County workers to encourage residents to leave troubled condos

Crime, deterioration major concerns for Blossom Park complex

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County workers will be on hand Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday offering incentives to try to convince residents who live in a troubled condominium complex to move out.

The county arranged for one month free at an extended-stay motel and then another month free, including first and last month's rent and utilities, at more permanent housing to try and get people to leave the Blossom Park Condos on Landstreet Road.

The condos have been the sight of multiple recent shootings, including one in September where a woman was found dead.

 "Crime is a huge problem," said Bob Spivey, Orange County Code Enforcement manager. "There is a major heroin and prostitution problem here. We have overdoses on a monthly basis."

However, the buildings themselves also present a major concern. The buildings have been condemned because many of the staircases are falling apart, wires are exposed, railings are flimsy, walkways are dangerous, and units are boarded up.

Code Enforcement has condemned the buildings but has not evicted tenants and owners.

"There are people with special needs, elderly, sick," said Spivey. "So if we ever have to make the momentous decision to do some type of evacuation we need a little time to plan for it and we want to see how effective the volunteering program is."

"We have a lot of people that live here and we're very concerned about their safety," said Diane Arnold, the administrator for Orange County Family Services in charge of signing up residents for the move-out incentives. "And we want to make sure we have done everything possible to ensure they're in a safe environment to the extent that we can."

Code Enforcement said as of Tuesday, 50 percent of the units were still occupied.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs' office said the complex used to be a hotel, was converted into condos, and courts appointed Frank Barber, a "receiver," in 2010 when the property owner did not make necessary repairs.

"We pay $293 a month in association fees alone and where is the change?" asked Larry Augusto, condo owner. "There is no change."

Augusto said Barber, the receiver, has promised to make repairs. Augusto said that's why he's not leaving.

"I'm not going to take the money from the city because if I leave I'm going to lose my real estate money I have invested here," said Augusto.  

Jacobs' office wrote in statement, "Due to the severity of the conditions, danger to occupants and refusal of Barber to perform, Orange County Government hired an engineering firm to assess structural conditions. Reports in late January and early February found that all stairwells on the second and third floors... are very unsecure." Staffers said they expect additional reports, which cost the county $50,000, to be completed this week.

Spivey said the county will meet as early as Friday to see how many residents accepted the incentives and left, and what to do next.

"All options are on the table, the county has the option to go to court and seek an order to force an evacuation," said Spivey. "But let's face it - there are hardships and pitfalls in doing that."

According to Jacobs' office, the first code violations were cited in August 2014, code enforcement began fining the owners on December 3, 2014 at a rate of $250 per building (there are seven buildings), and Orange County Fire rescue has had a fire truck fully staffed on site around the clock since Jan. 23 at a cost of $4,000 per day.

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