New Port Richey city leaders are giving the owners of Walden Pond Mobile Home Park a chance to cleanup the mess on the property.
The City Council unanimously agreed to allow Walden Pond, LLC, a period of time to rid the park of more than 50 vacant, condemned mobile homes, along with debris.
On Oct. 2, the council was presented with an emergency resolution needed to authorize city staff to immediately raze or remove the homes.
Council members approved the resolution, but decided to tell staff to hold off on moving to address the problem. Instead they opted to give Walden Pond, LLC, an opportunity to remove the trailers and improve conditions at its property.
They are going to set deadlines the park owners must meet during the cleanup process.
Walden Pond has been a concern for city officials for some time. This past summer, the mobile home park's owners ordered residents to leave, but failed to follow legal guidelines for eviction. Since then, some residents have vacated the park; others have remained behind. The dumpsters that served the park's residents have been removed, leaving trash and debris to pile up.
City officials have issued citations to the park's owners.
With passage of the emergency resolution, 52 of the 77 trailers still standing at Walden Pond have been declared condemned. Three additional trailers have already collapsed. Five additional trailers are uninhabitable.
Councilwoman Judy DeBella Thomas said she was “absolutely appalled” at the conditions at the park.
She said it looked akin to what you would see in the wake of a bombing in Beirut or a tornado strike.
She said the conditions at the park look like “they’re just ripe for any kind of vagrancy, crime, drug use, It's unbelievable!"
She wants the park owners to fence off the area that is condemned.
“I‘m not going to come before you and try to offer up any excuses,” said Bryan Sykes, the Tampa attorney representing Walden Pond, LLC, to the City Council. “What I want to do is try to offer up a solution.”
Sykes said the owners have put in place an “action plan” to clean up their property. The park ownership has met with contractors who might be able to take down the trailers and narrowed the field down to one they intend to use.
“I would anticipate by the end of the week or earlier a contract being entered into,” he said.
Then they would test the trailers for asbestos, get the proper approvals and get the contractor to remove all the condemned trailers. He said the contractor believes it would takes four or five days after testing to take out all the condemned trailers.
Doug Haag, finance director for the city and acting city manager, told the council staff feels the condemned trailers present a health and safety concern. Overall, he said he thinks the city staff would prefer that Walden Pond, LLC, handle the cleanup.
“That way, the city’s not out any costs and the responsibility and liability is placed where it should be: with the owners of the property.”
Regarding razing the trailers, Haag said that he’s not sure “if we could do it any faster” than Walden Pond’s owners.
The city council is asking for a progress report on the Walden Pond cleanup on Oct. 9.
Council members directed the city attorney to draft a settlement agreement with Walden Pond for the cleanup effort.
“I would like to see this mitigated as quickly as possible,” Councilman Bob Langford said. “I would like to see this over and done with. This been going on too long already.”
Walden Pond also owes the city $25,000 on unpaid utility bills. Langford wants to see the owners pay for that.
There are still 11 occupied trailers, say city officials, and some are occupant-owned.
Sykes said that the objective of Walden Pond, LLC, is to have the mobile home park cease to exist and plans to go through the legal process of evicting or ejecting people from the park.