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New Port Richey laments lack of progress on Walden Pond Mobile Home Park

New Port Richey code enforcement officer Liz Nichols posts a property as “uninhabitable” in August on one of many decaying mobile homes in Walden Pond Mobile Home Park in the city.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

New Port Richey code enforcement officer Liz Nichols posts a property as “uninhabitable” in August on one of many decaying mobile homes in Walden Pond Mobile Home Park in the city.

NEW PORT RICHEY — City Council members blasted a Tampa attorney on Tuesday evening for not coming through on promises that his client would begin cleaning up and securing a mobile home park that officials have deemed a health risk.

At a meeting last week, City Council members approved a resolution finding the Walden Pond Mobile Home Park, off U.S. 19 on Oelsner Street, posed a threat to public health. That finding gives the city the authority to raze 52 condemned mobile homes and bill the owner, Walden Pond LLC.

Walden Pond attorney Bryan Sykes of Tampa urged the council last week to let his client conduct the demolition and cleanup himself. Sykes pledged on-site security would be established, and he agreed to enter into a settlement with the city establishing a timeline for clearing out the crumbling structures and other debris.

The plan was to have an agreement in place last Friday and for work to begin this week. But New Port Richey Development Director Lisa Fierce told the council on Tuesday that nothing had been done in the park, drawing the ire of board members.

Council member Judy DeBella Thomas said Sykes had assured that security would at least be in place. As tenants cleared out of the deteriorating park, squatters and looters moved in — requiring daily visits over the past few months from police and code enforcement.

The owner's lack of action is especially a concern, DeBella Thomas said, because Walden Pond owes the city a $25,000 water bill.

"He's not an honorable man," she said of Sykes.

Mayor Bob Consalvo said the standstill at Walden Pond showed none of the "good faith" reached between the sides last week. Sykes did not attend Tuesday's meeting and did not return a phone call for comment.

The city could proceed with razing the park itself, but upfront costs were a concern for the council. Public Works Director Sherman Applegate estimated the effort could cost between $100,000 and $150,000.

If the city demolishes the park, officials would place a lien on the property to recover the costs. But actually recovering that money could be an issue, City Attorney Mike Davis said.

"I don't know if you can collect the lien, but you can certainly try," he said.

Because of the cost, council member Bill Phillips said the city should give Walden Pond more time to respond. But he called the park an "eyesore" that is putting people at risk. "I thought we were more than fair and cordial," Phillips said of the council's prior encounter with Sykes.

The council agreed to give Walden Pond until this Friday to enter into the settlement agreement. And the council agreed that by its meeting next Tuesday, Walden Pond needed to have security and a Dumpster on site, as well as begin asbestos testing of the condemned mobile homes, the first step toward demolition.

The council also considered crafting its own demolition ordinance like the one being used by Pasco County government and the cities of Port Richey and Zephyrhills to tear down abandoned, blighted buildings.

Consalvo said the council should consider such a measure to give the city more leverage to deal with deteriorating, unsafe structures. Applegate said he planned to have an ordinance prepared for a first reading at the council's Nov. 7 meeting.

Port Richey recently used its ordinance to condemn the Port Richey Mobile Home Park at U.S. 19 and Grand Boulevard, which also fell into disrepair. Prior to beginning demolition, the property was sold at foreclosure auction and Fifth Third Bank took over the site-clearing effort. Contractors began razing the park last month.

New Port Richey laments lack of progress on Walden Pond Mobile Home Park 10/10/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 7:45pm]
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