AVON PARK - Having spent almost his entire 44-year-old life in Avon Park, Charles Devlin has seen the best and worst the city has to offer.
As mortgage rates move higher, the mortgage markets dry up, Devlin said he's witnessed a "downward spiral" in the condition of neighborhoods around Avon Park - and he wants those living in the city to have a voice in keeping it up.
Devlin, president of Devtech Sales Inc., 24 S. Lake Ave., spoke during the Citizen Participation segment of the March 10 Avon Park City Council's regular meeting. There, he addressed the council about the possibility of forming a citizens-based code enforcement board, which he hopes would streamline the process for issuing and administering citations for code violations.
That board, Devlin said, would hear from residents and business owners' concerns they have over the condition of their neighborhood, area homes, streets, sidewalks, infrastructure and businesses. By law, a code enforcement board must be made up of seven members, all city residents.
Currently, Avon Park uses a special magistrate for code enforcement proceedings. During the meeting, council voted 4-0 - Councilwoman Brenda Giles was not present - to solicit citizen members to reassemble a code enforcement board.
The Council directed staff to advertise to find out if there is an interest from city residents in serving. Devlin said he hoped the idea would result in a city with cleaner streets, nicer homes and "a little curb appeal." He said twice a month, he spends a few hours with a garbage bag and personally picks up litter along the railroad tracks at Bell Street near Lake Tulane and within an hour the bag is "slam full" of debris and rubbish.
"It's just horrible the way people treat their town," he told the council. "Let's talk about litter. It's everywhere. The problem has not improved, it has gotten worse. We need 'No littering $500 minimum fine" signs everywhere, and of course, enforcement."
Devlin also discussed issues with noise, specifically residents using speakers built onto the outside of their cars or trucks. He said Florida overturned a law banning the use of the "Selenium" speakers and until the Legislature enacts another law, noise would be another area of concern for the board.
"Loud music coming from homes or parked vehicles, however, is still a violation of county and city codes," said Devlin, whose mother, Justine, served on the city council in the late 1990s.
Councilman Terry Heston said in theory Devlin's idea is good. He said anything that would give residents the ability to help better the city would help keep an equal playing field for standards across the city.
"You have to put a good board together to make sure it's fair across the city. I would hope a board like that would help expedite things," he said. "I'm in favor of looking into it."
Deleon said a code enforcement board would be good for addressing quality-of-life concerns, such as unsafe structures, unsanitary conditions, high grass and "neglectful property maintenance." The board would be able to give final decisions on infractions.
"The board or special magistrate has jurisdiction to listen to the officer who issued the citation, the property owner or any other interested party. Based on the testimony provided, the board or magistrate can issue an extension or a ruling of finding," he said.
Although the citizens' code enforcement board is just an idea now, Devlin said he hopes to one day see it become a reality, made up of business owners, community leaders and citizens "to identify problems and obstacles, and present solutions of council."
"The council, of course, did not put us in this situation, but you certainly are in a position to do something about it," he said at the meeting. "The ball is in your court, what are you going to do with it?"
Deleon said anyone interested on serving on the board should contact Avon Park City Hall for a citizen board volunteer application at (863) 452-4400 or download one from the city's website, www.avonpark.cc, under "publications."