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Port Richey explores ordinance to demolish blighted buildings

PORT RICHEY — Officials are moving forward with a demolition ordinance that would allow the city to raze dilapidated buildings that endanger the community and drag down property values.

The Port Richey City Council gave initial approval Tuesday night to the measure, which returns for a final vote March 27. The proposed ordinance outlines a process for the city to demolish a "slum or blighted structure." It would also give the city the authority to secure abandoned structures that are not beyond repair.

"I think this is a good thing and I will be glad to see it added to our code," Vice Mayor Bill Colombo said.

The measure is similar to one recently approved in Zephyrhills. Under the ordinance, a licensed building inspector working under the supervision of the city's building official could determine if a building meets criteria for demolition. Such structures must be in a condition that can "impair or arrest the sound growth of the city or are a menace to the public health, safety, morals or welfare," the ordinance states.

Other criteria include "any combination of factors which contribute to ill health, transmission of disease, juvenile delinquency or crime," according to the ordinance.

If the city deems a structure should be demolished, a notice would be posted on the building stating the owner has 60 days to demolish it or the city will do so at the cost of the owner. Written notice must also be sent to the owner.

The ordinance allows property owners to appeal the ruling within 30 days, providing any proof that the structure can be repaired. Filing the appeal would cost $400.

If the city proceeds with the demolition, Port Richey would bill the owner for the cost of clearing the property. If the bill goes unpaid within 30 days, the city would place a lien on the property.

The ordinance also would allow the city to secure vacant structures that do not meet criteria for demolition. Officials could board up windows and doors or place locks on them. Costs for securing structures also would be issued to the property owner, with a lien placed for nonpayment.

The council expressed support for the measure, although council member Terry Rowe questioned the inclusion of the word "morals" among the criteria for the demolition of a structure.

"It just hit me kind of strange when I read it," he said.

"We are not efforting to legislate morality here are we?" Mayor Richard Rober asked city attorney Joseph Poblick.

Poblick said that was not the intent and said he would investigate the legal ramifications of including "morals" in the ordinance before the final vote.

After the meeting, City Manager Tom O'Neill said the city is trying to provide more tools to combat blight and support code enforcement. He noted the city recently entered into an agreement with Pasco court officials to begin bringing Port Richey code enforcement citations in front of a county judge. So far, the city has not had to do that, O'Neill said.

But with only one police officer working part-time on code enforcement issues in the city, O'Neill said he may seek to add one or two code enforcement officers in next year's budget.

"I think it's essential to keeping property values high as well as the overall condition of the city," the city manager said, referring to code enforcement efforts as a whole.

Council member Steve O'Neill said he would like to discuss ways in the coming weeks to boost code enforcement efforts immediately.

"I think we need to beef up that conversation," he said.

Port Richey explores ordinance to demolish blighted buildings 03/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 8:36pm]
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