Ten years of living next to a mess in Valrico, county still powe - WFLA News Channel 8

Ten years of living next to a mess in Valrico, county still powerless

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Take a ride down Main Street in Valrico and you might not notice the mess behind the overgrown grass, trees, and weeds.

Mounds of garbage simmer in the sun; trash, junk and debris litter the lot at 1602 Main Street, and temporary storage containers are going nowhere.

All of this violates Hillsborough County code restrictions.

Neighbor Ed Tewmey started calling code enforcement about problems with the property back in 2004.

"It galls me to sit here and look at the trash over there," Tewmey fumed. "I want to get it cleaned up, I just don't like living like this.”

County property records show the city block sized parcel is owned by Richard and Glenda Smith. Code enforcement started issuing violation notices to the Smiths for accumulated trash and debris back in 2003.

Since then, code enforcement manager Jim Blinck says the county has fined the Smiths $150 a day.

"There is a huge amount of accumulation and overgrowth and that can be resolved, that should be resolved, that shouldn't be an issue out there," Blinck said.

A bad situation turned worse in 2009 when the county discovered the Smiths placed temporary storage units on the property. It also found they were living in a recreational vehicle at 1602 Main Street - more code violations.

"This case is single family zoning and you're not permitted to set up housekeeping in an RV," Blinck said.

But the Smiths have, and since 2009 the county has fined the elderly couple another $200 a day for those violations.

Richard Smith said his house was damaged in a hurricane and he was forced to tear it down. He claims he can't keep up the property and says he has money and health problems.

"We're not trying to punish the property owner, we're just trying to motivate the property owners to comply with our ordinances," Blinck stated.

That sort of motivation doesn't seem to be working. The fines are growing by $350 a day and total more than $981,000.

"The system isn't perfect and we work within the tools that we have to try to get folks into compliance," Hillsborough County Attorney Chip Fletcher said.

But Fletcher concedes those tools are limited.

Florida law will not allow the county to foreclose on a property for code violations if the property owner claims it is his homestead, or primary residence.

"When it is a homesteaded property like this is, it's a residence. We can't go in and foreclose like we might on an abandoned commercial property or other properties throughout the county," Fletcher said.

Another option is a lawsuit, but Fletcher points out going after people with limited means, provides little leverage.

After 11 years of code enforcement violations, complaints from neighbors and inaction by the county, Fletcher says calls have gone out to community groups to see if they might be able to lend a hand cleaning up 1602 Main Street.

"We've been working with the property owner to get him in compliance. We have to step it up and perhaps work a little harder to do that," Fletcher said.

That approach is wearing thin on Tewmey.

"If that sat across the street from a commissioner's house, I wonder if it would take 11 years to take care of it," Tewmey said.

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