When the Lee County Commission meets in five weeks over the issue of abandoned homes and overgrown grass and weeds that are not being cut and maintained all over Lee County and especially Lehigh Acres, local residents are going to be armed with photographs of properties that are causing blight to spread in Lehigh due to the eyesores in many neighborhoods.
Ruth Ann Anglickis, one of the proponents in Lehigh of getting the county commission to pass a plan to track abandoned homes and hold someone responsible - usually the banks that have foreclosed home - in keeping them maintained while they wait the process of foreclosures.
"Our people in Lehigh took some 12,000 signatures from letters and forms to the commissioners and divided them up, just to show them that people in Lehigh want someone held responsible for keeping abandoned and foreclosed properties to a standard which means having the grass cut, keeping vandals from stealing what's inside and simple maintenance of the property.
"Without the council doing something, Lehigh is becoming the blunt of the blight. We will go the next time with photos of these properties that the banks are not attending to and leaving without proper maintenance," she said.
As manager for several condo community and community associations in Lehigh, Anglickis said it causing serious problems that can result in law suits especially in duplex homes where mold has formed in the abandoned side and is creeping into the other side of the common wall that divides the units.
Other members of these communities are going to have to pay more dues not being received by those who lived in abandoned homes and units.
The Lee County Commission tabled the discussion for six weeks last week with it met. Anglickis and others said it was because of the pressure they were being put under by local bankers and real estate agents who are not maintaining property in their hands now because of foreclosures.
Anglickis said many people in Lehigh, responded to the pleas from her and others on the Community Council and Once Voice, to sign petitions. Many sent copies of The Citizen's story and petition in the mail to the commission and Anglickis said council members also received dozens and dozens of letters from individuals who had not signed the petitions, all agreeing that it is time for the commissioners to stand up and come up with laws to correct the situation.
Several people spoke about the proposed ordinance and some complained that it would cause more bureaucracy or "another layer of government."
George Szymanski, one of those who arrived with several other Lehigh residents supporting the ordinance and a member of the Lehigh Acres community Initiative, talked about the high number of foreclosed and abandoned homes in Lehigh.
Anglickis told The Citizen there are 2,800 such abandoned or foreclosed homes in Lehigh that are not being maintained. In Cape Coral, it has been reported that the same situation is occurring with nearly 4,000 homes not being maintained by banks and realtors.
Over all, there are close to 18,000 homes in all of Lee County that Szymanski said banks and real estate people are ignoring.
Szymanski said Lehigh's group and others were not trying to harass people and said it was about "a quality of life."
However, those who opposed an ordinance included local officials of banks in the county with Robbie Roepstorff, president of Edison National Bank in Fort Myers, reportedly to have said it was not the time to point fingers.
"We object to the proposed ordinance, not to being open-minded on long-term solutions, she was reported to have said. She raised the possibility of liability issues when anyone who does not own an abandoned or foreclosed home touched foot on those properties.
Roepstorff said the solution was to sit down with code enforcement and work something out. She said the county doesn't need a registry of such homes and said she would rather pay $200 to Lee County to help code enforcement handle it. She called such an ordinance another layer of bureaucracy, according to news accounts.
Ruth Anglickis, who helped to gather the 12,000 signatures presented to the commissioners, said members are afraid of the pressures that they believe can be put on them politically if they pass such an ordinance. However, she said, the ordinance is in the best interest of the people and especially in the unincorporated areas of Lee County.
Anglickis noted that in other areas of the country, such regulations as proposed by a registry help out and are working.
According to news accounts, Marsha Segal-George, an Orlando attorney who has written registry ordinances for other cities in Florida, said such an ordinance is not another layer of government, that "it is just a tool for getting something done. And there's no problem with liability."
One area real estate investor, who was identified as Kirk Beck, said the need for the ordinance was based on the lack of action by local bankers.
"Maybe these commissioners have not come to Lehigh to see what is it like with these abandoned home not being maintained," Anglickis said.
"We're going to show them though, when instead of petitions, we plop a big pile of photograph before them.
"This is something the commissioners must stand up to and show some leadership. We need to stop this blight from continuing and the banks have got to be held accountable," Anglickis said.