For the first time Pasco County will enforce minimum standards for the upkeep of commercial buildings.
But owners who may need to repair their buildings will have until May 1 to get their property up to code.
Other provisions to cite and fine owners of “slum” buildings take effect immediately.
Pasco County commissioners on Oct. 20 unanimously approved an ordinance that mirrors one already in use to monitor and enforce standards for residential structures and properties.
The commercial ordinance, proposed by Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore, drew objections from several Land O’ Lakes business owners who said the new regulations would be unfair, and were an example of excessive government.
But during a public hearing, most speakers praised the effort to clean up commercial blight along the county’s major corridors including U.S. 19, U.S. 301 and U. S. 41.
“You’d think that people would clean up their own yards. The truth is they don’t,” said Greg Armstrong, representing of the West Pasco Board of Realtors. “Unfortunately everyone doesn’t do the right thing. Sometimes we have to prod them along. We have to remind people that we are all in this together.”
Appearance really does matter when encouraging economic development, said Hope Allen, executive director of the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce.
“We also have these buildings in Wesley Chapel,” she said. “We are very much in support of this ordinance.”
Stew Gibbons, the incoming president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association, also backed the ordinance.
Moore met with residents on two occasions in the past two months to explain his reasons for pursuing the ordinance. The first time, he met with about 50 Land O’ Lakes business owners who strongly opposed the ordinance.
He found a friendlier crowd at a town hall meeting in September.
Moore said he listened to the criticisms, and requested county staff members to tweak the ordinance. For instance, owners won’t have to worry about code enforcement inspectors defining buildings that had too much peeling paint.
“It’s very hard to measure that so we took it off,” he said.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco supported the ordinance as a tool to raze abandoned buildings that are havens for criminal activities.
Nearly 600 service calls have been answered so far this year around the intersection of U.S. 19 and State Road 52 where there is an empty retail store, fast-food restaurant and a boarded up bank building. And, the Sheriff’s Office has responded to more than 200 calls from an area near U.S. 19 and Alternate U.S. 19, near a closed medical clinic, according to the law enforcement agency’s data.
But not everybody agrees with tougher restrictions.
Greg Conaty told commissioners he worries that the county doesn’t have the manpower to take on new regulations.
“I’m worried about the selective enforcement of it,” said Conaty, whose family owns Land O’ Lakes Recycling on U.S. 41, south of Ehren Cutoff. He said his business has been the focus of code enforcement in past disputes with another nearby business.
“I’m not sure we need more rules if we can’t enforce rules we already have on the books,” Conaty said. “I believe something should be done but it should be fair and across the board for everyone.”
Elizabeth Villanova, a 10-year Pasco County resident, was among a group of Land O’ Lakes business owners and residents who lobbied Moore for help in taking on commercial blight. She created a Facebook page for “Land O’ Lakes Beautification Efforts”, a grassroots campaign that has garnered about 570 signatures on a petition to clean up U.S. 41.
Property values can drop because of blighted buildings, she said.
“It’s been depressing to watch the complete degradation of (U.S.) 41 specifically. We desperately want this enforced on U.S. 41.”
Published October 28, 2015