3/30/2005

Boca workers remove truck loads of trash from unkempt home: (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, 3/29/05

By Luis F. Perez

[Boca Raton] police and firefighters, some in protective gear, sifted through piles of junk Monday outside Albert Schulz's house.

They wanted to make sure the veteran hadn't placed explosives, booby traps or accelerants in the garbage strewn throughout the property.

That was the latest extraordinary measure city officials have taken in the long-running case that has neighbors complaining and the city researching whether it can condemn the house at 600 W. Palmetto Park Road and use eminent domain to take the property. The moves come after years of battles with Schulz to keep his property in the Royal Oak Hills neighborhood clear of debris.

Longtime city workers, elected officials and property rights activists can't recall a municipality using eminent domain to address code violations. City leaders emphasize that taking Schulz's house would be the last drastic step in a nine-year fight to have him clean his property.

"I couldn't find any [similar] reported cases in Florida," said Valerie Hernandez, a property rights lawyer who leads the Pacific Legal Foundation's Atlantic Center in Coral Gables. "But it's clear in the statutes, they have the power to do that."

When the police gave the all-clear, a city-hired crew of five wearing face masks to guard against the rancid smell of rotting food moved onto the property and started carting away two large and six small truckloads of garbage.

Jeff Pasternak, who runs the Delray Beach hauling company the city hired, said Schulz's house was the worst case he has seen.

In the driveway, Pasternak said his workers found boxes of rotting yogurt and Jell-O. He recognized a birthday cake that had turned into a dark mass and a chicken carcass that looked like brown paste. Maggots covered rotting food, and rat droppings were everywhere, he said.

Workers used rakes and pitchforks to sift through the garbage and spook any vermin, Pasternak said.

City officials decided early Monday to move up the date of the cleanup from later in the week because Schulz was arrested Saturday night after allegedly running a stop sign. He was charged with driving without a license and driving an unregistered vehicle, among other charges.

He didn't have his license because on St. Patrick's Day police arrested Schulz, 57, and charged him with driving while intoxicated.

He remained in the Palm Beach County Jail on Monday. His bail is set at $1,000.

"We took this opportunity since he was not going to be around," Assistant City Manager Michael Woika said.

Officials from the state's Department of Children & Families and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs visited Schulz in jail to check on his mental state and learn whether they could help him, Woika said.

Schulz's case goes back to 1996, when he was first cited for overgrown grass, keeping auto parts and an accumulation of dismantled furniture on his property, and other code violations.

He has since been cited and fined 17 times for junk on his property and owes the city more than $57,000. He will be billed for the cost of Monday's cleanup, as well.

The Palm Beach County Health Department also ordered Schulz to clean up the unsanitary nuisance, but to no avail.

The City Council last week voted to have the city clean Schulz's property. Council members also voted unanimously to ask a court for permission to go onto Schulz's property at any time to clean it.

However, the council's most extreme measure was to ask city staff to look into taking Schulz's property from him if he continues to pile garbage there.

"We want the option available to us," said Mayor Steven Abrams, defending the use of eminent domain. "This is not an aesthetic issue. It's a health and safety hazard."

Nobody is advocating using eminent domain as a tool to correct code violations, Councilman Bill Hager said, but this has been going on for a decade. Neighbors have complained about rats, and the house is within 100 yards of an elementary school.

"We simply cannot tolerate this situation," he said.

Councilwoman Susan Whelchel, who last week proposed using eminent domain, said it is used in only the most egregious cases and would not be used for other code violators.

"There is no slippery slope," she said. "The city of Boca Raton doesn't run around taking property through eminent domain."

She called the Schulz case a lengthy, entangled legal process with no assurance in the end that it would be fixed.

"With eminent domain, the end result is clear," she said.


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