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Vacant lot, owned by residents feuding with city, draws Oldsmar's attention

James and Betty Pasco sued Oldsmar in 2004, saying the city built a road across their property. A court sided with Oldsmar.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times (2010)

James and Betty Pasco sued Oldsmar in 2004, saying the city built a road across their property. A court sided with Oldsmar.

OLDSMAR — City officials are keeping an eye on a vacant lot owned by a resident with a long-standing feud against the city.

The lot is owned by James Pasco, who owes the city about $95,000 in unpaid fines for a code violation. A former city employee, Pasco also is embroiled in an unrelated suit with Oldsmar. Earlier this year, a circuit court judge sided with the city in that case. And Pasco appealed.

The .35-acre lot he owns next to his home on Douglas Road W is slated to be sold Oct. 5 in a tax deed sale.

The city owns land north of the lot and residential property east of it on Hayes Road. Because of that, and because of the outstanding fines, City Manager Bruce Haddock asked the city attorney to perform a title search to see if Pasco's lot is worth bidding on.

Haddock is leaning toward bidding on the property, but he wants to discuss the matter with City Attorney Tom Trask before making a decision.

Various issues might complicate a purchase, including an old mortgage and a couple of court judgments involving Pasco, Trask said.

Pasco owes more than $8,500 in property taxes on the lot for 2007 through 2009, according to county records. As of Friday, the opening bid for the property, including 2010 taxes, was set at more than $9,600.

Pasco said he intends to pay the taxes before his property goes up for sale. As of Friday afternoon he hadn't done that, according to the county's tax deed office.

Relations between the Pascos and the city have been contentious for years.

Nearly seven years ago, James Pasco and his wife, Betty, filed a suit that challenges Oldsmar's right to pave over their front yard in 1984. They asked for compensation for the city taking their property.

The unlined road dead-ends about 150 feet west of their house. The edge of the street is about 12 paces from their front door.

When the road was paved, James Pasco worked for Oldsmar's street department. He didn't discover the city didn't have the right to pave on his property until around 2004, he said.

He also told the court he was threatened that he would lose his job and that he'd have to move his house if he bucked the city about the road.

In March, Circuit Court Judge John A. Schaefer said he found Pasco's testimony credible. But he sided with the city, saying that ultimately the Pascos waited far too long — two decades — to file their suit.

Some delay beyond the four-year statute of limitations may have been justified, he said. But the Pascos had the obligation well before then to verify the accuracy of the city's claims in 1984.

He also found that the 20-year delay significantly hampered the city's ability to defend itself, noting that at least one possible witness had died in that time period.

Meanwhile, Pasco said he's not giving up.

"They can't threaten me and steal my property and get away with it," said Pasco, who has racked up more than $200,000 in legal bills.

He said the city took advantage of him back then because he is black.

He didn't stand up for himself then, because, he said, "I didn't have the authority or the power or the money."

But Haddock denied Pasco's allegations.

"The city has not discriminated against the Pascos in any way," he said.

Lawyer Jay Daigneault, who represents the city in the case, said he was frustrated about similar accusations during litigation.

Pasco "and his attorney attempted to turn this into a case about race and it never was," Daigneault said. "The judge saw through that and that's to his credit."

After working in the street department, Pasco spent 12 years as a city firefighter. His tenure was riddled with demotions, suspensions and reprimands.

Pasco resigned in 1995, saying he had religious obligations. He later filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying he was forced to resign because he was black and that a pair of fire department officers wanted him out. An internal investigation found no wrongdoing. The complaint was dropped by the EEOC.

In 1999, the city sued Pasco to keep him from operating a salvage yard and automobile repair business on his property. The following year, a circuit court judge denied the city's request for an injunction, saying the city had failed to prove that Pasco was operating a business on the property.

Four years ago, the city filed a lien against Pasco's property as a result of a 2006 code enforcement case, which has a running $50 a day fine. As of last week, he owed more than $95,000.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Vacant lot, owned by residents feuding with city, draws Oldsmar's attention 09/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 24, 2011 1:18pm]
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