MARCO ISLAND — The derelict house at 923 North Barfield Drive moved closer to its date with a wrecking ball at Tuesday’s Code Enforcement Board meeting, but City Attorney Burt Saunders cautioned the board they need to proceed by the book, crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s.
“You should not even be walking into that house without wearing a mask” was the takeaway from a mold inspection conducted on the property, planning and zoning technician Lina Upham testified. In addition, building inspectors declared the home to be “very unsafe,” with two estimates to bring it up to code coming in at $161,000 and $228,000, said Upham.
With the value of the structure, built on a waterfront lot, only $17,000, that would mean spending 10 times what the house is worth to fix it, while the waterfront lot where it sits has value, once it no longer hosts the neighborhood eyesore. While all present agreed on the need to remove the house, the city attorney warned of potential liability to the city for moving too quickly.
“When the city elects to demolish a building, obviously that’s a pretty drastic remedy,” said Saunders. Numerous court cases, he said, have found municipalities and local government entities liable for an unlawful taking when privately owned structures had been razed without following all proper steps. “When the courts have ruled there wasn’t sufficient due process, the cities have been ordered to pay damages.”
“We’re going to bring this back to the Code Board for a hearing, to make sure there is sufficient justification” for demolition, said Saunders.
The owner, Caridad Flores, “now lives in Miami. She’s elderly,” said code compliance supervisor Liz Carr. “She can’t even afford to do the demolition. She definitely doesn’t have money to rehab the location.”
At the meeting’s outset, Chairman Dick Adams asked what had happened to two cases, both against companies owned by contractor Duane Thomas, which had disappeared off the agenda.
“I’d like to know why they were taken off the agenda, because any item that’s posted on the agenda must by heard by the Code Board at that day’s hearing,” he said. Carr said the items were in the hands of the department’s director and the City Attorney, and Code Compliance staff was not ready to proceed.
The meeting included several of the typical “failure to connect” sewer line cases. One was removed due to a bankruptcy, which Carr said could take as long as a year, and two were given the standard order to connect within 30 days, or pay a fine of $250 per day starting the 31st day, plus an administrative fee of $250.
One case, due to the financial and medical situation of the residents, Michael and Michele Sullivan of South Heathwood Drive, was brought back for a rehearing.
“We have reached an agreement,” said Upham, including a plumbing contractor to connect the home to the sewer system, and a payment plan for the Sullivans. “We have everything in writing and plumbing permits are being pulled in as we speak.” The monthly payments, including eight percent interest, will be added to the Sullivans’ utility bills, she said.
Due to the extenuating circumstances, in particular medical hardship, Carr recommended waiving the $250 administrative fee. Saunders said “the cleanest way to do that is to rescind the order of the board in its entirety,” which is what was done.
City Council members Larry Sacher and Bob Brown sat in on the meeting, which could have given the council some useful guidance in how to conduct business briskly, running just 35 minutes from the opening gavel to a motion for adjournment. The CEB is scheduled to meet again on Oct. 8.