TOWN SEEKS TO CODIFY LAND DEVELOPMENT REGULATIONS.
All without ever enforcing the regulations. Dilapidated and unsafe structures abound in town and the Town Managers (Townsend, Farley and now Lawrence) are like eunuchs at a brothel, unable to do anything. Let’s review some of the bidding, shall we.
In 1999 (that’s right folks, 1999) shortly after I moved to town, a member of the planning a zoning board said in a Town Council meeting that the parking of my big truck on my property was lowering her property values. So it began. I did a public records request which was denied by then Town Attorney Kennon. I then did a Citizen’s Complaint, denied by the town council. I then did an agenda item request which was also denied by the town council and finally I filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit was defended by the Florida League of Cities attorney (Marks and Grey) who is now defending the Town in the Civil Rights suit. Because I didn’t even know the law well enough to fight my way out of a paper bag, I lost.
I soon discovered that the house the Zoning Board member was living in had been condemned by a prior town manager after the house literally burned itself from the inside out. My big truck was in violation of Municipal Ordinance 98-01 (the Land Development Regulations, commonly called the LDR’s or Zoning Code) reportedly but her living in a condemned building WAS OKAY. She was stealing electricity from the power company and was getting her water via a garden hose from her neighbor across the street, BUT I WAS IN VIOLATION.
I went to Gainesville to get a copy of the LDR’s since the town wouldn’t give me a copy, again in response to a public records request. It was then, in 2000, that I learned that the town, in its infinite wisdom, had paid close to $7000.00 (in 1998 dollars) to have the North Florida Regional Planning Council (NFRPC) draw up an LDR for the town. Upon inspection, the town’s new Zoning code was simply a copy of the Gainesville Zoning code with a global search and replace substituting White Springs for Gainesville.
I pushed, cajoled, begged and pleaded with town officials to re-condemn the building and the other building on the same lot. Finally, in late 2000 then Manager Henry Dunn re-condemned the two structures. Because, I believe, the property was owned by the Brother in Law of a Council Member, and the Council didn’t appreciate a “favored son” having property condemned by an outsider, Mr. Dunn was soon fired. The town paid approximately $8000.00 in legal fees and severance to Mr. Dunn.
The Town, because Kennon told them that they would never be able to enforce the zoning code again if they didn’t sue the Council member’s brother in law, then sued the owner of the two buildings for violation of the Zoning Code based on Mr. Dunn’s condemnation. The suit lasted two years and was dropped by the council after expenditure of approximately $3000.00. The condemned houses still stood as a public safety hazard and eyesores in the community. The buildings reverted back to the Brother in Law because of non-payment of the mortgage by the new owner. He subsequently sold them again when he, reportedly (and I’ve never gotten a copy of the money trail) got the Building Inspector to certify that one of the two structures was safe for human occupancy according to State Law. Even if that was true, that it met State Codes, which it certainly did not, the Town Zoning Code was quite a bit “stricter” than the state codes. A new owner moved into the other house, not the one the Zoning Board member lived in. That lasted about two years with this gentleman living in a condemned building with Town Council’s permission and concurrence. He finally moved out of the house when, according to rumor, part of the roof gave way and almost injured his son.
Fast Forward several years and the zoning board member and the man, also a council member, from whom the condemned house was getting water from, were both deceased but the Council member’s brother in law still owned the properties when he sold the property to another Favorite Daughter of the town. I again pushed for demolition of the two structures, filed two more lawsuits coupled with scores (that’s 20 Walter) of 119 requests, at least 10 agenda Items and 15 Citizen Complaints (all denied). The town spent approximately $10,000 in defending all of the lawsuits.
Finally in 2012, (13 years after the problem came to light) the property was sold to a new resident in town and a long-time resident. I again pushed, cajoled, begged and pleaded with Bob Farley, then town manager to re-condemn the two structures. He condemned one and the owner of the other one began demolition of his structure without condemnation papers. So finally, in 2014, one structure was demolished and then, finally, the second structure was demolished.
Here is the problem for the Town. If they now decide to enforce the Zoning Code on ANYBODY, all that person needs to say is that they want the same length of time to come into compliance as the owners of property 8301-000 got, 15 years. And they would win that suit under the Equal Justice under the Law provision of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is doubtful whether the Town will ever seek to enforce the zoning code on anybody.
In 2013 the Town codified the zoning code, to the tune of another $6000.00 but they didn’t include all of the addendums to the Code that had been passed over the years such as the Parking Ordinance and the various wavers the Council granted to its friends and supporters.
Now according to the Jasper News’s (commonly called the White Springs Blog) Web site the town has to re-codify the zoning code including all of the stuff that wasn’t codified in 2013. The cost is anticipated to be in excess of $10,000.00 of taxpayer funds. All without ever enforcing the Zoning Code on anyone in a timely manner.
Let’s review the bidding again, shall we. The town, over the almost 16 years I have lived in town has spent approximately $30,000.00 of taxpayer funds to KEEP FROM ENFORCING THE LDR’s. They have denied over 100 public records requests, denied at least 30 citizen complaints and 20 agenda items requests and defended at least 4 lawsuits all to protect their friends. Can you say “special strokes for special folks”? All of this has cost us money. But the real crime was in not enforcing the monetary (that’s money Walter) fines REQUIRED BY STATE LAW AND THE ZONING CODE. If the town had simply “fined”, again as required, the sum of $5.00 a day (when state law allows for $250/day) for the violations they could have put over $40,000.00 INTO the town treasury instead of losing the $30,000.00 to bad politics and lack of concern for safety issues.
But no, Walter and his cronies, including the Council member who’s Brother in Law owned the unsafe structures wouldn’t hear of it. Taxpayer moneys be damned. We can’t let Griffin win. And now the town is being forced to spend $10,000.00 more to codify an ordinance that is worthless. They need to scrap the whole thing and do a new ordinance. But what do I know. I’m just the complaining citizen.