Local News

Homes fined for 119 code violations

BRIGHTON - Years ago, as Dennis Anderson tells the story, one Kissimmee River Estates neighbor built a porch near the property line of another neighbor. "The roof drained over his neighbor's yard," Anderson said Friday. The perturbed neighbor called Highlands County Code Enforcement, who mandated different drainage. "But they've been bickering ever since," Anderson said. That decision solved the immediate problem, but more recently, the code enforcement office was again contacted about setbacks — rules that require structures to be a certain distance from property lines.
Anderson said the complainant wrote down everyone's addresses. "It started with 10 enforcement complaints," confirmed Zoning Supervisor Linda Conrad. "We started the sweep on Dec. 15. We just finished on Tuesday. There were 119 properties in the subdivision that did not comply." Many were about setbacks, but Bob Patrone was cited for parking a boat on a vacant lot across from his house. Dennis Anderson was welding on a Volkswagen in his front yard. Other tickets were for high grass. Some lots are so small, Patrone said, so there's no place to put a carport. "The cars have to sit out in the sun. People were told to take the tops off the well houses. They can't do that. I've dealt with 60 people." If homeowners don't move the offending buildings, they face an initial $50 fine, and Conrad said each could be fined daily until they comply with a special magistrate's order. Some structures have been there for 30 years, Anderson said, and have changed hands numerous times. "The vast majority of people bought these problems from someone else." Marion Poppe built his 24-by-40-foot pole barn in 1993, according to Highlands County building permit number A93-7660, which he kept. "How can they say my barn doesn't meet the setbacks when I have the permit?" he asked. "They're harassing everybody out there. Picking on you, just to be picking." "In 1993, you could take a napkin up to the building department with the plans on it and get a permit," Anderson complained. "They just took the word of the homeowner. You could have put something three feet from the highway." Procedures have evolved. Conrad said the building inspector didn't check setback requirements 20 years ago. These days, applications are required to start in the zoning department, then a building permit can be applied for. One neighbor has already torn down a two-car garage. Another 85-year-old woman moved her shed a couple of feet, said Anderson and another neighbor, Bill Hemphill. Hemphill built an 8-by-10 concrete well house 12 years ago. "It's my water source, and they want me to tear it down." He doesn't want to, for two more reasons: the first is that PVC will burst at 29 degrees, and Florida winters occasionally get that cold; the second is that he doesn't want his neighbors to have to see his exposed well. "I'm going to get a variance," Hemphill said. "But if they come back, I'm going to get an attorney. I've put everything I've got into my place. I'm not going anywhere." "We're not out for citations," Conrad assured, "we're out for compliance." After a visit with County Commissioner Don Elwell and County Administrator Rick Helms, Conrad said the county has offered a possible compromise. As Conrad explained it, everyone in the mobile home community could pay for one survey of every building in the entire subdivision, which would be submitted for review to the zoning department. Then, if the Board of Adjustment agrees, all the structures would be recognized. "It would be one fee instead of numerous fees," Conrad said. In the future, residents would have to comply with county setback codes. That's another bone of contention with Anderson and Hemphill, who say they've gotten different answers on setback requirements. Most of his neighbors are retired and live on a fixed income, Anderson said. "They're in here because they can't afford anyplace else. It's going to be a hardship." "This park was established in 1925," Patrone said. "It's surrounded by cows on four sides. The county hasn't done their jobs for 40 years. "They won't take our water and sewer problems, but they're enforcing every little violation like it's the Taj Mahal. What they should have done is said, 'We'll enforce everything from now on.'"

gpinnell@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5828