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  • Daytona Beach News-Journal

    85-year-old woman fights condemnation of storm-damaged Wilbur-by-the-Sea home

    By Sheldon Gardner, Daytona Beach News-Journal,


    An 85-year-old woman whose Wilbur-by-the-Sea home is facing condemnation got a last-minute reprieve by the Volusia County Council and will avoid the wrecking ball for at least a little while longer.

    Nina Lavigna made the news in November 2022 when Gov. Ron DeSantis approached her beachfront home in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Nicole. She asked the governor for help. She was living with her daughter and needed money. He offered words of encouragement but no cash and left with his entourage.

    Close to a year and a half later, the home is still uninhabitable because she hasn't been able to afford repairs.

    Hers is the first case of a damaged beachfront property that has been condemned and gone to the County Council for an appeal. The council voted not to take action on Tuesday until the June 18 meeting to see if she qualifies for financial assistance.

    It is Lavigna's only home, and she said she has been living with family and friends to get by.

    "Everything I had in life went down, things I saved and things I had before. I really should have sold it. I could have sold the house for a lot of money, and now I have nothing," Lavigna said.

    County forces demolition of damaged beachfront homes

    A county inspection in November of 2022 found that Lavigna's house was unsafe and uninhabitable. Part of the home had collapsed onto the beach, including the swimming pool, Volusia County Chief Building Official Kerry Leuzinger said.

    "Half of the house was missing, basically, after the storms," he told the County Council.

    Leuzinger said the county tried to give Lavigna enough time to repair the property. He said that was their approach with other property owners affected by the storms.

    "Our direction after the storms in November of 2022 was to take our time," he said. "We knew (property owners) were going to have to deal with insurance companies and those types of things. By the time we got to August, September of '23, we began to receive complaints from the neighbors."

    Volusia County has issued five resolutions of condemnation for properties damaged by the storms, according to county spokesman Clayton Jackson. All of them were in Wilbur-by-the-Sea. Property owners have demolished three of those properties. The county had one property demolished and established a lien to recoup the cost of the demolition.

    Leuzinger said that after a year of waiting, it seemed appropriate to take action to clean up the properties.

    Lavigna and her attorney said the repairs are too costly for her and she has faced other issues that have stalled the project.

    The Volusia County Contractor Licensing and Construction Appeals board heard Lavigna's case on Dec. 6 and voted unanimously to issue a resolution of condemnation for her home. The board gave her until Jan. 6 to get repairs underway by getting a permit or face possible demolition.

    Lavigna's appeal of that decision stalled the condemnation order.

    A major concern for the county is that the property is unsafe not only for Lavigna but for passersby and neighbors with hurricane season approaching.

    "We have the issue of keeping the beach clean and we also have the issue of the neighbors nearby and a pile of rubble that's in the middle, so that is why we're here today," County Manager George Recktenwald said. "We have been working with this person for months."

    Lisa Macci, Lavigna's daughter and attorney, said Lavigna spent over $50,000 to clean up debris in front of the home and shore up the building. She also said the photos the county showed at the meeting from late 2023 don't reflect the current condition.

    Councilman Don Dempsey suggests an alternative

    The County Council could have upheld or denied the appeal but went in another direction.

    District 1 Councilman Don Dempsey suggested that the county see if the Transform386 program could help Lavigna. The federally funded program of about $329 million is intended to help Volusia County recover from Ian.

    The county has set aside $200 million in the program to replace or repair hurricane-damaged homes and address other housing needs. People must meet income guidelines and other qualifications.

    "We're trying to help everybody else in the county, and we're going to shut her down when she's a victim of Hurricane Ian just like these other people?" Dempsey said.

    The council voted unanimously in support of delaying a decision on the condemnation.

    "She may qualify based on maybe ... having a lot of assets but not much income, so we can look at that," Recktenwald said.

    While the vote was unanimous, Council Chairman Jeff Brower spoke to the tension of the issue.

    "We want to be compassionate to the woman, but we also have public safety to keep in mind, and is it dangerous to everybody else on the beach? What I saw leaves a question," he said.

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