Saturday, July 21, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco targets repeat offenders with new code enforcement tactic

HOLIDAY — The out-of-date and overpriced gasoline cost on the sign outside — $2.69 for a gallon of regular — is the first indication that business isn't booming.

Inside, some of the shelves are still stocked. But outside, a tray of five dirty plastic milk bottles sits on a window sill. There is an ashtray on the ground in front of the door that is more board than glass. A for-sale sign near the road greets passersby, as do piles of abandoned living room furniture scattered along the west side of the property. Nine sofas and recliners, two television sets, assorted cushions and a mattress have turned the shuttered store from Pure Gas to pure garbage.

"I'm sure nobody in that community who drives by there is happy,'' said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.

The Pure Gas store is on Mile Stretch Road in Holiday, and it has emerged as a poster child for a new county code enforcement crackdown. The effort will trigger court injunctions and nuisance lawsuits from the county more quickly than the standard practice of issuing citations and filing administrative complaints to the Pasco County Construction Enforcement Board to enforce its codes.

"While these systems generally are effective, some violations (or violators) are more likely to respond from different approaches such as: injunctions, revocation of certificates of occupancy, daily fines, demolition of structures, (and) suites to abate nuisances,'' senior assistant county attorney Kristi Sims told commissioners in an April 17 memo.

The county calls it "high-return enforcement.'' Basically, it begins legal proceedings more quickly against repeat offenders to stem the spread of blight.

"It's a matter of looking at the bigger picture and see where we can have more lasting results,'' Marc Bellas, director of the county's performance development team, told county commissioners.

For instance, the county could prosecute the owner of multiple substandard rental units rather than using the current practice of handling each property individually, Bellas said.

Unsafe housing conditions likely will shoot to the top of the priority list, but places like Pure Gas won't escape attention either because vacant commercial property also will be a focus.

There is a lot stuff drawing complaints. Code compliance officers responded to more than 15,000 complaints last year and issued citations 439 times. Courtesy warnings and then written warnings are more typical. The complaints can run the gamut from an unkempt lawn or someone parking their boat in their driveway for too long to a business with an illegal sign or the extreme cases like vacant property turning into a makeshift garbage dump.

Starkey wanted county crews to clean up the Pure Gas site, but asking the public to tend to private property isn't the aim of the high-return enforcement.

"I'm really frustrated we can't do anything about the pile of garbage he's collecting, and it's a magnet for more garbage,'' Starkey said.

The owner of the shuttered station is no stranger to law enforcement and the county's legal staff. Basil A. Almamluk, 54, of New Port Richey is the owner, according to arrest reports, though his last name also is spelled as "Alialmamluk'' on property and civil court records.

The county has filed a nuisance abatement suit against him, and, over the past three years, he has been accused of possession and sale of a controlled substance, living on the site in an RV even though it wasn't zoned for residential use, accumulation of debris, discharging polluted water, having an overgrown lot, battery, not having the required county business license and having an illegal sign.

Multiple attempts by the Tampa Bay Times to reach Almamluk were unsuccessful. A telephone number listed for him in court records was not answered and did not accept voice mail messages.

The most recent cases — accumulation of debris and the illegal, abandoned sign — came in early April after Almamluk was arrested on a warrant, accused of failing to appear in court to answer earlier complaints filed in January and March. After posting bail, Almamluk was charged with battery after he was accused of getting into a dispute with the employees of Brad's Bail Bonds, according to Sheriff's Office records. Those charges are pending.

Almamluk and co-owner Ezzaher Bouchra also a face foreclosure suit that says they defaulted on the $325,000 mortgage agreement used to buy the property in 2009.

Meanwhile, the trash pile continues to grow.

"The owner obviously has little or no regard for county ordinances concerning maintenance of his property,'' Sims told commissioners.

The typical enforcement effort of issuing a citation already occurred twice this year, "and you see what it looks like,'' said Sims. "It certainly needs more attention.''

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