Lehigh Ares residents and business leaders have complained over the years for more code enforcement people to be stationed in Lehigh. The county now provides five full-time code enforcement people, but none of them work on Saturday and that has spawned a large group of people to sign petitions asking the county to provide at least one enforcer on Saturdays.
That's the day, they say, when there are a large number of violators of such offenses as selling items and foods on the streets of the community, illegally parking cars that are for sale on lots all around the community, and the one that seems to be the most complained about, the parking of large work trucks such as tractor trailers on residential properties.
Steve McGiffin, who has lived in Florida for four years now, says he has petitions that are being exchanged throughout the community to ask county enforcement bosses to change the working schedule so there will be at least one code enforcement officer working in Lehigh on the weekend.
McGiffin is disabled from back problems, but says he has time to help out if it means Lehigh will look better. He already oversees some 59 neighborhood activity groups which keep an eye open for those who would commit crimes in their neighborhoods. He is an adviser to Larry Gutridge, who is employed by the Lee County Sherriff's Office and works out of the Bravo Station in Lehigh.
At one time there were some 80 neighborhood watch groups and he, working with Gutridge, are attempting to revitalize them and create more such "eyes" by creating more neighborhood watch groups.
"We have a lot of people who are upset with the increase in people who are selling items along the roads and streets in Lehigh," McGiffin said. He noted that included people like a group that was selling sheets several weeks ago along SR82 at the corner of Gunnery Rd. It includes people who are illegally selling produce along the roadside and those who are selling shrubs and trees, including palms.
"There is more evidence of people parking large rigs in their front yard. I am told that these people park their large work trucks and tractor rigs on their property on weekends when they know there is no code enforcement working Lehigh," McGiffin said. People complain to us that they look out their front door after being awakened at 4:30 a.m. on Saturdays or Sundays when truck owners rev up their engines," he said.
"People are sick when others throw out litter on side streets, along Lee Blvd. and Homestead Rd. It is against the law, but come Saturdays, there is nobody in Lehigh to enforce those laws," he continued.
It's the same for large boats in the front yard or in a driveway, it is against county ordinances to have such vehicles parked there and people can be fined for the offense.
A few years back, owners of trucks and tractor rigs could park in an area and pay for that service on Homestead Rd. Extended, but a few homeowners in a neighborhood close by said they were awakened too early in the morning by the sounds of truck engines and by the smell of exhaust. The place was forced to shut down. Now many truckers park their rigs in the remote areas of Lehigh along under-used streets.
He said he had understood there may be a place that will allow owners to park their vehicles overnight or over the weekends, but some have told him the price is too high.
Just this past week, a drive down a street not far from Richmond Ave. was strewn with two TV sets and several pieces of furniture, all dumped illegally.
People like McGiffin and Andrea Adams, who heads up Lehigh Community Initiative and people in groups headed by George Szymanski, want to see Lehigh cleaned up so that when those who come to Lehigh to look for a place to live, see a nice, clean community.
"You'll find places where people are illegally selling food and then when they leave, their garbage is left behind for someone else to worry about," he said. "These things affect the quality of life in Lehigh."
He said a petition of signers will be given to Rick Roberts who oversees code enforcement here and to his boss, Robert Stewart.
McGinnis will hand out petitions to those who want to help get signatures.
He said many people are asking folks at the Spring Festival to sign up.
"But there are some people who say they agree with us, but that they would not want those who park big vehicles in front of their homes, to know they had signed a petition," he said.
As of this past weekend, McGiffin says he has close to 250 signatures already and possibly more.
Addressed to Robert Stewart, the petition states that: We, the residents of Lehigh Acres, hereby petition Lee County Code Enforcement to provide a Code Enforcement officer to work a Saturday shift in the Lehigh Acres community.
"Our neighborhoods are faced with a number of code violations that occur mainly on weekends and when reported to and investigated by Code Enforcement during the present Monday through Friday work schedule, the violations are, in many instances no longer present. Our main concerns involve the setting up of auto repair shops on front lawns in residential areas and the parking of large commercial vehicles and tractor trailers on residential streets which arrive Friday evenings and are gone early on Monday mornings. We understand the present economic situation would not warrant the hiring of an additional Code Enforcement officer and, thus, we are requesting an officer be assigned to a five-day week which would include Saturday," the petition reads.
McGinnis said he appeared before the Lehigh Community Council last week because it represents "One Voice" in Lehigh since its members belong to other organizations in the community.
"We're not out to destroy someone's livelihood but there has to be a solution," McGinnis said.
Larry Gutridge who oversees the Neighborhood Watch groups said "you would be surprised at some of the photos our members have taken showing the size of tractor trailers parked along the roads and in people's yards."
"Petition signers are reluctant to rock the boat but the county should do its job ... we must all work together to make Lehigh a desirable place to live. If you would like to get a petition or to sign one, McGiffin said residents can call him at 674-9068,
"Just having an officer here on Saturdays would be a great help. I know Lehigh is a large area, but if people knew we had a code enforcement officer here, they may learn not to break the current laws," he said.