Thursday, November 10, 2016

WRIST SLAP?: Contractor JOHN VALDES Destroyed Historic Home, Fined $224 By Code Enforcement Board of St. Augustine

Being a bad-ole-boy in St. Augustine, Florida, you can destroy an historic structure, illegally, and be fined only $224.
That's what the St. Augustine, Florida Code Enforcement voted to fine contractor JOHN VALDES on November 8, 2016 for destroying 125 Washington Street, arrogantly acting without a permit, after he told City employees -- who said it was not in imminent danger of falling down -- he could "make it" fall down.
The $224 was for "administrative costs."
The hearing was not broadcast or streaming online.
Go to City Hall to hear it in the Clerk's office.
Speak out on November 14, 2016 about corruption in St. Augustine.
VALDES is the former PZB Chair, and a former member of HARB. He ran for City Commission against ODD TODD NEVILLE in 2014.
In 2014, the St. Augustine Code Enforcement Board fined ex-Mayor LEN WEEKS, ex-HARB Chair, only $3600 for destroying Don Pedro Fornells House, working without permits, ignoring advice from his own architect and engineer, and City professionals.
The City is not enforcing demolition ordinances -- it needs a spinal implant.
Enough desuetude (nonenforcement) and bad legal drafting and bad legal advice.
FYI: I testified twice before HARB about JOHN VALDES' indecent demand for a retroactive demolition permit -- it was rightly DENIED, resulting in the November 8, 2016 Code Enforcement fine. See Steven Cottrell's column in The St. Augustine Record:

Posted September 27, 2016 12:00 am - Updated September 26, 2016 12:00 am
By Public Occurrences Steve Cottrell
Steve Cottrell: Ask permission... or seek forgiveness

Sometimes it’s easier to seek forgiveness rather than ask for permission, but not always.

Consider, for example, the Sept,. 15 meeting of the St. Augustine Historic Architectural Review Board, when longtime local contractor John Valdes appeared — admittedly, hat in hand — to justify why he razed a Washington Street cottage without a demolition permit.

John offered an earnest apology, explained the rationale for his transgression, and asked HARB to approve an after-the-fact demolition permit. If granted the permit, there would be a fine to pay — but likely less than potential code enforcement costs arising from an HARB denial.

The building in question was being renovated by John’s company when he discovered extensive termite damage and other issues he felt put the 1922 cottage in serious structural jeopardy.

But it is (or was, rather) a contributing building to the Lincolnville Historic District, an area added to the National Register of Historical Places 25 years ago. Such historic buildings require extensive review before being demolished.

Valdes told HARB members that in 30 years of restoration work in St. Augustine, this was the first time he had ever torn down a building without a permit. He said because it was hurricane season. It would take a month to get on an HARB agenda to request a demolition permit.

He felt he had no choice but to tear down the structure before it was blown over by heavy winds.

Valdes is a respected contractor and his testimony at HARB was under oath, so there’s no reason for someone like me to question his opinion regarding the building’s lack of structural integrity. But as a former member of both HARB and the city’s Planning and Zoning Board — as well as a former candidate for city commissioner — he knew the protocol, and knew better than to unilaterally demolish a building without a demolition permit.

Early this summer, fearing the building might collapse and possibly endanger people using the sidewalk, as well as structures on either side of the weakened cottage, John called City Hall, explained his predicament and asked city staff to take a look, with the aim of obtaining an emergency demolition permit.

Jenny Wolfe, the city’s Historic Preservation Officer, and city building official Richard Schauland met at the site with Valdes.

“I think staff will agree that the damage was extensive,” John told HARB, “but they did not feel compelled to give me a (emergency) demolition permit.”

John said he soon found himself in a dilemma: either wait a month for the next HARB meeting, “or do something I’ve never done before, which is take down a building without permission.”

He chose the latter option.

“And I apologize for that,” he said.

John made a compelling case on behalf of his clients and I thought he would walk out of the meeting with his after-the-fact permit. But HARB chair Randal Roark had no intention of supporting an after-the-fact permit, nor did three other HARB members.

“I can’t see any reason why we should send a message that it’s OK to do this,” Chairman Roark told his colleagues.

Then, just before the vote, Schauland went to the microphone to answer a HARB member’s question. He was asked what happened the day he and Ms. Wolfe met on-site with Valdes.

Schauland explained that after being inside the cottage for 20-30 minutes, he advised Valdes that in his professional opinion the building was not in danger of falling down. “(Valdes) stated to me that he could make it that way,” Schauland said, adding, “I told him he could not tear it down and he needed to come to HARB.”

Instead, Valdes demolished the cottage then applied for an after-the-fact permit.

On Sept.that application was denied — and now it is a code enforcement issue with possible costly fines and other expenses down the road.

So who says it’s easier to seek forgiveness than ask for permission?

Not the St. Augustine Historic Architectural Review Board — and good for them.

Cottrell can be contacted at

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