NEW PORT RICHEY – The slum has a new owner.
West Pasco Habitat for Humanity has purchased 17 lots on Leisure Lane and Van Doren Avenue in a run-down neighborhood that has become the focus of a more than year-long struggle to contain crime and clean-up blight.
The agency also wants to purchase an additional 13 lots from another owner as part of a short-term goal to acquire 40 lots. The goal, over the next five years, is to begin turning the mobile-home district into a single-family neighborhood of affordable houses.
It is the first time West Pasco Habitat for Humanity has attempted a neighborhood-wide redevelopment, said executive director Johannes Appelgrijn.
"We really need to rebrand the whole neighborhood," he said. "We want to add some walkways to break-up the dead-end streets and add a little bit of open space, but not so much that it attracts vagrants.
"We really want to change the neighborhood from a run-down mobile home neighborhood to an affordable, nice neighborhood for families.''
The first step was closing on 17 lots, some containing dilapidated mobile homes more than six decades old, for a total of $200,000. The properties formerly were owned by Salvatore Poliandro, who was no stranger to Pasco County Code Enforcement officials.
In September, commissioners ordered Poliandro to demolish two of his Leisure Lane properties after a county inspector said the mobile homes were uninhabitable and a fire hazard. At the time, Poliandro suggested the county buy him out.
The county didn't, but West Pasco Habitat for Humanity did, as part of its $2 million redevelopment plan for the area known on property records as Town & Country Villas. Demolition of the first mobile home is scheduled for Feb. 3. The agency plans a public awareness event in April and a fundraiser in June. The plan already is being greeted with enthusiasm.
"I think it's a tremendous thing,'' said New Port Richey Mayor Rob Marlowe. "I would like nothing better than to see that area zoned single-family and annexed into the city and have city deal with those problems there instead of the county.''
Leisure Lane and Van Doren Avenue gained notoriety because of their location between the upscale Gulf Harbors waterfront neighborhood in the county and the Southgate shopping district in the city of New Port Richey. The vacant lots in the neighborhood attract homeless people while authorities say drug use and street-walking prostitutes are common. In October, a woman died in a house fire at 5540 Leisure Lane.
Activity on the two streets also emerged as an issue in Marlowe's re-election effort in 2017 when he advocated a municipal annexation so city police and code enforcement officers would have jurisdiction over what is now a Pasco County neighborhood.
The county demolished two homes on Van Doren Avenue and one on Leisure Lane beginning in 2014, and compiled condemnation files on seven other properties there, according to data compiled by the county last year. Over a two-year period ending in March 2017, addresses on the two streets generated 201 complaints to the county's code enforcement, animal control and building departments.
"Let's face it. It's an eyesore for the county and for the city,'' said Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano, a member of Habitat's board of directors. "Just knowing the opportunity is there is exciting and we can look at what can be done.''
The opportunity, said Appelgrijn, includes the neighborhood's ideal location near shopping and transit service. Eventually, the plan calls for 120 single-family homes there. Appelgrijn said Habitat for Humanity plans to earmark some of the homes exclusively for military veterans.
Reach C.T. Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813)435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2