Thursday, July 06, 2017


Thanks to the four Commissioners and citizens who vindicated the value of our zoning and planning laws. St. Augustine Beach is not Houston, Texas -- lawbreaking developers and contractors will be fined. Exhibit A: $25,000 fine and partial tear-down voted by four Commissioners and agreed to by St. Augustine Beach Mayor RICH O'BRIEN July 5th.

St. Augustine Beach Mayor RICHARD BURTT O'BRIEN's four colleagues voted 3-1 July 5th to fine him $25,000, require him to tear down part of an illegally overhanging structure, but allow him to amend his conditional use permit for 16 F Street. We, The People were heard and heeded -- no developer should think they can break the law and avoid responsibility.
To O'BRIEN: "Don't do it again."   
To Commissioner Maggie Kostka: THANKS FOR YOUR DISSENTING VOTE.  Yes! The penalty should have been stronger -- you were right to stand your ground, and I wish Vice Mayor Undine George had joined you in that third vote, when she waffled.
And to Commissioners Sherman Gary Snodgrass, Margaret England and Vice Mayor Undine George -- thanks for trying to do do better in quasi-judicial hearings.  You need to exclude inadmissible evidence and hearing evidentiary objections to malarkey from developer mouthpieces.
Next time it's 10:30 PM, just recess and come back fresh the next day. Think thrice before reaching hasty decisions late at night.
The penalty should have been stronger.
The Mayor of St. Augustine Beach is a lawbreaker, who did not testify under oath.
This should have invoked the uncalled witness presumption against his bogus claims of ignorance.
But we have a final order that won't be appealed from.
And a $25,000 fine to be paid by O"BRIEN and his maladroit contractor.
$25,000 -- almost seven times the measly $3700 fine the St. Augustine Code Enforcement Board ordered against former St. Augustine Mayor CLAUDE LEONARD WEEKS, JR/ a/k/a "LEN WEEKS," for working without permits and destroying 211-year old DON PEDRO FORNELLS HOUSE at 62A Spanish Street on September 25, 2014, a date that will live in infamy.
The partial demolition for 16 F Street symbolizes our commitment to Equal Justice Under Law.
Thank you, Commissioners Kostka, George, England and Snodgrass.

Posted July 5, 2017 10:06 pm - Updated July 6, 2017 05:30 am
St. Augustine Beach commissioners vote to allow mayor to amend conditional use permit for his properties


Commissioners voted 3-1 to allow Mayor Rich O'Brien to amend the conditional use permit for his properties on F Street, which he owns with his wife.

Commissioner Maggie Kostka voted against the motion. O'Brien had recused himself from the discussion.

The motion also requires O'Brien's team to pay $25,000 to the city.

Commissioners will meet again at 6 p.m. Thursday to discuss things they had to put off, including a discussion on succession planning.

Debate about what to do about St. Augustine Beach Mayor Rich O’Brien’s application to amend a conditional use permit went late into the night at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting.

The issue surrounds F Street properties owned by O’Brien and his wife, Lauren Ringhaver, via their business. The commission granted in 2016 approval for two houses to be built on the properties, and the conditional use permit that was issued required a 15-foot setback on the A1A Beach Boulevard side. There were other requirements.

Much of the debate focused on whether the commission actually required a 15-foot setback in their 2016 discussion and vote. The requirement was discussed and while not stated verbatim in the commission’s motion — which required “lush landscaping with a four foot buffer at the 15- foot line” — was included in the conditional use permit.

An attorney for O’Brien and his wife’s business, 810 Beach Inc., said the written order was not provided to the applicant.

Also, attorney Sid Ansbacher said later, “The term setback was not in the original motion. It was in the record at a couple of points.”

While that was questioned in public comment, Vice Mayor Undine George indicated it was clear the commission made the 15-foot setback a requirement.

She opposed comments that suggested she and city attorney added the additional requirement above what the commission requested.

“There is absolutely no basis for that,” George said.

During lengthy public comment, some supported O’Brien and amending his conditional use permit, allowing him to keep the property as built at about 12 feet instead of 15 feet. Construction has been stopped at the property while the issue is being resolved.

Beach resident Patricia Gill raised concerns that the 15-foot setback wasn’t enforced by city staff. She also said the house shouldn’t be torn down but that a fine should be levied.

“I really feel this is a code enforcement situation,” Gill said. “The variance agreed to 15 feet … . They did not follow the code as set out by the board.”

George asked whether the commission was tasked with finding out if a violation occurred.

City Attorney Jim Wilson said that it wasn’t necessary to find whether there’d been a violation of the requirements but the commission needed to find a way to resolve the issue.

“You’ve got a difficult decision on how you’re going to handle this,” he said.

In other business

As part of a new effort to increase security at City Hall, police checked bags and scanned people’s clothing before they entered the building.

Commissioners heard the city’s latest audit report, by Purvis Gray, which covered the fiscal year that ended in 2016. One part of the discussion was that the city has less in emergency reserves than advised, about a months’ worth instead of two months minimum. But the city expects to have several months of reserves when a grant and reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency come in.

Commissioner Gary Snodgrass called for a report from city staff on records retention in the city and whether anything is missing. The request was based on concerns over records being destroyed by the city for Beach Blastoff alcohol sales.

1 Comment
Tom Reynolds
Without a spec of a doubt, the hearing on the F st property exposed dysfunction, incompetence, and SHADINESS. The St Augustine Beach Building Official Gary Larson, the Builder Generations Homes and OF COURSE O'BRIEN, all were EXPOSED for their BIG FAILURES ! At least the Builder and O'Brien HAVE TO PAY A FINE ! Building Official Gary Larson absolutely should be FIRED for his FAILURES. My guess is he did the old " LOOK THE OTHER WAY " for O'Brien, BUT GOT CAUGHT ! The part of the Vice Mayor or acting Mayor George, changing her vote to YES to help O'Brien after voting " no " was weird. Of course Commissioner George LOVES to be the SAB DRAMA QUEEN and made her self look GOOFY or ODD at BEST ! Commissioner Undine George definitely lived up to our City Hall s nick name

..............................................................Dysfunction Junction .....................................................

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