Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Illegal Car Washes a New Blight Target

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Illegal Car Washes a New Blight Target

Article excerpt

Recently, Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert, leader of a task force seeking to revive that ravaged city, perfectly described blight's impact on a community.

"Blight is a cancer," Gilbert said. "Blight sucks the soul out of anyone who gets near it."

That also sums up what's constantly at stake in Jacksonville as the city's Operation Blight project keeps evolving from simply focusing on trash-covered lots, tall weeds and boarded-up homes to also tackling illegal car washes, drug havens and high-loitering areas.

All of these elements of blight threaten to sap our community's soul if they aren't confronted with steady intensity and consistency.

So it's encouraging that the Operation Blight initiative continues to make strides in numerous areas and that the ad-hoc committee overseeing the campaign - led by Councilwoman Denise Lee - hasn't been afraid to add more tasks.

"We are going to clean up Jacksonville," Lee said during a recent panel meeting.

"And (it will be done) in a positive way."

That approach has led to new projects.

ADDRESSING ILLEGAL CAR WASHES

Makeshift, improvised car wash spots are as numerous across Jacksonville as folks with bad tattoos.

But while the ugly ink only affects those wearing it, the unregulated car washes can disrupt the quality of life for an entire neighborhood.

Many of the car washes merely consist of a few guys with buckets and hand cloths, cleaning chemicals and water hoses.

But they frequently lack proper drainage areas for water and chemical runoff. That can create environmental issues for the neighborhoods near the dubious car washes.

And many unregulated car washes are just glorified fronts for drug-dealing enterprises. They're nothing more than sham businesses where the "washers" are actually drug peddlers waiting for customers to drive up.

"There's nothing inherently evil about washing cars," said Councilman Bill Bishop, a blight committee member.

"But if (unregulated car washes) are magnets for illegal activity, we have to address it."

The committee and city are currently working on ways to revise current city codes to better regulate how and where car washes operate in neighborhoods.

"We've been working under an antiquated system," Lee said.

Making the codes tighter and more relevant would be real progress in heading off a growing problem that, unchecked, adds to the soul-sucking nature of neighborhood blight. …

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