When Gail Hamilton was hired to lead the Zephyrhills Community Redevelopment Agency about a year ago, she noticed an unsettling trend while patrolling the older, traditional city neighborhoods.
Scattered across several homeowners’ lawns were old appliances, rolled-up carpets, debris and fallen trees.
“I think nobody had done anything in a long time,” Hamilton said, regarding the condition of the historic Zephyrhills neighborhoods.
“The first thing when you start redeveloping an area is you look to clean it up,” she added.
To do so, Hamilton collaborated with several other city departments — Code Enforcement, Public Works, Police and Fire Departments—to create a so-called “Clean Team.”
The “Clean Team” organizes neighborhood cleanups every other month, pinpointing a different geographical area within the city limits for each event.
The program offers an opportunity for city residents to get rid of unwanted junk, with public works crews and community volunteers lending a helping hand.
“We go in there…and clean up anything people can get out into their alley or curbside, because we don’t go onto private property and pick anything up,” said Shane LeBlanc, Zephyrhills Public Works director. “A lot of people will have roll-off construction dumpsters outside. A lot of people drop stuff off to us.”
“You can get rid of your junk, and you don’t even have to bring it to the site,” Hamilton said. “We have crews that are going up and down the alleyway within the area that we’re cleaning, and if you can just get it to the alley, we’ll pick it up. So for people that don’t have a truck or the means to get it to us, we’re trying to help them as much as we possibly can, so there’s no excuse that you don’t clean up your property.”
The third neighborhood cleanup, on Feb. 27, was labeled as the “most successful” yet, according to Hamilton. The cleanup encompassed the area between North Avenue and Sixth Avenue, covering neighborhoods all the way east to 20th Street.
Approximately 160 cubic yards of mixed debris, 24 televisions, 44 tires and one washing machine were hauled away.
Additionally, 39 residents dropped off their junk to the construction dumpsters at various staging areas set up by the clean team.
When cruising around town, Hamilton notices a sizable difference when she sees neighborhoods that have participated in the cleanup program.
“I think we’re beginning to turn a corner with the neighborhoods understanding what we’re trying to do, and appreciate the ability to bring their trash,” the redevelopment agency director said.
“We’re trying to attack it from each angle so nobody can say, ‘Well, it was too hard to clean up my yard.’”
The cleanups also serve as a warning for residents that may be in violation of the city’s code enforcement. Instead of immediately being issued a citation, residents have the opportunity to get rid of the trash in their yard without being fined, thereby being offered an amnesty of sorts.
Hamilton noted city officials are being as accommodating as possible with the program, saying, “We tell people, ‘this is your opportunity…to clean up your infractions or the problems you have on your property, but if you don’t, you will be cited for it.’ We’re still working on that, and getting through the neighborhoods and making people believe, ‘Yes, there will be consequences if you don’t clean up.’
“It’s the ‘carrot and the stick’ approach,’ Hamilton added. “The city will use the ‘stick’ from code enforcement to say, ‘OK, if you don’t clean it up, we’ll fine you.’”
Residents who receive a citation have 30 days to clean up their property.
The fourth neighborhood cleanup is set for May 21 from 8 a.m. to noon.
It will span from Gall Boulevard to 16th Street, generally encompassing the area between Fifth Avenue and South Avenue.
While the program was initially going to focus on the 520-acre CRA district, officials plan to eventually make their way through the entire city.
“We’re going to expand out,” LeBlanc said. “We’ve got other areas in the city that need attention as well.
“It’s a great service to people that can’t get rid of things,” LeBlanc said.
Published May 4, 2016