The City of Zephyrhills is considering a facelift to its residential lien forgiveness incentive program — to also include commercial properties.
Zephyrhills Community Redevelopment Agency director Gail Hamilton outlined the case for an enhanced program, as part of a continued effort to increase property values in and around the downtown area.
The Zephyrhills Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) board proceeded to direct staff to draft such a policy for further review at its Feb. 24 meeting. The Zephyrhills City Council also makes up the CRA Board.
Zephyrhills instituted a residential lien forgiveness program in May 2017, to promote investment and improvements to blighted properties and vacant lots, and increase home ownership within its city limits.
Under the program, applicants have one year to make agreed upon improvements ($2,500 minimum) to the property.
Once the work is completed by a licensed general contractor, the city waives various mowing and code enforcement liens previously placed on the property.
Similar procedures and policies would apply to a commercial lien forgiveness program, with each property taken on a case-by-case basis, Hamilton said.
For example, the owner of the property cannot be the one that incurred the liens in the first place — it has to be a new owner that purchased a property with existing outstanding liens.
The CRA director noted interest has picked up lately from applicants looking to redevelop commercial properties burdened with thousands of dollars of unpaid fines.
Those liens have made those properties overpriced and unattractive to potential buyers, she said.
“Having a commercial property sitting empty does not help anyone,” Hamilton told board members.
Forgiving the liens, she said, “is one more tool in my toolbox to get something done.”
Board members indicated they want to come up with a “unified program” and hammer out some of the finer details, such as how to handle title insurance and loan policies as it relates to businesses.
Additionally, Jodi Wilkeson, president of the CRA board and a member of the city council, pondered how such a commercial lien forgiveness policy might lead to unintended consequences.
She wondered if it could lead to a national credit investor to come into town and buy up several properties to lease out to others “then we have a series of people coming in and out, in and out, in and out.”
Sidewalks needed in Zephyrhills
Hamilton also presented a first look of the Zephyrhills CRA’s sidewalk master plan, being completed by consulting firm Kimley-Horn to provide details on the existing state of sidewalks in the CRA district, and set priorities for the construction of new sidewalks and trails.
Within the 602-acre district, the city has sidewalks at Hercules Park, Woodland Elementary School, Stewart Middle School, West Zephyrhills Elementary School, the Zephyrhills City Hall/Library Complex and Zephyr Park.
However, an analysis shows a general lack of connectivity and missing sidewalk segments, that otherwise would help people access and experience Zephyrhills’s downtown, and improve quality of life for residents and visitors.
Hamilton described the state of the city’s sidewalk system this way: “It’s not very good.”
“At this point, we just need sidewalks,” Hamilton told board members. “We need to increase the walkability and accessibility within the CRA district.”
She said when people are surveyed about great towns to visit, they often mention the ease of getting around on foot, as well as parks and downtown areas.
“We want Zephyrhills to have that same experience,” Hamilton said.
The CRA director said “high priority” is being placed on building more sidewalks (at least 6-feet wide) at nearby schools and parks “because we want kids and families to be able to get back and forth.”
A GIS analysis identified 21 “high priority” locations where missing sidewalk segments are needed, with another 50 areas labeled either “medium priority” or “low priority” for sidewalks.
Hamilton noted there are some potential conflicts — parking lots, utilities, drainage facilities —that prevent installing sidewalks on both sides of the street at some locations.
One solution is to install well-marked crosswalks from a particular destination to a sidewalk on the other side of the street, she said.
A final master plan document will include cost estimates for sidewalks based on the priority rankings.
Possible funding sources include Safe Routes to School Program, Local Agency Program, Recreational Trails Program and Community Development Block Grant.
The city also could establish a sidewalk mitigation fund and/or utilize public works funds.
Said Hamilton, “We’re not going to be able to do it all at one time; we’ll just do it as we can.”
Founder’s Day Parade set
Organizers of the 110th Zephyrhills Founder’s Day Parade & Heritage Festival are hoping for a greater turnout from youth at this year’s event.
Main Street Zephyrhills coordinator Anna Stutzriem told CRA board members that more kid-friendly activities have been incorporated this year to an event that “has historically been an older demographic.”
The Kid’s Zone will include sidewalk chalk creations, bounce houses and craft workshop demonstrations hosted by Home Depot.
This year’s Founder’s Day Parade theme is, “The Roaring 20s: Glitz, Glam & Tin Cans.”
Th event will have 70 vendors and somewhere between 65 to 70 parade entries, Stutzriem said.
The event is set for March 7 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Main Street Zephyrhills, 38537 Fifth Ave., Zephyrhills.
For information, call (813) 780-1414, or visit MainStreetZephyrhills.org.
Published March 4, 2020