Commissioners want action on Valrico property mess - WFLA News Channel 8

Commissioners want action on Valrico property mess

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HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

A decade of code violations and nearly one million dollars in code violation fines on a Valrico property went unnoticed at the highest levels of Hillsborough County, until a couple of phone calls and one story by 8 On Your Side earlier this week revealed the mess at 1602 Main Street.

Now commissioners want answers and action.

"I was certainly not aware that we had a case that was this extreme," Commissioner Al Higginbotham said.

The Valrico property has piled up fines for code violations since 2003.

Hillsborough County cited the owners Glenda and Richard Smith repeatedly for accumulation of junk, trash and debris. And for overgrown conditions, placing temporary storage units on the property as well as living in an RV.

"They just keep building the mess up all the time," neighbor Ed Tewmey complained.

Tewmey first reported problems to code enforcement about the Smith's property in 2004.

Code violation fines exceed $981,000. The total grows by $350 a day.

"The fine is just to motivate the property owner to come into compliance with local ordinances," code enforcement manager Jim Blinck said.

That obviously isn't working.

Since 1602 Main Street is the Smith's primary residence, the Florida Homestead law prevents the county from foreclosing on the property, even stepping foot onto it to clean it up.

8 On Your Side's report on this mess was a topic of conversation at Wednesday's county commission meeting.

"Steve Andrews recently uncovered a huge violation, code enforcement violation," Commissioner Victor Crist told fellow commissioners.

Crist wants the county attorney and code enforcement to dig deeper to find a legal remedy to take care of this problem.

"That site needs to be cleaned up. It needs to be cleaned up immediately and it needs to be cleaned up if the county's got to go in and do it for them and send them a bill," Crist said.

The Smith's property sits in Commissioner Al Higginbotham's district.

"When you called our office we took steps right away and we're going to find a way to help this family and this whole neighborhood," he said.

Higginbotham hopes to coordinate volunteers with community service groups to clean the property.

He says, clearly the owners of this lot are in trouble and need help.

"Our office is right now putting together the appropriate people, members of the community. Sometimes that's what this takes, is people recognizing that they have a neighbor who is in trouble," Higginbotham said.

Before anyone gets too excited, Higginbotham warns, volunteers can only go in and help if the property owners allow them to and that is still in question.

Neither Crist nor Higginbotham could answer why a it took a television story to bring this to Commissioners' attention, despite more than a decade of violations and almost one million dollars in fines.

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