CLEWISTON -- CHL Home Builders, Inc., owner Charles F. Svirk Jr. addressed the Hendry County Board of Commissioners during its regular meeting Aug. 10 about his Port LaBelle residential subdivision, Banyan Village.
The 4 square-mile site on SR 80 at Lexington Parkway and Wellington Parkway has been nearly vacant since its formation in the 1970s when 3,800 buildable quarter-acre lots were being sold.
Svirk took ownership of the property in the early 2000s when the original developer went out of business, hoping to sell the lots for $5,000-$6,000 but now feels they may be worth $20,000 or more due to the work he’s put into attracting builders, paying delinquent taxes, and most recently securing a commitment from CenturyLink to install fiber optic internet services to lots.
Much of this expense has come out of his own pocket, he told commissioners. He’s taken out loans and dipped into his retirement fund to pay down delinquent taxes.
Now he’d like the county to vacate 400 of the units on the condition he pay back due taxes in full by Aug. 18.
He said the county had not been fair when it came to Banyan Villages because the county’s plans to bring utilities and infrastructure to the subdivision materialized too late although it fulfilled those obligations to neighboring subdivisions which are now thriving.
“We’re talking about trying to right a ship that has gone awry,” he said. “And we talk a lot about equal access and rights and being fair.”
Without infrastructure, electrical power, and water, building permits were too expensive for contractors and individual lot owners can’t afford to bring power to the property on their own due to the prohibitive expense.
Water wasn’t provided until 2008, he said, and until that was done building could not begin.
Chairman Mitchell Wills took issue with the request, saying it wasn’t the county’s fault lots haven’t sold in Banyan Village.
“In 2008 you got water out there and there’s still been no building and we’re in 2021,” he said.
He understood getting utilities to a site can be expensive, but with water available there was nothing standing in the way of Svirk to build.
“To say that since 2008 you could not build is not correct.”
Although water was put in place by 2008, Svirk said that was also when the economy crashed and property taxes increased to far more than what the lots were worth, resulting in the past due taxes over the years.
But now that the economy has improved, Svirk said lot values are going up, especially now that builders are committed to developing dozens of homes there since permit fees will drop due to volume.
“Now the power problem is fixed, the fiber problem is fixed, roads are coming in,” he said.
With utilities at the ready, and the highly desirable fiber optics available, Svirk said lot parcels can easily sell for $20,000 or more.
“We have literally solved all the problems of infrastructure at no cost to the county,” he said.
He’s brought his tax bill nearly up to date, paying approximately $4.6 million in back due taxes within the last 18 months, about half of what he owes.
Now he wants the county to vacate 400 lots in Banyan Village for one year that were put for the tax deed in April in exchange for paying the balance.
“To be clear, you’re willing to pay $5 million by the end of the week,” said Commissioner Ramon Iglesias, more than once. Each request was met with an enthusiastic agreement by Svirk.
“I can pay it tomorrow,” Svirk said.
Commissioner Karson Turner suggested Svirk provide a PowerPoint presentation outlining what he’d brought forward at the meeting along with a “dollars and cents” account of what the county would forfeit by giving Svirk another year to resolve the issues.
Iglesias put the motion forward to vacate the lots in Banyan Village that were put up for tax deed on the condition Svirk paid the balance of the taxes by Aug. 18. Commissioners passed the measure 5-0.
Svirk is expected to return in September with his presentation.