FOUR CORNERS — In an effort to help revitalize a highway that once drew scores of tourists but has fallen on tough times, Osceola County is drafting a new regulation to crack down on vacant or abandoned buildings that have become an eyesore along U.S. 192.
And the ordinance will recruit law enforcement to give it some teeth, said Hector Lizasuain, Osceola County’s West 192 coordinator.
“I just drafted an ordinance and it’s 45 pages long,” said Lizasuain, who added that he reached out to the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office for ideas on how to ensure there would be strong enforcement if the rules go into effect.
“The sheriff’s office has told us they don’t really have the authority to do anything now, unless it’s something really blatant, like drug dealing right in front of the building,” Lizasuain said.
Figuring out a way to make the entire stretch of U.S. 192 into a thriving business corridor is now a challenge that Osceola County is tackling. Earlier this year, commissioners formed the W192 Economic Advisory Committee to come up with suggestions for how U.S. 192 could be improved. The special committee now has until Jan. 9 to make some recommendations to the commissioners, and will hold their final meetings on Dec. 15 and Jan. 5.
The county is interested in the 15-mile area extending from Four Corners heading east to the Kissimmee city limits. Although the Four Corners area has new shopping plazas like Rolling Oak Commons and a new school, Westside K-8 Elementary, the section closer to Kissimmee has a sad number of older, empty buildings that have fallen into disrepair.
Jeffrey Jones, Osceola County‘s strategic initiatives director, said one way to boost the 15 miles highway would be to clean up those dilapidated buildings, which could help make the entire corridor vibrant again.
“We do have some ideas on how you can help the corridor, from the very short term in the sense of being able to do immediate activities such as maintaining some minimum building standards, to making sure the landscaping is maintained and the buildings don’t look like they are deteriorating,” Jones said. “It’s one of the bigger challenges out there in an area with a lot of big challenges. It’s one where if you’re going to make a concerted effort to revitalize that corridor, you’ve got to stop that sort of deterioration from occurring.”
Lizasuain said those buildings drive away potential customers who might still be interested in visiting neighboring shops still in operation.
“One of the biggest problems we have is the number of distressed properties along (U.S.) 192,” Lizasuain said. “We’re not in the process of creating minimal maintenance standards for those properties.”
He said those standards would cover everything from signage, the condition of the parking lots, the landscaping around the property, and the irrigation.
“From an aesthetic standpoint, it will be quite aggressive in terms of getting those standards back up,” Lizasuain said.
He noted that U.S. 192 is still plagued by commercial signage that got damaged in the summer of 2004, by the hurricanes that came through Central Florida. Some of those signs never got fixed, Lizasuain said, because the county lacked an ordinance to force the owners to repair or replace them.
“It’s kind of a long, dragged out process,” Lizasuain said. “Right now we need something today.”
Jones acknowledged this won’t be easy, because some of the property owners don’t live in Central Florida, or even this state. Chasing them won’t be easy, he added. But he said the county needs to start somewhere.
“Somebody owns that property, somebody has responsibility for it,” Jones said. “It’s a matter of putting together a maintenance standards ordinance to make sure you’ve got the rules in place that allow you to address that problem with the right people, and things aren’t falling through the cracks there.”
Bringing in the sheriff’s office will help, Lizasuain said, if the county adopts the new rules that businesses will have to abide by.
“I’ve got input from the sheriff’s office and the zoning department,” Lizasuain said. “And the sheriff’s office will be key.”
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