Boynton CRA struggles to get rid of loitering on vacant lot

Born and raised in the Heart of Boynton and living in the home her family has owned since the Depression, this woman has seen plenty.

But now she has children of her own.

And when she looks at the two to three blocks of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard east of Seacrest Boulevard, she's not thrilled with what she sees.

In a vacant lot next to a barbecue and convenience store, people sit on plastic chairs and upturned soda crates under a tree.

Sometimes they play dominoes. Sometimes they detail cars.

At times, boom boxes send out pounding noise. And at night, she says, more shady activities go on.

"I don't even let my kids go outside in the yard, let alone let them play in the park," said the woman, who did not want to be identified for safety reasons.

Plenty of towns have problem areas. In this case, the empty lot that draws a crowd — and, city officials suspect, drug deals and prostitution — is owned by the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

The agency would like to sell the parcel, and several around it. But the tracts don't exactly have curb appeal.

"You try to bring people by to look at a site to invest in, and this is not something that gives people a feeling of confidence," CRA Executive Director Vivian Brooks told Tuesday's meeting of the CRA board, which is comprised of city commissioners and two outside appointees.

Just blocks away, in the Ocean Breeze West neighborhood, two non-profits are building nearly two dozen low-to-moderate-income homes. Seacrest was beautified last year, with landscaped medians, decorative light poles and art murals.

But in that two-to-three block stretch, "it's terrible," Vice Mayor Mack McCray said Tuesday.

During the day, "a lot of that stuff is harmless. Just people playing dominoes." board member Mark Karageorge said. " From 9 o'clock on, it's like Grand Central."

At night, "it's a place to hang out and do business, I suppose," Brooks said. "And it's typically not good business. When we drive down, we are hailed down. I'm not hailed down because I'm hot-looking. I'm hailed down to buy something."

The CRA has posted "no trespassing" signs on the lots, and police try to patrol . The CRA also placed railroad ties to keep people from driving onto the property. And the agency spends extra money to have people pick up cans and bottles before they mow the lot.

The agency wants to encourage the gatherings to move to nearby Sara Sims Park or Carolyn Sims Center. It's even considering cutting down the trees to make the lot a less-appealing place to gather.

"I guess what you're saying is old habits are hard to break," city commissioner Bill Orlove said.

" This is a problem that's not going to go away no matter what we do. I'm sorry," McCray said.

"Duly noted," Orlove said. "But we can try."

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