Port St. Joe city commissioners were presented with a clear choice during a special meeting Tuesday.
Face either the potential of a lawsuit from the owner of a home on Monica Drive or the reality of a lawsuit from neighbors of the home.
Commissioners chose the former.
Commissioners voted 4-0 to move ahead with the process of condemning the home at 103 Monica Drive, despite their attorney’s recommendation to go another, more time-consuming and legally safer, route.
And, several commissioners acknowledged they should have take action months ago.
The home indeed has a lengthy and infamous history.
Neighbors have complained for years, literally, said Stan Price, about the conditions around the home.
It is a home well-known to local enforcement, with suspected drug activity, including foot and vehicle traffic at all hours and exotic smells.
Residents of the home failed to pay utility bills and the city had to take drastic steps to cut off both water and sewer to the home; there are court cases due to illegally tapping into electrical lines.
In November, a neighbor informed commissioners that occupants of the home were carrying water from the stormwater canal near the high school to use in the home.
And the residence has been home to nearly two dozens dogs, more than a dozen of which were dumped one day on Industrial Road, where two were killed.
County animal control has made numerous trips to the home and one of the three known residents is in jail on animal cruelty charges.
In fact, at the current time, all three residents are incarcerated on various charges.
Price said there was “primitive camping in a concrete building in our neighborhood.”
A special magistrate found last July that the home constituted a nuisance, issued a fine and said the city is authorized “to take any reasonable action to abate the nuisances and eliminate the public health hazards at the property.”
And the city cleaned up the site, with conditions deteriorating shortly thereafter.
Price said after pressing commissioners about the situation most of 2018, neighbors backed off following Hurricane Michael, knowing the city and county had plenty on their plates.
But, the neighbors had effectively lost patience along with the use of their yards due to the foul language, filth and activity at 103 Monica.
“We’ve been dealing with this before the hurricane and we’re dealing with it since the hurricane,” said neighbor Chris Brumbaugh.
Price said he was prepared to travel immediately to Tallahassee to hire a lawyer to sue the city into action.
“The city … we have not done what we should have done,” said Commissioner Scott Hoffman. “Now we have to figure out how to make it right.”
A huge hurdle discussed Tuesday is that the city is not sure of the lawful owner of the property.
In addition, the property tax status was unclear.
City attorney Adam Albritton outlined by memo two options, his recommendation that the city pursue its case in front of the special master to have the home condemned and demolished.
That path was the safest, legally.
Commissioners instead chose to use the language of the special master last July as support for taking whatever steps were necessary to eliminate the nuisance.
Commissioners voted to bar all entry to the property immediately, including the vagrants neighbors said were still hanging around, and work with the county on demolishing the home.
During its meeting Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners extended permission to Administrator Michael Hammond to work with City Manager Jim Anderson on the removal of nuisance properties, with the Monica Drive address in mind.
“The house needs to go,” said Mayor Bo Patterson.