Posted June 7, 2017 06:03 am - Updated June 7, 2017 06:40 am
By SHELDON GARDNER firstname.lastname@example.org
Beach Commission to have final say in mayor’s setback violation
The future of one of St. Augustine Beach Mayor Rich O’Brien’s F Street properties will likely be in the hands of his fellow commissioners.
The conditional use permit that allowed construction of the property requires a western setback of 15 feet, but work stopped on the property once the city realized it was being built with a roughly 12-foot setback.
Now, the city is facing a thorny situation involving its top elected official, with people questioning whether he’s receiving special treatment or being unfairly scrutinized.
The path the city is traveling now, at the advice of the city attorney, is to allow O’Brien to apply to modify the conditional use permit before the city does anything else. Once he does, the City Commission will have a formal hearing on the matter, City Attorney Jim Wilson said. That application hadn’t been filed as of Tuesday afternoon, City Manager Max Royle said.
Meanwhile, the city’s residents have called for different actions: for the building to be torn down, for fines to be imposed and for the matter to be sent to code enforcement.
“That house needs to be torn back or torn down,” beach resident Tom Reynolds said at a commission meeting this week, adding that the city’s rules, laws and regulations need to be followed by everyone.
Royle, who called the issue an emergency, ordered a $2,550 independent study on the setback issue. Steven Lindorff, president of Community Redevelopment & Planning Consultants of Atlantic Beach, completed the report.
The main conclusions of the report: The encroachment was a mistake that was tied to different versions of lot dimensions, and that the error should have been caught both by the city and O’Brien’s team.
“Somehow between … the adoption of the conditional use permit and the submittal of the building permit, the condition for the 15-foot side yard fell by the wayside,” Lindorff said.
Lindorff also suggested in the report that O’Brien and his wife — who are the property owners through the business, 810 Beach Inc. — could revise the plan instead of having the building removed.
“It is my recommendation that this approach be followed as a workable (and probably less costly) alternative to seeking compliance with the original order, i.e., removal of the partially-completed structure, via the City’s code enforcement procedures,” according to his report.
Some supported that idea.
“Do I believe the buildings should be demolished? No, absolutely not. That would be a harsh penalty, even for the mayor,” said Clay Seay, St. Augustine Beach resident.
Seay said some had tried to paint Building Official Gary Larson — who is responsible for administering the Land Development Code, according to the study — as a “scapegoat” for the mistakes, but that the responsibility for surveying and measuring and marking boundary lines lies with the surveyor, builder and property owner.
But, Seay said, he favored changes to the permit to be allowed and for fines to be issued, and he urged for the city to not overreact. He said the mayor’s involvement has injected politics into the discussion, and the mistake should have been handled administratively by the building and code enforcement departments.
Local resident Ed Slavin, who supported tearing the building down, pointed out that a stop work order was never issued and that the matter should go to code enforcement per city code.
“To try to pull it away from code enforcement is wrong,” Slavin said.
Wilson said, considering the city’s role in the issue, that it’s safer for the City Commission to first decide whether the conditional use permit can be modified before dealing with things like whether code enforcement should be involved.
Reynolds said he filed a code enforcement complaint.
Royle said on Tuesday that because of Wilson’s advice, the city isn’t acting on complaints related to the setback.
Also, the city issued just a verbal stop work order for the property. Larson confirmed that he’ll monitor the site to make sure construction doesn’t restart.
Beach resident Bob Kahler said the mayor isn’t entitled to special treatment, and he just wants the rules to be obeyed.
“Mistakes are tolerated if you’re one of the boys,” Kahler said. “If you’re not one of the boys, you don’t get treated that well.”
TEAR DOWN THAT HOUSE ! Or set an example that Laws , Rules, Regulations DO NOT apply in St Augustine Beach.
St Augustine Beach Commissioners should send this right to. Code Enforcement. That is who has the Authority on this matter. Plus "a mistake" ...................... REALLY ?
I am O'Brien s neighbor and while going about my daily life have noticed work is still being done. The fact that no "Stop Work" order was done is proof out of the gate favoritism is already in play. Then add in Building Official Gary Larson says he " monitoring " ? Mr. Larson is named in the report as the main source of the illegal building being able to get a permit. In the report the quote by Lindorff is " the buck stops with building official Larson" ! So now he is monitoring the situation ? How much more can the St Augustine Beach Residents Intelligence be insulted ?
Shady shady shady. At the bare minimum he should get a hefty fine if he wants to continue to build his eyesores on the beach. I hope he gets voted out next term!