Bee Investigator

Blighted Modesto property with hopes for restoration now in worse condition

Modesto Code Enforcement has opened a case into Casa Blanca Court.
Modesto Code Enforcement has opened a case into Casa Blanca Court.

While the city of Modesto had high hopes for a blighted street off McHenry Avenue when a new investor presented restoration plans last year, the property has only fallen further into disrepair.

Modesto Code Enforcement has opened a case into Casa Blanca Court, a privately owned 0.86-acre cul-de-sac with 11 deteriorating bungalows subject to squatters and vandals.

I wrote about the bungalows in November, when the then-new property owner, Sang Lee, pledged to clean up the street, expand some of the bungalows built in 1947 and secure the court with a wrought-iron gate to attract “good working families.”

None of that has been done. A fence was put up blocking access to the court, but it’s chain-link and, as of last week, was not locked.

“We have a long history of complaints regarding this property, usually for junk and debris and graffiti,” said code enforcement officer Chris Kemper. “It’s one of those properties that would continue to be brought into compliance, then fall back out.”

He said the city gave Lee some latitude in addressing the blight because of his intentions for improvement.

Lee got approval for his plans in April, which included expanding two of the 624-square-foot units by adding an additional bedroom over the garage. But less than two months later, he put the property on the market without ever pulling building permits.

“It is just a bigger commitment than I am willing to take on. I am not suited for large-scale projects,” Lee said Friday.

The structures are zoned legal nonconforming, meaning they did not meet code when they were annexed into the city in 1969 but were grandfathered in their existing condition. If work is done to more than 20 percent of the buildings, the property would need to be rezoned and brought up to code, which would include requirements such as installing sidewalks, according to Modesto Principal Planner Steve Mitchell.

Lee said that is a more time-consuming project than he is willing to endeavor.

But with no progress on the court, the city is tired of waiting.

Two weeks ago, Kemper launched another investigation into the court. The garbage that surrounds the home and graffiti on the exterior walls of the homes are no longer the biggest issues.

Kemper said the structures are dangerous to inhabit and he is considering condemning them with an order to either have them demolished or brought up to code. At the very least, he said, they need to be boarded up to keep people out, as nearly every window of the 11 bungalows is broken.

Several weeks ago, two women on the property said they and their families were living in two of the units. They said an employee of the owner would let them and others live in the units unbeknownst to the Bay Area-based Lee, then kick them out before Lee was scheduled to be in town.

When I told Lee about the women, he said no one should be living there and that he would look into it. He also wasn’t aware of the pending code enforcement case but said he would comply with whatever orders are imposed.

Once Kemper finalizes paperwork on the case, Lee will have 30 days to either comply with the orders or appeal.

The parcel, which includes the land and bungalows, is listed for nearly half a million dollars, $145,000 more than what Lee paid last July. The online sales listing suggests Lee’s unrealized vision of the court as a “potentially gated community.”

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