This Bad House

The Nuisance Abatement Board’s war on blight has had some unintended casualties in West Palm Beach — most of them poor

"Weekly or greater," Meitz answers.

"That's another thing," Hyman barks. "Weekly rentals promote transients -- people who don't have ties to the community."

"Well, this guy's lived in the apartment for ten years," Meitz snaps back.

David Terrill
David Terrill

"Then there's no reason he shouldn't have a lease," Hyman retorts.

"Then there's no reason to think he doesn't have ties to the community," he counters.

"Then he's an exception," she says.

Addlesberger jumps in. "If he's in jail, I don't think he's an exception to the rule."

Meitz's face twists with agitation, and his voice raises. "The fact that he's in jail doesn't have anything to do with what we're talking about here," he snarls. "He could be in there for a... a... motorcycle incident. I don't know."

The board moves unanimously to take jurisdiction of the property for a year, which means if there is even one report of illegal activity, Meitz will be called back before the board for further action, which could include fines and boarding of the building.

Meitz bridles. "I disagree sharply on that. We weren't made privy to any of those busts. Nobody told us that, yes, we know who this is. On the contrary, we told police officers, at least three or four, that we've got a problem back there but we're not sure who it is and can't get rid of them and we'd like you to make a bust."

Hyman interrupts, "One more incident will bring you back before the board. I appreciate that you don't agree with it --"

"I don't," Meitz jumps in. "I think the implication here is that if there's three such incidents that, well, maybe the owner didn't know about the first or even second one but ultimately chose to do nothing. Obviously, we were doing the best to evict these people."

Hyman tells him that he can either sign the stipulation or the board will force it upon him.

"I don't want to sign it," Meitz growls. "It doesn't matter, though, does it? The board will impose what it wants." Meitz can't resist getting in a parting shot. "And you also have someone who'll go with me now and take [Winston] out of there?"

"I don't think we're going to do that," Hyman sniffs. "We're not in that business."

"No," Meitz concludes acidly. "I didn't think you were going to do that. I didn't think so."

Northwood Street, 26 blocks north of Clematis, offers immediate visual clues that it's in the midst of gentrification. The narrow east-west avenue has been tailored for foot traffic with its wide sidewalks and paver-covered crosswalks. There is no trash in sight. Most of the one- and two-story shops have been painted in degrees of pastel. And like most nascent revitalizations, it gives way quickly to the more dilapidated neighborhoods that ring it. Those streets, occupied almost entirely by black residents, are riddled with boarded-up and burned-out homes.

Rod Tinson became the father of the Northwood Street renaissance when, two years ago, he moved his antiques and restoration business into an abandoned bottling warehouse. The interior is rustic, with exposed ceiling timbers, a look congruent with the business. "These buildings were all abandoned-looking," Tinson says while seated on an antique love seat. "The doors on this building were busted in, absolutely trashed. I thought if I could move in here and turn the neighborhood around, well, it was just obvious to me that it could be a great little antique, art, and design district."

Tinson, who is white, extols the racial mix on Northwood Street. "Many of us are good friends, and we're of different ethnic backgrounds," he says. "It's sort of a San Francisco atmosphere, and we'd like it to stay that way."

But as the character of the area began to change, so too did attitudes toward loitering, drug-dealing, and prostitution. That's when the Kwik Stop at 2401 Spruce Ave., a block north of Northwood Street, became a lightning rod earlier this year. The property was owned by Lynda Swinney and Karolyn Hornsby, two sisters who live in the St. Petersburg area. The property was leased by Allan Ati, and many in the neighborhood had complained about prostitutes and drug dealers loitering in the convenience store's parking lot. This winter, West Palm Beach police charged Ati with fencing stolen goods on three occasions, so the case was brought before the NAB. The board took jurisdiction of the property for a year and required Ati's eviction. In the meantime, however, Ati sold the business and assigned the lease to the new owner. Swinney and Hornsby, in turn, entered into an agreement to sell the property to that new business owner. Hence, Swinney and Hornsby did not commence eviction proceedings for Ati. The NAB considered the owners in violation and ordered the building boarded up for six months.

The owners hired West Palm Beach attorney Michael Morell to contest the closure. Morell argued that the NAB would have to compensate the owners for any "temporary taking," and he filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking damages. The NAB held two special meetings to deal with the issue, during which some residents requested that the store be shut down permanently. On a deeper level, the Kwik Stop touched upon the class and racial tensions that frequently flare during gentrification.

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