After racking up more than $2 million in code enforcement fines, the Osceola County Commission on Monday voted to demolish the embattled Star Motel.
A demolition date had not been set when the commission voted on Monday. That’s because Commissioner Cheryl Grieb wanted the option of reversing the decision if it was the will of the commission.
Commissioners voted 4-0 at their meeting. Commissioner Peggy Choudhry was not present.
“We have a duty to make sure these types of housing accommodations, as horrible as they are, are not available for families in need,” said County Commission Chairman Brandon Arrington.
During the meeting, commissioners were shown photos of the poor conditions at the Star Motel, 4880 W. U.S. Highway 192, which dated back to May of 2019, when the county issued a notice of violation to property owner Mary Nguyen.
A code enforcement board meeting met in July of 2019, where Nguyen was given until Oct. 16, 2019, to fix the problems or face a fine of $250 a day. But the property stayed in violation and fines have reached $2.7 million, county staffers said.
The recent photos showed mold and mildew, no fire extinguishers, unsafe cracking balconies, unsanitary rooms and conditions, exposed wires, fire damage and collapsed walls.
Even though there was no power or water, people continued to live in the rooms, some using generators.
In October of 2020, an emergency code board hearing was held to request that the county secure the rooms and fence off the property. The county building department performed an inspection where the motel was found to be severely deteriorating and no longer fit for habitation.
In December, a fence was installed and the rooms were boarded up.
The county Human Services Department and partnering agencies made a number of trips to the motel since December 2019, county officials said. In September of 2020, the county developed a strategy to use CARES funding to partner with the Community Hope Center to provide residents still at the motel with an opportunity to move to other motels. Since then, 52 households or 141 people were moved with the county paying for their rooms. Eleven households have moved into apartments or other sustainable housing.
Several people were given the opportunity to speak on the matter before the vote, including Natina Conley, a businesswoman, who said she signed a contract with Nguyen in January of 2020 to bring the building back up to code. She said she was able to rehabilitate 67 rooms herself, and had between $200,000 and $300,000 into the project.
“All I’m asking is for a little bit of time,” Conley said. “Please give us a little bit of time just to get this place together.”
A Palm Bay attorney called in to the meeting and asked the commission not to vote to demolish, because the motel was going into foreclosure and several buyers were interested in purchasing the building.
But Grieb wanted to move forward, saying the county would not be in this position if the owner had been responsible and taken care of the issues.
“I hate that we are being pinned as the bad guys here because I couldn’t allow someone to continue to live in this situation,” Grieb said. “We are not the bad guys here, if anything, we are trying to make something good happen.”