America the Messy Yard Police State
Messy yard cops terrorize Paradise Valley residents!Messy yard cops terrorize Paradise Valley residents!
Paradise Valley targets owners of abandoned luxury homes
by Diana Balazs - Oct. 7, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
The struggling real-estate market is not only hurting Paradise Valley's budget, it's threatening to tarnish the town's image as one of the toniest places to live in Arizona.
In May, officials identified 19 homes that were violating town property codes. They included abandoned or foreclosed residences with weeds in the yards and green swimming pools, and existing and new homes with unfinished construction and expired building permits.
The effort by the town to take action against property-code violators comes as the median home price in Paradise Valley's ZIP code of 85253 has dropped 19 percent since 2009 to $1.68 million. Earlier this month, the town ranked 78th on a Forbes magazine list of America's most expensive ZIP codes. Two years ago, 85253 was No. 34; last year it was No. 60.
The town has an expected $2.5 million budget shortfall, and with construction sales-tax revenue down, officials are looking for ways to raise revenue. Paradise Valley has 283 homes listed for sale at more than $1 million, and 34 of them are distressed properties such as pre-foreclosures and short sales, real-estate agents say.
Eva Cutro, Paradise Valley's planning and building director, said officials were surprised to see the problem properties scattered throughout the town.
"We thought maybe there was one section of the town that would be hit hard, but it was all over," she said. "A lot of it was construction that was halted, but some of it is just existing homes that have been left to deteriorate."
After identifying the properties, town officials contacted the property owners, in some instances banks, to rectify the code violations.
Most of the properties have shown improvement or have been brought into compliance. Some of the homes have been sold or have sales pending, while others are on the market.
While the town has been successful in getting property owners to fence their sites and clean them up, getting them to complete construction is another matter.
The town charges fees for expired permits and delayed construction, but fines are not effective when the property owner does not have the funds to complete the work.
The Paradise Valley Town Council will discuss what to do with distressed properties during a 4 p.m. study session Oct. 21 at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.
Town administrators want guidance on how they should deal with ongoing and future code violations.
"We're hoping that it was at its worst back in May, but we don't see it going away overnight," Cutro said. "We do anticipate that we will be dealing with it and we want to see how strong the council wants us to react."
Cutro said the problem with unfinished homes was a newer issue.
"It used to be they couldn't build the (new) homes quick enough," she said.
Today, a half-built home still has monetary value and tearing it down is not always a good alternative, Cutro said.
Vice Mayor Mary Hamway said the town's top priority should be making sure a property has no safety violations.
Hamway said she was not a fan of imposing fines because that would make it harder for someone to complete a construction project.
"If they had the money to finish the project, they would finish it. I don't think people are taking advantage of the system. I think they honestly don't have the money right now," she said.