By Erika Webb
When real estate is donated to cities it's not always free.
Recently the City of Deltona agreed to take ownership of a single-family lot and home at 1221 Abagail Drive. The commission voted 5-2 to accept owner Emmanuel Zulueta's offer to give his former residence to the city -- even though staff had advised at a prior meeting the property will cost thousands to rectify.
Vice Mayor Zenaida Denizac who, along with Commissioner Webster Barnaby, voted against the motion cautioned the commission to beware of free, reminding them the city would be responsible for taxes and other costs associated with what has been deemed a "hazardous" property.
The house, built on a lakefront lot, fell victim to structure-damaging erosion when the water level dropped. It became uninhabitable and irreparable.
The owner who presumably did not want to continue paying taxes on a house in which he could not live, offered it to the city.
The estimated cost of demolishing the home is between $8,500 and $10,000, according to City Attorney Becky Vose.
Commissioners Barnaby and Denizac said they did not want to send the message that the city is in the real estate business, especially with so many foreclosed properties in the area.
Mayor John Masiarczyk, Commissioner Chris Nabicht and others maintained the position that the potentially dangerous property would become the city's burden one way or the other, and resolution sooner rather than later would be best for the community.
Acting City Manager Dave Denny advised the commission that both the city's fire department and the Volusia County Sheriff's Office had expressed an interest in using the property for training purposes.
Mayor Masiarczyk directed staff to ensure Mr. Zulueta pays any back taxes and takes the necessary measures to eliminate any liens on the property before the city accepts the property.
According to the County of Volusia Revenue Division website a tax bill in the amount of $1,457.52 was paid on Jan. 22, bringing the taxes current. The property's taxable value is $48,344.
At its regular meeting on Feb. 6, the DeBary City Council discussed and then voted unanimously to decline the offer of a parcel at 20 Craycroft Ave.
Councilman Nick Koval expressed concerns about the unimproved property's lack of ingress and egress, and he wondered if its acquisition would require the city eventually to purchase an easement or other property to gain access.
Councilman Dan Hunt called the offer "noble," and said he suggested his father donate a parcel he owns in DeBary, "with the stipulation of making it a park."
"My heart tells me take it," Councilman Hunt said. "I know there's some legal eagle stuff we need to do, but when I first looked at this I thought, wow, someone's doing what I've been telling my dad to do."
City Attorney Kurt Ardaman advised the council that when property is acquired, whether by purchase, eminent domain or gift, it comes with responsibility.
"The two biggest risks are liability and potential contamination," Mr. Ardaman said. "Hopefully that's not the case here, but it's something to be cognizant of."
Orange City Finance Director Christine Davis said throughout history there have probably been several offers of property to the city, but she can only recall two. Both times the council declined.
"One was a house on a sinkhole and the other was a home the family wanted the city to take and use for a museum," Ms. Davis said. "It was a huge cost to refurbish the older home."
Ms. Davis said the city would have had to get a group of volunteers to staff the museum.
"In the end council, public works and the city manager weighed in," she said. "At the end of the day, it's evaluating the property (and determining) its use to the city. It's a cost/benefit analysis. Is it going to benefit the city as a whole?"
Dale Arrington, assistant city manager and economic development director for the City of DeLand, said similar situations have been brought before DeLand's City Commission, though infrequently, and usually as a result of code enforcement liens.
She said everything is "specific to location."
"I don't think you can develop any hard and fast rules when it comes to this," Ms. Arrington said. "You can look at it from a certain position and ask the right questions, which is what we've tried to do."
Ms. Arrington said some of the acquired properties were "surplussed and spread" to Habitat for Humanity and other charitable organizations.
"These groups have retrofitted or constructed a house on them," she said.
The city's most recent code enforcement lien acquisition, the Buckner Property at 117 W. Howry Ave., was procured by the city on the courthouse steps.
The city sought proposals and ultimately sold it to local businessman Mark Shuttleworth for $25,000. His intent, to create rental spaces for artists of varying disciplines, is the sort of plan Ms. Arrington said will add to the city's cultural appeal and place the property back on the tax rolls.
"It's nearing completion now and looking wonderful," she said.
It comes down to potential.
"You have to analyze before acquiring (property) and determine what uses -- if any -- there are and work with the private sector," Ms. Arrington said. "Sometimes you have to eliminate a blighting influence."