. The marina pays Gulfport in lieu of taxes.

“It’s called a Pilot Program,” Frain said. “With all the municipalities, especially Gulfport, in tight financial situation, they are looking for as much money as they can, to prop up the general fund.”

Lori Rosso, President of the Gulfport Chamber of Commerce, said any traffic increase will be a boom to the business community, considering the marina’s proximity to downtown.

More slips, liveaboards and kayak storage makes the marina “a good vantage point, where we could become a stopover,” Rosso said.

“We don’t have chain stores and we don’t have any parking meters,” she added. “Gulfport is one of the few places on the waterfront where you are going to find that.”

Banno, Harbormaster Frain and Rosso all agree an improved marina, with the best amenities, can continue to be a strong revenue center for Gulfport.

The Gulfport Municipal Marina is located at 4630 29th Ave. S, on Boca Ciega Bay. For more information, call  (727) 893-1071 or email Harbor Master Frain at dfrain@mygulfport.us .