A proposed ordinance to tackle blight and enforce minimum standards for maintaining commercial buildings drew mostly favorable reviews at a town hall meeting.
But, some remain skeptical about what they see as more government bureaucracy.
Pasco County Commissioners are expected to vote on the proposal on Oct. 20, following a public hearing.
The issue has sparked considerable interest.
About 100 people met at the Pasco County Utilities Administration Offices in Land O’ Lakes on Sept. 30 for a town hall meeting, hosted by Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore.
Pasco County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder, Senior Assistant County Attorney Kristi Sims and Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco joined Moore at the town hall session.
Moore proposed the ordinance during discussions for the county’s fiscal 2016 budget. It is similar to one adopted by Hillsborough County and mirrors codes currently applied to residences.
The new regulations would focus on the major commercial corridors of U.S. 19, U.S. 301 and U.S. 41.
According to Moore, the lack of commercial standards is hurting property values and driving away investors who scout locations in Pasco.
“There’s a good chance they’ll turn their car around and go home,” said Moore. “It brings down surrounding property values. Tell me somebody who says it doesn’t, because they’re wrong.”
In August, Moore met with about 50 Land O’ Lakes residents and business owners. Many at that gathering characterized the ordinance as an example of government overreach.
Among the mostly friendly town hall crowd, some were still unhappy with Moore’s approach on curbing blight.
“Small businesses need a helping hand instead of being slapped around,” said Russell Adams of Russell Adams Realty Inc.
Casie Holloway of the family owned Holloway’s Farm Supply said there is no evidence that new regulations are needed. She said a code enforcement officer could show her only one report from July of blight in Land O’ Lakes, and that case was closed as unfounded.
“I understand the concerns, but if it’s not showing up in (county) logs, I question it,” she said. “The codes are already in place to make this work.”
County code currently defines a blighted structure as “extensively damaged by fire, flood, wind or other natural phenomenon.”
Demolitions can be ordered if the building poses a public safety risk. And, the county can place liens on properties to seek re-imbursement of demolition costs from property owners.
But, supporters say the proposed ordinance would provide stronger enforcement tools.
The ordinance would introduce citations and fines for failure to maintain commercial structures to public safety standards.
For example, regulations would require repairs to holes or defects to exterior walls and roofs, and keeping outside stairs safe and sturdy.
New Port Richey resident Hugh Townsend liked the idea of fines.
“When people get hit in the pocketbook, they conform,” he said.
The ordinance also would be a boost for law enforcement in pushing out squatters and drug dealers from derelict buildings, Nocco said.
If approved, the ordinance would allow a six-month grace period for property owners to bring their commercial buildings into compliance.
“This isn’t to nitpick somebody who doesn’t have a painted window,” said Kelly Miller, president of Colonial Hills Civic Association in New Port Richey. “This is the only way we are going to be able to start getting a handle on this problem.”
Published October 14, 2015