WJTV News Channel 12 - Neighbors and school call Citrus Park property unhealthy

Neighbors and school call Citrus Park property unhealthy

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This property in Citrus Park is bursting at the seams with junk. This property in Citrus Park is bursting at the seams with junk.
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

The new school year is about to start, but across the street from one Citrus Park school, a dirty old problem continues to fester.

The property is bursting at the seams with junk, mold and according to neighbors, rats.

The yard of junk at 14508 Berkford avenue is not only lowering property values and unsightly, it's unhealthy.

The property is owned by Brenda Owings. She lives a few blocks away in another subdivision.

Owings claims she intends to renovate the Berkford avenue property and move back.

Bob Mullins has picketed, contacted code enforcement, started a petition drive, to spark the county to clean up the property on Berkford avenue, near his house.

He recently stood on a step ladder and snapped a few pictures of what's behind the fence at 14508 Berkford avenue.

"I saw things in there that I did not believe," Mullins said.

Things like shacks with broken windows, sheds with holes in the roof, a neglected RV sits behind piles of junk. Beneath a rotted tree there appears to be a streamline trailer. A deteriorating mobile home is submerged in a sea of vines. There's a box truck sitting on the property, there is even a school bus buried beneath the weeds and junk.

The mess invites all kinds of creatures.

Neighbor Kathy McRae has seen her share.

"Rats for years, raccoons, mosquitos," McRae listed.

Bob Mullins is concerned about pales and buckets gathering water, the perfect place for mosquitoes to breed.

"The dengue fever, yellow fever all of these are coming about because places like this are a breeding ground," Mullins complained.

If you walk on the sidewalk by the property the mold reeks.

"It's a health hazard," McRae insists.

Not 100 yards from the trash heap sits Citrus Park Christian school.

"We've seen rodents," elementary principal Barry Yellets said.

During heavy rains, Yellets claims rats creep over from the unkempt property.

"We have concerns about rodents, mosquitos and mold and we know that it's not healthy for our students and teachers and our staff," Yellets stated.

Neighbors claim Owings hasn't lived at the Berkford avenue property for years.

Yet she still gets a tax break, because she claims it is her Homestead property or primary residence.

8 On Your Side showed several of Mullins' pictures to the property appraiser's chief deputy, Warren Weathers.

"Wow," Weathers gasped as he reviewed the pictures. "This is a public health issue."

So how is it that Owings doesn't live at the Berkford avenue property but can still get a Homestead tax break?

"In the state of Florida, you can actually reside elsewhere, as long as you have declared, this is my Homestead," Weathers stated.

Weathers contends the property appraiser's office was ready to revoke Owings' Homestead tax break last year, but she filled out a questionnaire and qualified for the exemption under state law. He claims as long as there is intent to move back, the property can remain a Homestead property.

"They can say I do not reside here, I'm on a mission in China," Weathers pointed out.

But Owings is not on a mission to China. She argues she is renovating the Berkford property and intends to return. To look at the the property there appears to be no renovation work underway.

Hillsborough county contends the Homestead law prevents it from taking action. So along with a new school year, an old health and safety issue remains, right across the street from unsuspecting students.

Copyright 2014 WFLA.  All rights reserved.

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