TAMPA — Tampa City Council partly cleared the way this morning for the development of the Residences at the Riverwalk, a 360-unit apartment tower planned downtown for the doorstep of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. Council members gave final approval to the rezoning of an acre of city-owned land overlapping the junction of Cass and Tyler streets to allow for the towering structure and final approval for vacating Cass and Tyler in the vicinity of the tower site. Both votes were 5-1, with Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin dissenting. Councilwoman Mary Mulhern was absent. Council members must still take up the city’s agreement with developers Intown/Framework Group LLC to rework the streets.
The developers have promised to delay street work until next year to avoid interfering with the Straz Center’s Broadway season and role in next year’s International Indian Film Academy. Both events will be finished by mid-June. Meantime, an audit of Tampa’s Neighborhood Empowerment division has found the agency failed to collect more than $450,000 in registration fees for foreclosed properties this year. The report prompted a dressing down of division director Jake Slater during this morning cuncil meeting. Slater’s division oversees the city’s foreclosure registry as part of its code enforcement work. “What could we accomplish with an additional half a million dollars?” Councilwoman Lisa Montelione asked Slater. “You’re asking for more money when nearly half a million dollars is going uncollected.” Mayor Bob Buckhorn has recommended adding $350,000 to the city’s 2014 code enforcement budget after a summer that has cast a light on the city’s troubles getting property owners to keep their homes and rental units up to city standards. The audit found the city collected more than $411,000 this year in annual fees levied to register foreclosed buildings. But auditors found 2,034 cases where no money had been collected. The registry covers vacant foreclosed properties. “It seems we don’t have any collection efforts,” Montelione said. Auditors reported the city’s attempts to collect on unpaid registry fees didn’t go beyond sending out delinquency notices. Montelione said that wasn’t enough. “I know if I fall delinquent two days on my credit-card bill, I hear from the bank really fast,” she said. Assistant City Attorney Ernie Mueller, who handles code cases, disputed the audit’s findings. Some of the money the audit found due hasn’t been collected because the properties are no longer part of the registry for some reason. Because owners don’t always remove their properties from the registry, it’s hard to know exactly how much money is going uncollected, he said. “They’re supposed to de-register,” Mueller said. Montelione said it’s not the city’s job to track which properties are and aren’t on the registry. “The responsibility is on the people doing the foreclosing,” she said. Councilman Frank Reddick urged Slater to explore hiring a collection agency to pursue those unpaid fees. Slater said the city has tried that through other departments with limited success. That didn’t satisfy council members. They asked Slater to return Sept. 26 with a plan for collecting the missing money. “It makes no sense for us to continue to do things if we cannot collect on what we’re owed,” said Councilman Mike Suarez. “We’re not going to get 100 percent of our money back, but we should do better than we are now.” firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7871 Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO