A special MEETING
October 03, 2017
A meeting was advertised for a Bassville Park Community Meeting to be held on Tuesday, October 3, 2017, at 5:30 p.m., in the New Life Covenant Church of God, located at 33741 South Haines Creek Road, Leesburg, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Timothy I. Sullivan, Chairman; Leslie Campione, Vice Chairman; Wendy Breeden; and Josh Blake. Lake County staff present at the meeting were: Jeff Cole, County Manager; Allison Thall, Health and Human Services Manager; Fred Schneider, County Engineer; Mary Hamilton, Environmental Services Manager; Glen Guzman, Code Enforcement Director and Angela Harrold, Deputy Clerk, Lake County Clerk of Court. Others present at the meeting were: Paul Butler, Assistant County Health Department Director, Florida Department of Health, Lake County and Captain David Pelton, Uniform Patrol Bureau, Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
Mr. Jeff Cole, County Manager, thanked New Life Covenant Church of God and Bishop Hunter for hosting the event. He introduced the Lake County Commissioners that were in attendance and noted that Commissioner Parks would be unable to attend. He explained that some residents of Bassville Park had attended a Lake County Board of County Commissioner (BCC) meeting in July 2017, to express their concerns about their neighborhood. He explained that shortly after the meeting, a team was created that was made up of Lake County staff, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) and the Florida Department of Health (FDOH.) They first began to assess the situation and then started to find ways to address the concerns of the community. He stated that having the community meeting was a good way to share with residents the work that had been done and to also receive input from the residents. He noted that the team would be introducing themselves and explain their roles and then the public would be given a chance to express their concerns.
Commr. Breeden thanked everyone for attending the meeting and noted that Bishop Hunter was instrumental in the Keep Lake Beautiful (KLB) event held for Bassville Park in July 2017. She stated that Hurricane Irma’s debris clean up would take the current priority but KLB would back be in the community to host additional clean up events. She remarked that while she was the elected Commissioner for District 3, where Bassville Park was located, the Board served and cared about the county as a whole and that was why other Commissioners were in attendance. She reiterated that the residents would be hearing from the panel and described them as a dedicated and hardworking group who wanted the best for the county. She added that she was looking forward to getting feedback and ideas from the residents to help make the community better.
Ms. Allison Thall, Health and Human Services Manager, Community Services Department, stated that there were programs through Health and Human Services (HHS) that were unique because HHS received Federal and State funds to specifically help low income communities and families. She noted that the funds could be used for homes in need of repair. She explained that she specifically wanted to note the opportunities through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, which could help assist residents with mobility ramps, mobile home replacement, and to help repair damage to site built homes. She pointed out that there were specific guidelines for the grants including income qualifications but staff was available to help residents through the process and they were also available to help residents throughout all of Lake County to ensure that everyone had a safe, secure and comfortable home.
Mr. Fred Schneider, County Engineer, Public Works Department, explained that he worked in the areas of traffic issues, road engineering, stormwater, traffic signals and signs, etc. He stated that he was aware of the concerns over some of the roads in the Bassville Park area and he wanted to hear from the residents so he could learn the specific areas that could benefit from further evaluation. He noted that the area contained county maintained and non-county maintained roads. He reported that there would be two upcoming projects happening in the Bassville Park area that were funded through Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) grants. The first project, which was currently in design, was a sidewalk to be installed on County Road (C.R.) 473 from Fountain Lake Drive to Haines Creek Road and was funded for $865,000. The second project was the installation of paved shoulders on C.R. 473, on the curve north of Treadway School Road, and was scheduled for construction in 2018 and was funded for $558,000. He noted that there were still some areas that could use stop signs but a speed evaluation had been completed on Ocklawaha and the results were that most drivers did respect the speed limit. He stated that if the residents felt strongly that the area needed traffic calming, there were a number of ways to address it and he asked that they relay their concerns to him.
Ms. Mary Hamilton, Environmental Services Manager, Public Works, expressed that the Bassville Park KLB event had a great turnout and the projected date for the next cleanup would be November 4, 2017 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. She stated that mosquito control had been an important topic and she wanted to inform the residents that trucks did spray in the area on September 28 2017, and September 29, 2017. She commented that the trucks spray as needed in the morning and evening and staff traps mosquitos daily to monitor the situation. She explained that there had been County staff in the area cleaning up some of the smaller and bagged debris and that there would also be contract labor coming through the area to continue the efforts. She asked for the resident’s continued patience with the Hurricane Irma storm cleanup. She noted for the resident’s information, that the Board had adopted a countywide fertilizer ordinance, which was part of a state mandate due to Lake County having what was known as impaired spring sheds. She reported that staff had been out in the community to discuss the ordinance with businesses and landscape contractors. She added that the KLB committee was reviewing the ordinance and there would be new conditions coming based on the information from that review. She mentioned that Solid Waste staff was making a weekly sweep of the area and notating the bulk items that were out for pickup and then they would be working with the area hauler to get them removed. She did notice some areas that needed attention and she wanted to be clear that these areas had not been forgotten and were slightly delayed because of Hurricane Irma. She stated that if residents felt that they needed additional support, they should contact the Solid Waste Department at (352)343-3776.
Mr. Glen Guzman, Code Enforcement Director, stated that a review had been done of the code enforcement steps taken in the area since January 2017. He noted that the biggest concern currently was being able to respond to resident’s complaints. He reported that there had been 97 complaints in the area, which contained 964 residential structures, making it less than one complaint for every 10 homes. He pointed out that two-thirds of those complaints had been resolved and he thanked anyone in attendance who had received a violation notice and complied. He noted that there would be a hearing the following Wednesday and he encouraged respondents and the public to attend. He explained that 31 of those cases remained active and staff was progressively working on them; however, certain property cases were repetitive, which seemed to be the largest issue. He stated that staff compared the Bassville Park area with another area similar in density and size in the county and they found that the statistics and results were similar. He pointed out that the difference between the two was that the majority of the other area’s issues were complaints due to parking, where most of the complaints in Bassville Park were due to the accumulation of solid waste. He commented that the KLB cleanup in Bassville Park helped the accumulation tremendously by giving residents the opportunity to dispose of items and hazardous materials. He explained that Code Enforcement had four zones within Lake County and each Code Enforcement Officer was responsible for 165 square miles. He pointed out that there were over 800 active cases currently in the Code Enforcement Office. He added that it was important to have residents voluntarily comply to get the issues resolved quicker and that the residents are first line of defense.
Mr. Paul Butler, Assistant County Health Department Director, Florida Department of Health in Lake County (FDOH,) stated that raw sewage was an area of interest in the Bassville Park community for the FDOH. He reported that there were four cases reported for the area since January 2017. He elaborated that three of them were invalid and one was a valid case, which had been corrected and at that time there were no open cases. He outlined that when a complaint is received, staff will look for evidence that the complaint is valid and then that information is taken to the FDOH legal office in Orlando. If the complaint is not corrected then citations are given and fines are levied. He added that the fines were retroactive, no matter the length of the legal process. He encouraged residents to call the FDOH about any complaints pertaining to Florida Statute 386, regarding raw sewage, and FDOH staff would address complaints the following business day.
Captain David Pelton, Uniform Patrol Bureau, Lake County Sheriff’s Office, provided an overview of the police activity taking place in the Bassville Park Area. He noted that the focus was from east C.R. 473 to Carl Road and North Learn Road to Lake Drive. He reported that the statistical data accumulated was from January 1, 2017 through September 20, 2017, and the data covered the community as a whole and did not include domestic services. He stated that during the timeframe there were 61 calls for reckless drivers, which included calls for drivers on C.R. 437, 17 residential burglaries were reported, 1 report of a prowler, 20 reports of trespassing, 29 reports of drug activity, 5 reports of vehicle burglaries, 16 reports of criminal mischief, 21 reports of theft, and 73 noise complaints. He elaborated that when the statistical data was reviewed there were three roads affected the majority of the time and those were Ocklawaha Drive, South Haines Creek Road and C.R. 437. He reported that the issues in the area were brought to his attention on March 22, 2017, when he received a letter from the area residents. He noted that he had also received several complaints of suspected drug activity at two homes on Ocklawaha Drive. He visited the area of Ocklawaha Drive to get a better understanding of the issue surrounding those two homes. Once he learned of the problems in the Bassville Park area, extra patrols were set up to increase police presence in the area and as a result of that, one arrest for trafficking methamphetamines had taken place. He explained that that the drugs were discovered on a traffic stop and also a stolen motorcycle was recovered from a bedroom in one of the homes. He noted that the investigation was still active at that time. He reported that there had been several overtime shifts set up for the area; however, it was not sustainable due to funding but he expressed that the LCSO was doing what they could. He reviewed that as a result of the overtime shifts, a felony warrant was served, calls for service had been responded to and on July 15, 2017, there were 19 traffic stops conducted, one noise complaint was responded to and the overtime shift officers helped with an armed robbery. He reported that on August 24, 2017, an arrest took place for loitering and disorderly conduct after the suspect tried to enter a residence and on September 24, 2017, a driver was arrested for narcotics violations. He hoped that the visibility was helping to reduce concerns. He commented that the driving speeds were relatively normal for the area. He stated that he appreciated the calls from the residents expressing their concerns and the LCSO was trying to provide the best quality service possible.
Mr. Cole opened the floor up to public comment.
Several residents from Bassville Park expressed their concerns including increased drug activity in the area, stating that they did not feel safe and some were being threatened; heavy equipment was being parked on one property where suspected oil dumping was also taking place; abandoned and overgrown properties and “burned out” homes in the neighborhood; people squatting in vacant homes; the dumping and burying of hazardous materials; theft, code enforcement and solid waste issues; impaired water in Haines Creek and sewage problems at a neighboring Recreational Vehicle (RV) park. They also posed questions on how to have streets signs installed for non-county maintained roads, requested details on truancy laws, and inquired about regulations regarding homes, within residential areas, being used as mental health and/or halfway house residences. A concern was noted specifically about a Lifestream Behavioral home within the Bassville Park area, which made the residents feel uneasy.
Mr. Guzman asked that the residents not be afraid of reporting code violations because reporting could be done anonymously and noted that getting vacant properties cleaned up could be a longer process because the property owner had to be found and notified. He pointed out that natural habitat growth was exempt from code violations but asked that that the residents keep calling and reporting specific addresses. He felt that there had been progress made in the area and he encouraged the residents to attend the code enforcement hearings to give testimony to help the cases.
Ms. Melanie Marsh, County Attorney, explained that residential homes for mental health organizations were regulated through the State of Florida, which meant Lake County could not dictate or regulate where the homes are placed.
Commr. Breeden commented that she would contact the Lifestream Behavioral Center’s director to talk over the problems and try to find a solution.
Mr. Schneider remarked that there had been a revised sign policy and explained that a sign could be installed on a non-county maintained road if requested and he gave the number for the residents to call to do so.
Mr. Butler responded to the comment on the sewage from the RV park, stating that FDOH had previously received complaints about the park, the complaints were investigated and one was found to be a valid complaint about a broken pipe and it had been resolved. He asked that the residents call in to the FDOH office and give the specific location of where the sewage was coming from so staff could address it.
Captain Pelton explained that the deputies had to have probable cause to enter the homes that are suspected of drug activity but he wanted the residents to know that the LCSO empathized and cared about the residents in the area. He stated that there were active investigations going on and because of that he could not share specifics but he wanted to make clear that there were things in motion. He understood that the residents have been frustrated that some of the suspects have been able to make bond and be released until their court hearings but the LCSO could not control that. He asked that the residents continue to keep calling and reporting suspicious activity and that the LCSO would respond as best as they could. He commented that statistically the area as a whole was not a bad one, and there were good people living there and homes that were well taken care of. He said that unfortunately there were also isolated homes of drug activity, which caused significant safety issues to the neighbors around them, and there was an issue of rental and foreclosure homes that were not being taken care of.
Mr. Cole thanked the residents for attending the meeting and added that there were several concerned staff and officials working to find solutions and to resolve the issues in the area.
Commr. Breeden thanked the residents for coming to the meeting and added that she understood they were running out of patience but to please keep calling. She pointed out that it was clear that some of the residents had worse problems than others and she expressed that the community is cared about. She commented that they did have to work within the law and sometimes that tied their hands. She noted that Mr. Guzman was working hard for the area and was giving updates to the Commissioners and County staff on the progress that he had made as well as the challenges he had been facing. She understood that it could be frustrating for the residents because it was also challenging for the staff and officials. She stated that Captain Pelton and his deputies were also concerned when an arrest was made and the person was released so soon; however, there were ongoing investigations that would hopefully result in making the community better. She reviewed that there were some issues identified that could be resolved sooner, such as traffic calming and possibly pinpointing the sewage problem on the canal. She reiterated that while there was not a solution for the alleged Lifestream Behavioral home at that time, she would contact the director to find a solution and make sure they were aware of the problems. She asked that the residents continue to call with issues and complaints.
Commr. Sullivan expressed that a community can be changed one step at a time and he felt that the Bassville Park residents were doing what was necessary to turn their neighborhood around. He commented that he lived in a place that was experiencing some of the same things and he felt that the residents were ahead of the curve due to their vigilance and continued reporting. He remarked that the Board needed to communicate with some of the state representatives on some of the laws that were holding back the Code Enforcement staff and the LCSO, specifically in regards to the drug issues. He stated that the Board would do their best to make Bassville Park a good community again.
Commr. Campione thanked everyone attending and stated she understood that there was a lot of frustration and the Commissioners were there because they cared. She stated that the Board was trying to help find a solution to some of the stories she heard. She felt that pinpointing the pipe and getting to the source of the sewage could be one thing resolved quickly and the solid waste near the road could also be handled quickly, and she encouraged the residents to call the solid waste phone number. She expressed that the issues would need to be resolved one step at a time and asked that the residents attend the code enforcement hearings if they were able to. She thanked the LCSO and Captain Pelton for their support and work in the area.
Commr. Blake thanked everyone for being there. He expressed that he was concerned by some of the things heard and he felt that a lot of it stemmed from the opioid crisis taking place all over the country. He thanked Mr. Guzman for all of the work that the Code Enforcement department had done trying to clean the area up.
A resident of Bassville Park expressed that the largest issue for the neighborhood was the drug activity and he asked if there was a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) presence in the area.
Captain Pelton replied that the LCSO does have a Special Investigations Unit that focuses on targeting drug users and sellers. He explained that it was tough because the group of drug users and sellers was tight knit, which made it difficult to find probable cause to gain access into homes. He noted that the Street Crimes Unit was targeting street level sellers and users but the epidemic of methamphetamine and heroin was so large that is was difficult. He stated that residents are the eyes and ears of the neighborhoods because a lot of the labs were now portable. He explained that the first point of contact would be for the residents to call the dispatch center, who would send out a Deputy Sheriff in a marked unit but if the residents had specific information they could call the LCSO and ask to speak with the drug unit. He gave the main number out to the residents, (352)343-2101.
Ms. Debbie Duane, a resident of Bassville Park, thanked the staff and officials for coming to speak to the residents and she noted that they would keep calling and would not stop trying to turn around their neighborhood.
Mr. Cole thanked everyone again for attending.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 7:20 p.m.
timothy i. sullivan, chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK