NEW PORT RICHEY — The city is close to reaching a settlement with owners of the dilapidated Walden Pond Mobile Home Park to raze dozens of decaying units there, as well as cleaning up garbage and debris on the site.
City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday evening to pass an emergency resolution that would allow New Port Richey to raze 52 unoccupied mobile home units in the park, just off U.S. 19 on Oelsner Street. The building department has condemned those units as unsafe structures.
The city can either demolish the structures itself or enter into a settlement with the company that owns the park, Walden Pond LLC, to raze the units and clean up the site by a certain deadline, assistant city attorney Jim Lang told council members.
Tampa lawyer Bryan Sykes, who attended the meeting with Paul Beraquit, one of the owners of Walden Pond, asked the council to allow his clients to clean up the park. He pledged the company would have a contractor hired by the end of the week.
Sykes told the council that conditions in the park deteriorated after Tropical Storm Debby severely damaged the site and most tenants stopped paying rent. His clients sent a letter to residents saying the park would close effective July 31 — though city officials said the owners failed to give enough notice and not all residents received the letter.
That set off a scramble, with some residents vowing to stay, others moving out — and looters and vandals picking apart the newly emptied units.
"That's when the proverbial heck broke loose in the park," Sykes told the council.
The council came to a unanimous consensus that Walden Pond LLC should be given the chance to tear down the condemned buildings and clean up the property before the city steps in, but all urged a tight time frame to get it done.
"It's absolutely appalling," council member Judy DeBella Thomas said of the park conditions. "It looks like a combination of a Beirut bombing and a tornado went through there."
The City Council ordered Lang to draw up a settlement agreement with Walden Pond for the cleanup. Council member Bob Langford also wanted the park to repay the city for its costs in recent months to address problems at Walden Pond.
Last month the city spent thousands of dollars cleaning up a massive trash pile that accumulated in the park after the owners removed the Dumpster. The park also owes a $25,000 water bill to the city. Sykes said the huge bill is due to repeated vandalism of the park's lift station. There was also a water main breach in the park, which city crews repaired, as well as other leaks that have not been located, city public works director Sherman Applegate told the council.
The fate remains unclear for the residents in a dozen or so mobile homes in the park. Sykes said some units are held by renters whom his clients will seek to evict; while some are privately owned, which may require a lengthier legal process to eject them from the property.
Beraquit told the Times he is unsure how many people are still legally living in his park and expressed regret over the conditions there. "We want to do the right thing and move forward," he said.