Osceola County Commissioners are looking at establishing a nuisance abatement board to shut down some of the seediest motels on the W192 corridor.
It's part of an ongoing effort to shed the tourist highway's bad reputation. The extended-stay and budget motels along U.S. 192 have become default housing for the county's poorest residents and havens of criminal activity.
"We're using this year as an aggressive approach to the issue," County Manager Don Fisher told GrowthSpotter. He's going to recommend that commissioners pass an ordinance within the next few months creating a nuisance abatement board or assigning those duties to the code enforcement board.
"We're looking for consensus on the staff recommendation and then we can work pretty hastily in terms of putting things together to get an ordinance in front of them," Fisher said.
Susan Caswell, assistant community development administrator, said some hotels and motels on the corridor have exceptionally high numbers of law enforcement calls for service. The standard should be about one call per year for every three rooms. A dozen motels on U.S. 192 average more than five-times that number of calls for service - one business even has 4.1 calls per room.
Online customer reviews citing issues such as bedbugs, poor service, and filthy rooms only exacerbate the problems, she said. State health inspectors are forced to conduct more complaint-driven inspections on U.S. 192 than in any other county in the region.
The county already has hired two additional code enforcement officers to work exclusively within the W192 community redevelopment district, but Caswell said cleaning up the problem properties and finding suitable housing for the thousands of homeless and working poor requires a coordinated, inter-agency effort.
Fisher noted that the county already budgeted $450,000 this year for "rapid rehousing" of families on the corridor to get them out of motels and into homes and apartments.
Caswell presented her report to the W192 Development Authority last week. She said establishing a nuisance abatement board would give the county the ability to shutter businesses that have repeat offenses within six months of a code violation or reported criminal activity.
Dianna Chane, a member of the W192 Development Authority, said Orange County authorities cracked down on criminal activity at motels a few years ago.
"In Orange County it took less than a year and that whole dynamic changed," she said. "Are we really going to pull the trigger now and pull people from the room?"