Osceola County's fight against blight on U.S. 192 will get a major boost in January when the county triples its code enforcement staffing in the 15-mile tourism corridor.
Code Enforcement Manager Ron Cole said the county is adding two code enforcement officers, bringing the total to three, to work exclusively in the W192 community redevelopment district. And these officers won't be waiting for someone to file a complaint before they issue violations for infractions, such as faded or peeling paint, overgrown lots or broken windows.
"The county as a whole is more complaint-driven, but these three members are going to be proactive," Cole said. "Their first order of business is to make contact with the property owner and see what we can do to get the issue resolved."
The stepped-up enforcement goes hand-in-hand with a trio of new grant programs launching in January to offer cash incentives for businesses along U.S. 192 to spruce up their property, replace their signs and - if need be- demolish vacant buildings.
"In the beginning, they're going to be looking at blight," Cole said. "It could be a property with a damaged pole sign or a building that's in need of painting or pressure washing or a new awning. We're also going to be looking at the parking areas, if they're in disrepair, to maybe look at getting them re-striped. Or they may have an issue with garbage collection and containment."
If county commissioners adopt the proposed sign ordinance changes for the district, the ubiquitous "cold air balloons" and other temporary signs will also be prohibited. Cole said the ordinance is scheduled for a vote in January. "They won't be allowed without a permit, but I don't see us issuing any permits," Cole said.
He said some property owners could be looking at multiple violation notices, but his officers are authorized to negotiate consent orders with the owner to correct the problems.
The facade grants, available to any business owner, will provide up to $30,000 for exterior improvements such as painting, lighting, window and door replacement and parking lot improvements. No more than half of the project budget can be used to resolve code violations. The property owner is required to pay 50 percent of the project cost.
Demolition grants are available to owners of vacant buildings. That program allows up to $75,000 or 50 percent of the cost for demolition and debris removal, but it could include improvements, such as fencing, security lighting, sidewalks and curbs so the property complies with current codes.
David Buchheit, executive director of the W192 Development Authority, said the program is designed to make the properties more attractive for new investors. "If the end result of this is if they sell the property for a higher price and better use, then we will have achieved the goal," he said.