PORT RICHEY — The city is one step closer to demolishing a dilapidated mobile home park on U.S. 19 after learning that an owner who has been unresponsive to pleas to clean up the site is out of the picture.
At a City Council meeting Tuesday, City Attorney Joseph Poblick said Port Richey Mobile Home Park, at U.S. 19 and Grand Boulevard, was purchased at an Aug. 21 foreclosure auction by Fifth Third Bank.
City Manager Tom O'Neill on Wednesday said he knew there had been foreclosure proceedings on the park but the auction was a surprise — a pleasant one.
"We knew something was going on,'' he told the Times, "but we had no idea what the outcome would be."
O'Neill complained to the council that the park's former owner, Ron Asmar of Treasure Coast Properties, had ignored repeated requests to clean up the site. During that time, looters have turned abandoned mobile homes on the property into dangerous collapsing shells and piled up trash and debris.
After learning of the ownership change, the City Council unanimously voted to deny an appeal by Asmar contesting the city's May 24 demolition order.
Council member Terry Rowe blasted the condition of the property and noted fears raised by residents in recent days over the park as then Tropical Storm Isaac threatened the Tampa Bay area.
"It's a nuisance, it's a danger, it's an embarrassment to the city to have that thing sitting there," Rowe said.
Asmar's attorney, Steven Moore, attended the meeting and said his client had rights to his appeal as he was still owner when the city issued its demolition order.
Moore maintained the city did not properly outline specific violations in its demolition order, as mandated in the ordinance. City Attorney Poblick disagreed.
"Ideally, I would have liked to have seen a little bit more detail on the notice issue, but it's my position that it was sufficient," Poblick said.
On Aug. 14, another attorney for Asmar, James Helinger, sent a letter to the city threatening a lawsuit claiming Port Richey building officials had prematurely posted demolition notices in the park, causing tenants to stop paying rent and tear the place apart.
"The city is still liable for those damages," Moore said after Tuesday's hearing.
Poblick disagreed, telling the Times a letter Asmar sent to all of his tenants on June 19 ordering everyone to leave the park set off the chaos.
"The owner is the guy who sent out the letter that caused all this. If they sue, they sue. Right now it's essential that the city gets the property cleaned up," Poblick said.
Meanwhile, O'Neill said he will ask for a special City Council meeting next week to present quotes from several companies to do the demolition, the lowest being $55,000. The project will not undergo the normal bidding process — which can take weeks — due to the park's terrible condition, O'Neill said.
"We view this as a threat to the public's health,'' he said. "We are in an emergency situation to get it secured and cleaned up."
Once the council approves a quote to complete the project — which will be paid using Community Redevelopment Agency money — staging for the demolition is expected to take less than two weeks, and less than 30 days to complete, O'Neill said.
The city, however, was in talks with Fifth Third officials Wednesday about the bank possibly handling the demolition. Fifth Third spokesperson Melanie Chakor declined comment saying the bank does not discuss properties involving foreclosure.
But O'Neill said bank officials have been understanding of the city's need to clean up the site immediately.
"The bank has expressed interest in working with us and possibly doing it on its own,'' he said. "Clearly it's their property so that would be good news to us. But we also need something done as soon as possible."
If the city conducts the demolition, a lien would likely be placed on the property to recover the costs, which could be paid when Fifth Third sold the property, according to Poblick.