The Port St. Joe Board of City Commissioners decided not to rescind their February vote calling for the combined $22,632.27 demolition of two local houses, but not without heated public discussions on the matter.
At the city’s two most recent commission meetings, a combined hour and a quarter has been spent discussing the impending demolitions, with both proponents and opponents of the demolitions taking to the stand.
“The order’s been done, and we’ve been working on it a long time,” said Mayor Rex Buzzett after no motion was made to withdraw the prior vote. “Being no motion to withdraw, the demolitions will continue as scheduled.”
The more expensive of the two properties to be demolished, a house located at 903 16th Street, is owned by James Ashley Padgett III, who appeared at both of the city’s April meetings to make his case.
The appearances constituted his first before the city in this case.
Code enforcement proceedings against Padgett date back to 2021, according to Richard Burkett, a representative from the city’s code enforcement department who was present at the city’s April 4 meeting.
A code order for 903 16th Street obtained by The Star, which cites significant damage incurred during Hurricane Michael and unsafe roof conditions, recommended the condemnation of the property by the city after the homeowner failed to appear at a hearing scheduled before the city’s special magistrate, Mel Magidson, on March 3, 2022.
The order, which was delivered by certified mail, then gives the homeowner 30 days to appeal the special magistrate’s decision to Florida’s 14th Judicial Circuit. No actions to this effect were taken by Padget.
But the homeowner claims that his absence from the 2022 hearing resulted from the letter being sent to his father’s address, which was the address the city had on file for him, but which was not where he resided at the time.
“This is the first time I know where I could come and say something,” Padgett said on April 4. “The notice was sent to my father’s address, and I didn’t get it until after the hearing had taken place.”
903 16th Street sustained significant damage during Hurricane Michael, during which the property was controlled by a property management company. In the months following the storm, FEMA, who inspected every property in the city, would declare it to be 45 percent damaged, just shy of their benchmark for irreparable damage.
Padget obtained full ownership of the house in 2021, after it had spent 13 years in probate following the death of Padget’s grandmother.
Padget said he had plans to renovate the 93 year-old home after retaining ownership just over a year ago, “restoring it to its former glory,” but that financial constraints and a shoulder injury have prevented him from making significant progress on the matter.
But the city contended Padgett’s account of code enforcement proceedings at the property, citing that the owner had taken no action to appeal the court’s decision or appeared before the city at any point between the 2022 hearing and the city’s February vote to demolish the house.
Under the city’s existing code enforcement ordinance, which was written in 2006, the city is required to send a notice of any code enforcement violation via certified mail before any hearing is held or any orders made by the special magistrate. The notice of hearing must be delivered via certified mail and also published in a newspaper of general circulation in the county.
Burkett insisted that these measures had been followed and both Padgett and Burkett stated that code enforcement officers had spoken to Padgett on several occasions during this year-long process.
Padgett, who is currently living at the residence on 903 16th Street said he plans to take legal action against the city following the house’s demolition. He attempted to apply for an injunction in the case, but was denied as the circumstances did not meet the necessary criteria.
The owner of 1310 Long Avenue, who similarly had not appeared at hearing in his case, spoke before the city briefly on April 18. The city similarly voted to continue with the demolition as per their February vote.
The demolitions of 903 16th Street and 1310 Long Avenue were initially scheduled for April 24. They were delayed by the contractor performing the demolitions, but the city anticipates they will be rescheduled in the near future, according to City Manager Jim Anderson.
The costs of the demolitions, as per the city’s code enforcement ordinance shall be placed as liens on the two properties.