OKEECHOBEE — Demolition was under way Wednesday morning of a condemned building on the Northeast 16th Avenue property commonly called “Jack’s Camp.”
Sheriff Noel Stephen said the removal of the building is the result of coordination between the sheriff’s office, code enforcement and the Okeechobee County Commission.
“We are trying to clean our neighborhoods up,” said the sheriff.
Jack’s Camp has been the site of drug sales and use “along with many other unappealing events,” for decades, the sheriff said. He said in his 34 years with the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office, at least one search warrant was executed on the property every year. “It was one of the chronic locations someone could drive up and purchase narcotics,” said the sheriff.
As the heavy equipment razed the house at 1124 N.E. 16th Ave. on Wednesday morning, Marvis Davis watched from a nearby front porch with a smile.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Mr. Davis who recently returned to Okeechobee after 20 years.
“I grew up right here. I went to the bus stop right there,” he said gesturing to the corner.
“A lot of bad stuff went on over there,” he said,
“One of my friends got killed over there,” he said indicating the building that was being demolished. “Ever since then, I hated that place.”
Mr. Davis said he left 20 years ago to join the Army, and has been back in Okeechobee for about a month. “I went to war,” he explained. When he got out of the Army, he lived in Georgia for a while, but came back because “Okeechobee is where my heart is.” He said he hopes someone will buy the lot and build something nice there.
Sheila Neal, who lives in the neighborhood, said she never felt unsafe because of the Jack’s Camp buildings. She said the neighborhood does not have any more crime than other areas of the county.
She said if the buildings were condemned because they are structurally unsafe, then they should be torn down, just as condemned houses are demolished in other parts of the county.
“Okeechobee is a small town,” she said. “I see old raggedy houses all over Okeechobee. If the county is cleaning up all over town, then it needs to be done.”
In April 2019, following a raid by the Okeechobee Narcotics Task force, the sheriff’s office put a sign on the property stating “This Drug House Closed For Business.” Earlier this week the property was back in the news with a story headlined: “Kyles charged with trafficking in heroin.”
Beth Albert with the county code enforcement office said the structure was condemned because inside of the building was structurally unsafe. She said the blue building on the same property has also been condemned, and is also going through the required legal process to be slated for demolition.
According to the Okeechobee County Property Appraiser’s website, the 1124 N.E. 16th Avenue property is owned by the estate of Ethel Jackson. The property was last sold in 1984.
The records do not give the construction date for the house, but the rectangular blue building on the same property was built in 1960, and classified as a hotel at that time. Ms. Albert said it was originally a boarding house. Okeechobee County Code Enforcement office condemned both structures as unsafe for human occupancy.
Jack’s Camp is the latest in a series of demolitions of unsafe buildings this year. At their May 23, 2019 meeting, the Okeechobee County Commissioners set aside $25,000 from the county’s budget to demolish abandoned, non-homestead homes deemed to be a nuisance to the community as well as a health and safety hazard. At that meeting, County Administrator Robbie Chartier said the county code states that if a structure is an immediate threat to health, safety and welfare, the county can demolish the structure.
The first two properties targeted for demolition by the county were on Northwest 21st Avenue and Southeast 59th Drive.
Liens will be placed on the properties to attempt to attempt to recoup the costs of the demolitions.