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Sunday, Nov 18, 2018
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Crackdown on blight may mean jail time for Pasco owners

— Pasco commissioners are expected to vote in September on a new ordinance that could allow jailing property owners for refusing to repair or demolish their blighted commercial buildings.

The proposed ordinance would extend property maintenance standards already in place for housing to commercial and industrial buildings.

Senior Assistant County Attorney Kristi Sims worked closely with Commissioners Mike Moore and Kathryn Starkey to come up with a list of policies meant to eliminate eyesores on the county’s main roads.

The rules require property owners to keep their buildings painted, their doors and windows secure and their grass mowed. Signs and awnings must be maintained, too. Broken windows and doors may be boarded up with plywood for no more than 30 days — after that the owner would be required to repair the opening.

“This isn’t a magic bullet,” she said. “It’s a bullet, but it won’t hit the target every time.”

The county already requires owners of condemned buildings to demolish them within 60 days. The owner of one such building on U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes is currently demolishing his two-story structure after it was condemned in June.

“The burden is that if they don’t demolish, and you want to demolish, you have to pay for it,” Sims told the commissioners. Sheriff’s Lt. Tait Sanborn said the department endorses the new policy. “We have some pretty strong concerns about these unsecured properties,” he said. Strategic Policy Administrator Richard Gehring said he has already advised the owners of the long-vacant Holiday Square shopping center on U.S. 19 about the proposed policy.

Sheriff’s Lt. Tait Sanborn said the department endorses the new policy. “We have some pretty strong concerns about these unsecured properties,” he said. “As you come north out of a nice area of Tarpon Springs, your first impression of Pasco County is an area that used to be a thriving shopping center.”

The former strip mall, which is now little more than a shell, has earned a dubious nickname among Pasco County law enforcement. They call it “Fallujah.”

Sims said if the owner refuses to demolish the structure within 60 days, the county could take him or her to court. “If the judge approves an order to demolish, I will ask for an order requiring them to take it down,” she said. “If they don’t, and they have the resources — like in case of commercial investment property — the penalty for that is jail time.”

Although the ordinance would apply countywide, Sims said commissioners could instruct code enforcement officers to concentrate on major roadways such as U.S. 19, U.S. 301 and U.S. 41.

“We could also fine the property owner up to $500 a day,” Sims said.

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Twitter: @LKinslerTBO

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