William Stapleton is one of the last to remain living in the wreckage that was once the Port Richey Mobile Home Park. Walking through the park dotted with mobile homes in various states of decay and destruction, one might think a hurricane or tornado had hit. Instead, Port Richey officials say, it is the park's ownership that let it fall into such disrepair that it became a health hazard for residents. City officials say conditions in the 4.92-acre park at 5501 Argon Court, near U.S. 19 and Grand Boulevard, are so deplorable that the company that owns the park, Treasure Coast Properties LLC of Southfield, Mich., has been notified that everything on the property will be razed under Port Richey's new demolition ordinance.
Unfortunately for Stapleton, that meant the loss of the home he's been living in for more than three years. Now that he has lost the $3,000 he invested in his mobile home, he has been stripping it of its metal.
"Maybe I can get $300 for it," Stapleton said as he peeled the metal away Monday morning.
"My power's still on so I'm going to be here for a few more days," he said. "They basically kicked us all to the curb with almost no time to find someplace else. I was disgusted."
In March, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that gave Port Richey the authority to demolish structures that pose an "immediate and manifest danger to life, health, or safety of the general public or occupant."
On Monday, the city used the ordinance for the first time in demolishing a 1,500-square-foot abandoned home at 5608 Bay Blvd. The city posted notices on the property and sent letters to the listed owner, William Bagley III, but received no response. After the demolition is complete, the city will file a lien on the property to recover demolition costs of more than $5,000, which came out of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency funds.
"This is the public's CRA dollars being put to good work," City Manager Tom O'Neill said at the demolition site.
The city-hired demolition company is scheduled to finish taking down the house today, according to Port Richey's Building Official William Golberg. It came as a huge relief to neighbors who said for years the house's holed roof and broken windows long swallowed by vegetation have given off a moldy stench and attracted vermin of all kinds.
Things were in such disarray inside that a beekeeper had to remove a 130-pound bees nest estimated to have held as many as 30,000 bees, said Louis Smith, whose company conducted the demolition.
"I'm very happy this is finally happening," said neighbor Tom Mariani. "It's not only been an eyesore, but it's a health issue."
The city's plan to demolish the Port Richey Mobile Home Park has not been met with the same joy. Owner Treasure Coast has appealed the demolition order to the City Council, which is expected to consider the matter at its meeting Tuesday. Should the appeal be denied, demolition is scheduled for Aug. 31.
Treasure Coast managing member Ron Asmar could not be reached for comment, but in a letter he sent to the city announcing his appeal, he said the city had failed to provide him details on violations or what the company needed to do to correct them, and he argued the ordinance allotted little time for him to address any issues on the property.
Asmar referenced a letter his company received from the city on May 24 that the park had been noticed for demolition and also ordered to be cleared within 60 days.
"Even your letter makes general allegations without any detail. Due to this lack of specific information, we are denied any meaningful ability to address the allegations you make to support your actions," Asmar wrote.
Golberg said the specifics were clear when city inspectors first went to the site May 1: The living conditions were terrible. He said inspectors had to immediately cut power to several units in the park, which dates to the 1950s. They found fecal matter and leaked sewage on the site with children's toys in it. Since then things have gotten worse, as most of the mobile homes are stripped down to their shells, or altogether collapsed.
"We met with the owner at the park last week. I don't think he even knew how bad it's gotten. He appeared kind of shell-shocked," Golberg said.
It's not the first time residents in the park feared losing their homes. In 2008, the property — then appraised at $2 million for tax purposes — was under consideration for a possible hotel, restaurant and retail project. But those plans never came to fruition.
Whatever happens with the appeal, it's still too late for Stapleton and other residents of the park, where 76 addresses were notified of the demolition order. Stapleton said he is one of the lucky ones to have somewhere to go, as he is going to move in with his daughter in Tennessee.
"People were kicked out of here with no place to go," he said. "It's terrible because we were like a family in here."