Zephyrhills is trying to turn vacant lots into a thriving community

"Lien forgiveness" could spark real estate
Posted at 6:08 PM, Jun 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-29 18:08:36-04

Construction used to be a rare sight in Zephyrhills.

Not anymore.

"Right now we have more homes under construction in the downtown district than we've had in the last 10 years," says Gail Hamilton, the Director of the Zephyrhills Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).

Spurring the change isn't just the end of the economic Recession, but a new city program that makes buying previously abandoned properties a little easier.

"This is the property that started it all," explains Hamilton, pointing to a lot in a quiet residential neighborhood near downtown Zephyrhills.

"The [new] owners said, look, you have so many liens on [these houses] that the numbers just don't work," explains Hamilton. "And so the city attorney, the CRA, and the planning department worked with them."

"That's when we realized that by carrying these huge code enforcement liens for mowing and trimming, we're not getting us to where we wanted to be," Hamilton tells ABC Action News.

The city has several abandoned lots burdened with thousands of dollars in unpaid fines; the liens make the residential properties overpriced and unattractive to buyers.

The liens were likely never going to be recovered anyway, explains Hamilton, so they waived the liens and the developers went ahead with the purchase.

Now the city has launched what they are calling a "lien forgiveness program" in hopes of attracted developers and families to the historic town.

It's working.

"Now we'll have families here that have jobs and children and will shop in the stores and that's what it was about," says Hamilton. "It's a great community, a great historic downtown. It still has that small town charm that people are looking for."

There are restrictions and exceptions to the lien forgiveness program.

The city says the purpose of the program is to attract interest in otherwise empty residential lots that the city has been paying to care for.

"What I'm saying to anyone who is interested is come and find something and then come and talk to us, we'll work out something to make it worth your while," says Hamilton.