YBOR CITY, Fla. (WFLA) — You might almost miss the parking lot if you weren’t looking for it. 1916 and 1918 East Fifth Avenue in Ybor City appear to just be an empty grass lot in between a few single-family homes. But the 50 feet by 95 feet slice of land is one of the most hotly contested in the city.
“We’ve been fighting this for probably a year-and-a-half now,” said David Bailey.
The ‘we’ is the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association, as well as many Ybor City residents.
“We are exhausted,” Bailey said. “But we’re not going to give up the fight.”
Bailey is part of the association. He found out last year, like many residents, 717 Parking was planning on turning the land on Fifth Avenue into a parking lot. However, he says, the company claims it already was a lot.
“They tend to be a focus point for noise,” Bailey said. “People will be here late at night tailgating after a night in Ybor City.”
To understand how the land became such a hot-button topic, you have to go back in time 23 years — 2000. As the Tampa Bay area was seeing the first glimpses of what would become rapid expansion, Ybor City wanted more mixed-use and residential land, less commercial. So, Bailey explained, the city went around to all the commercial landowners, stating their land will be rezoned to mixed-use unless they send a letter stating what land they want to keep commercial. According to documents provided to 8 On Your Side, 717 Parking sent letters at the time to the city, asking for various plots of land to remain commercial.
Fast forward to 2021, Bailey explained 717 Parking put up a couple of signs on the Fifth Avenue lot with instructions on how to pay for parking. A complaint was submitted to the city and a code enforcement response began.
“Basically, for the past 20 years,” Bailey said. “The city of Tampa has been making promises to this landmark district that they were going to start phasing out interim parking lots like this.”
After the complaint, Bailey said the code enforcement case found 717 Parking did not have lot zoned for commercial, since the city could not find their letter asking the Fifth Avenue location to stay commercial.
Bailey added that in the decades he and others have been living around the empty lot, it has never been used for parking.
But after the initial decision, Bailey said 717 Parking produced a letter from 2000 showing they, in fact, had requested that land to remain commercial, and the initial decision was reversed.
“We were confused as to how this could happen,” Bailey recalled. “Went to the city to try and figure out what was going on and kind of got stonewalled.”
Since then, the case has gone back and forth in court.
“People sit out in the parking lots,” said Joseph Caldwell. “They’re playing loud music. It’s just not something that’s conducive for a residential neighborhood.”
Caldwell is a realtor in Ybor City. He just sold land right across from the controversial lot.
Caldwell said the letter 717 Parking produced is a fake, due to a different letterhead than others at the time. He also said 717 Parking did not own the lot at the time they sent the letter in question, according to deeds he reviewed from the city.
“You’re going to have people parking with lights shining into their living rooms,” Caldwell said. “Shining to the bedrooms, parking until 3 o’clock at night.”
Traffic and noise are big sticking points for the residents.
“I’ve seen the crime,” said Bailey, who said he lives across from another 717 parking lot. “I’ve seen the fights, I’ve seen the trash, I’ve heard the noise.”
Right now, the case is still tied up in court with no final decision from a magistrate. 8 On Your Side reached out to 717 Parking and the city for comment. 717 Parking did not reply, and city council members and the city attorney said they could not comment on pending litigation.