House grows beautiful
PORT RICHEY - A few months ago, it would have been hard to imagine anyone wanting to live in the former marijuana grow house on Lake Chrise Lane. The family room, master bedroom and main bathroom had been gutted and converted into makeshift growing rooms with foil-covered walls. Some of the structure's walls had been knocked down. When narcotics officers raided the house in February 2008 they seized 53 plants worth about $1,000 each. Today, there's no trace of the criminal past.Instead, there is a tasteful master bedroom with a new walk-in closet. The bathrooms have been rebuilt with new fixtures and the kitchen has all new cabinets, counters and appliances. Pasco County used federal funds to buy the house, and the nonprofit Tampa Bay Community Development Corp. partnered with the county to renovate the house and put it back on the market. From its new roof to its 16-by-16 inch tile floors, the house has been completely rebuilt. The pool has been resurfaced, the windows have been replaced and the lanai rescreened. Landscapers have even cut down trees, exposing the lakefront view. "We spent $50,000 on this rehab," CDC director Gregg Schwartz said. In a few weeks, the house will be listed for sale at $109,900. "What a deal!," Schwartz said. "It's going to be a good buy for someone who wants to buy it." The CDC is targeting first-time homebuyers, who also would be eligible for an $8,000 tax credit if they purchase the house before April 15. "This won't last long," Schwartz said. "It'll go quick." The development group is working with Pasco County to renovate and sell the house at the corner of Fox Hollow Drive and Lake Chrise Lane. Pasco received $19.5 million in the first round of grants from the Neighborhood Stabilization Act and was just awarded another $27 million grant from the program. The funds can only be used to buy foreclosed properties, and Pasco County has either bought or contracted to buy 185 properties. So far, the program has sold 35 homes. Another 40 are under repair with 40 more on the market. The profit from home sales goes back into the county program to be used on other houses. The program not only stabilizes Pasco neighborhoods, it has been a boon to struggling construction workers. Nearly a dozen companies competed for the $50,000 contract for the Lake Chrise house. Contractor Dean Benak said the profit margins are pretty slim. "With what times are, you do what you have to do," he said. "These projects keep everybody from collecting unemployment, so in that sense, it's a great stimulus."
Reporter Laura Kinsler can be reached at (813) 259-8109.