Fort Pierce Commission agrees to more than $10,000 in lien reductions so developer can build affordable housing

FORT PIERCE – The City Commission here voted unanimously April 19 to give Port St. Lucie developers a $10,000-plus break on Code Enforcement liens so they could build affordable housing on two separate parcels in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Joe Basso of Port St. Lucie-based Second Generation Building Corporation and his business partner, Vincent Marcellino, had previously asked the Fort Pierce Code Enforcement Division to reduce the liens on eight different parcels they want to purchase in order to build workforce housing in the Northwestern section of the city.

Code Compliance Manager Peggy Arraiz agreed to eliminate only the interest, penalties and administrative costs while sticking to her guns on the harder costs such as lot clearings and demolitions associated with such liens. Since the Board planned on voting on the reduction requests as part of its non-discussion Consent Agenda, the two developers pleaded with its members during the public speaking portion of the meeting.

“We’re currently in the area to develop some single-family homes, multifamily [and] commercial properties,” Mr. Basso said. “We’re working with a multitude of people, and we purchased property to get the lien reductions and just work with the community.”

Mr. Marcellino reminded commissioners that their faces were not new to the Board on such requests needed to bring their development costs down.

“Some of these liens exceed the value of the property that we’re actually purchasing,” he said. “In order to conduct the business that we’re trying to do in Lincoln Park, we need that reduction to help with the cost of the overall building of the duplex [and] single-family homes. With the takeoff through the city with the interests and penalties and stuff, there’s still some on the list that exceed what’s left to purchase for the property. We’re trying to do a balance because there’s only so much we can invest due to the amount of money we can get on the return.”

Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson subsequently made a motion to accept the Consent Agenda as written – seconded by Commissioner Curtis Johnson Jr. – but Commissioner Thomas Perona short-circuited that process with a request for more information.

“I didn’t want to pull all the items, but I just wanted to make sure that we heard these gentlemen,” he said, referring to their eight requests on the Consent Agenda. “I know they’re trying to do a lot of good for the community, and I believe this type of housing is needed in the City of Fort Pierce. I think there’s about $35,000 worth of fees involved with that, and I know in the past we have done this. I just hoped that we would consider this.”

Mayor Linda Hudson agreed with his line of thinking.

“We know this as a problem because people want to invest in the property, but the property has so much lien value on it that it doesn’t make sense,” she said. “So, do you want to do something different?”

“I know we have a motion to approve the entire Consent Agenda, but I just feel uncomfortable on these items without at least discussing them,” Commissioner Perona replied. “Just to abate the fees and fines and still leaving a balance of $35,000 or $36,000 seems a little excessive.”

Commissioner C. Johnson, however, expressed concern about the city forfeiting its hard costs and asked City Attorney Pete Sweeney if the developers had the right to appeal a Board vote to only provide relief for the interest, penalties and administrative costs as stated by the current motion. The latter didn’t offer him much hope on that idea, however.

“If you were to approve it, all eight of these would be approved subject to the condition that payment is made in 60 days,” Mr. Sweeney explained. “The gentlemen that spoke, may or may not want to act on eight of them. If they were not to move forward with the approval on say two or three, perhaps those items could be reviewed and brought back at a separate time.”

Commissioner J. Johnson then agreed to withdraw his motion so Commissioner Perona could pull the two largest liens from the Consent Agenda for the properties at 1215 Ave. F and 3106 Ave. C, which had a combined total of nearly $21,000 after Ms. Arraiz’ initial reduction. After unanimously approving the Consent Agenda including the other six properties only getting the originally approved reductions, the Board debated the two liens separately beginning with the Avenue F property. Commissioner Perona suggested offering the developers a 50 percent discount on the hard costs, which the code compliance manager quoted at $13,936.33. Commissioner C. Johnson still had a couple of questions before agreeing to back the idea.

“What’s that process look like after that if these are not brought into compliance of what we’re asking for?” he asked.

Ms. Arraiz told him the developer would have two methods of subsequent compliance.

“Number one, if it’s not paid within the 60 days, it automatically reverts back to the full amount due,” she said. “As Mr. Sweeney was saying, the applicant can apply again at another time and make an additional request. Option two is that the applicant requests an extension, and we bring that back before the City Commission for an extension of time to pay the amount due.”

Commissioner C. Johnson then wanted to know if the developers had pulled any building permits on the lot in question, but City Manager Nick Mimms said no one at the meeting had that information. Mayor Hudson then came to the defense of the two developers in question.

“We do know that this particular company has done work already in the Lincoln Park neighborhood,” she said.

Mr. Mimms offered further clarification while hinting that the developers might decide not to develop the most expensive lots without further lien reductions.

“These representatives have been to our CRA Advisory Committee meeting, they’ve been to our FPRA Board meetings and they have shown the capacity to do satisfactory and above-satisfactory construction work in the Lincoln Park area with their investments,” he said. “As far as the city is concerned, they have a very successful track record. I do believe their investment and continued development is contingent upon the amount of this balance due within the next 60 days.”

The Commission then voted 4-0 with Commissioner Rufus Alexander absent to approve the 50- percent reduction on the hard costs, which left a balance of $6,968.17 for the Avenue F parcel. Its members then tackled the Avenue C property, whose original hard costs totaled $6,765.00. Its members also voted 4-0 to provide the Second Generation Building Corporation a 50-percent reduction on that amount, leaving a balance of $3,382.50. Both reduced amounts must be paid to the city’s Code Enforcement Division within 60 days or the discount would be forfeited unless a formal payment extension is requested.

 

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