Wednesday, October 26, 2005

County, city to sell a lot of lots

Article published Oct 26, 2005
County, city to sell a lot of lots
Seized North Port properties to be sold for affordable housing

By Doug Sword

SARASOTA COUNTY -- North Port and Sarasota County will jump into the real estate market in a big way next week, hoping to make $50 million to $70 million that the county can use for affordable housing.

The county has already committed much of its windfall, expected to top $20 million, to affordable housing initiatives. While North Port hasn't yet dedicated its windfall, one commissioner said the city needs to use the money to pay for road projects.

While officials already had the money spent, a Web site is scheduled to launch Monday to whet the public's appetite for 2,100 North Port properties seized between 1998 and 2003 after the owners didn't pay their property taxes.

If the average parcel sells for $25,000, that would bring $51.2 million to the city and county after expenses.

The two governments hired Fisher Auction Co. of Pompano Beach on Tuesday to conduct the auction with bidding, some via the Internet, starting in early January and ending Feb. 11.

General Development Corp. originally sold the 2,100 lots beginning in the 1950s. After decades of little appreciation in value, the owners, mainly Midwesterners, stopped paying property taxes by the early 1990s, said David Bullock, deputy county administrator. At the time, a typical tax bill was only $20 or $30 a year, he said.

It's taken a decade to get control of the properties and for North Port and Sarasota County to settle a lawsuit over ownership. The two governments went to mediation and North Port will get 55 percent of the profit from the massive property sale, while Sarasota County gets 45 percent.

An initial estimate puts the estimated profits from the sale at about $50 million.

"I'd say that's conservative," said North Port Commissioner Barbara Gross. The city hasn't decided how to spend the money, but Gross would like to see much of it spent on improving roads.

The county will spend its share on affordable housing initiatives and infill development, which could include extending utilities to parcels in urban and suburban areas that development has skipped over.

The 21,000 properties, scattered throughout North Port, have been unwanted for years. During the 1990s, they were all put up for public auction because of unpaid back taxes. But there were no bidders.

Officials say that won't be the case this time around. The properties were appraised at $11 million two years ago. North Port's population has risen by 55 percent over the last four years so the two governments expect that appraisals could easily quadruple.

Based on recent sale prices, the average bid price during the auction could be $35,000, said Larry Arnold, general manager of business operations for the county's public works department.

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