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County okays rules to control commercial blight

Published Oct. 21, 2015

NEW PORT RICHEY — Elizabeth Villanova gets dejected on her daily treks to and from her children's schools in Land O'Lakes.

"It's been depressing to watch the complete degradation of U.S. 41 specifically,'' she told Pasco County commissioners Tuesday.

Villanova started a Facebook page and an online petition seeking stepped-up code enforcement and other beautification efforts in central Pasco. Her work came to fruition this week when the commission unanimously approved an ordinance to stem commercial blight.

The ordinance, proposed by Commissioner Mike Moore, is modeled after similar rules in Hillsborough County requiring upkeep of commercial properties. Violators face citations and eventual fines if they fail to maintain their property.

The plan drew support from Sheriff Chris Nocco, the West Pasco Board of Realtors, chambers of commerce, the Tampa Bay Builders Association and civic association leaders.

"You'd like to think people would clean up their own yard,'' said Realtor Greg Armstrong. "Unfortunately, they don't.''

"Appearances really do matter in economic development,'' said Hope Allen, president and CEO of the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce.

One of the reasons for the ordinance is the county's past focus on residential properties, for which it already had minimum standards. It rarely demolishes condemned commercial structures because it concentrates on making sure people are not living in substandard housing. Over the past year, the county demolished 37 houses and holds liens worth more than $1 million on previously demolished residential units. The commercial ordinance is intended to encourage property owners to better maintain their buildings or knock them down if the structures are vacant and in disrepair.

Since Moore announced his planned ordinance, the owners of two high-profile eyesores in Land O'Lakes have demolished or are in the process of demolishing their buildings along U.S. 41.

The new rules give owners up to six months to come into compliance.