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Nuisance Home Could Have Buyer

Residents of a Palm Harbor neighborhood have been complaining about the safety and appearance of a large home that was destroyed by fire in 2008. Legal issues have prevented the county from bulldozing the home.

For years, the charred remains of the 4-story, 9,595 sq. ft. house at 792 Natalie Lane have been a source of worry and disdain for people living in this Palm Harbor neighborhood. 

Parents consider the home a safety hazard. They worry that curious kids could climb over a chain link fence surrounding the home and hurt themselves exploring the burned-out shell. They worry that kids could fall into the home's pool. They worry that the metal dangling from the roof of the house could fall on someone. And then there's the swarm of bugs that live in one corner of the home. 

There's a lot to worry about.

"We want it torn down. To me, it's getting unsafe. I would hate for an accident to happen," said Jennifer Chouinard, who lives in the neighborhood and says she's seen pieces blow off the home when it's windy outside.

"We have a safety issue. There's no way it's structurally sound. Something's going to come off and hurt someone," said David Foster, who moved his family to the neighborhood 20 years ago. Foster thinks the inside of the home is dangerous, too. "There's probably rats inside, it needs to be bulldozed."

The dilapidated home has even caught the attention of Palm Harbor Fire Commissioner, Norm Atherton, who has talked to Pinellas County Commissioners about his concerns. "I don't want children climbing up the fence. I'm worried about the building coming down and kids getting hurt. It's just a hazard," he said.

Someone got so hacked off about the burned out home, they recently posted homemade signs in front of it. "Ready for Hurricane Season" and "Call Your County Commissioners 464-3377" the signs demand in bright red paint.

But, the home at 792 Natalie Lane could soon see better days. Pinellas County Code Enforcement Director Todd Myers says a sales contract is being finalized on the home. Myers says the man who hopes to buy the house, plans to tear it down and rebuild a new home on the existing concrete foundation.

Myers hopes the sale goes through. He's talked to many citizens who've voiced concerns about the house. The county responded by putting up a fence around the house in an effort to keep people out. Myers says that's all the county could do,"We're trying to do the best we can with the resources we have… there's too many legal problems, if we tear down the house, we're opening the county to liability."

It turns out the house is at the center of a legal mess that's just as ugly as the house itself. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office says it began an arson investigation shortly after the house burned in September of 2008. That investigation is still open. Myers says home's owners, Joseph and Jennet Stancy, are now divorced and live in separate towns in California. He says lawsuits also exist regarding insurance payouts for the house.

The couple bought the home in December of 2005 for $609,000. The current market value of the property is $74,319 according to Pinellas County records. That's down dramatically from 2006 when county records valued the property at a high of $529,700.

Myers has not yet released the name of the potential buyer, nor did he say the price of the sales contract. But, Myers did say the man who wants to buy the property has been maintaining it by mowing the lawn and picking up trash.

"Neighbors have been using it as a personal dumping ground… I'm hoping very soon he'll get the property and continue to take care of it," he said.

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