Sarasota News Leader

05/30/2014

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before issuing a permanent Certificate of Occupancy, or CO. The last TCO expired ear- lier this year, and the establishment has been in continued violation for its noncompliance ever since. Once again, Code Enforcement officials — when faced with a recalcitrant property owner ignoring deadlines for compliance — had to turn to the Special Magistrate for relief. At a hearing in March, James Aker, the attor- ney for Bob's Boathouse, pleaded with the Special Magistrate for more time for his client to complete a county-issued "punch list" of items that must be finished prior to the issu- ance of a CO. The special magistrate relented, granting Bob's Boathouse up to 120 days to complete all remaining items on the punch list, with a status hearing scheduled for May 23 to assess progress. Despite assurances by Aker that substantial progress would be made on this list, it was revealed at that May 23 hearing that 75 per- cent of the items remained undone. And if all items are not complete by the end of the 120- day period, a hearing in July will determine penalties that will be assessed against Bob's Boathouse for continued noncompliance. Presumably, those penalties could be daily fines, or even an order to cease operations until a permanent CO was in hand. As with the Craig Siegel properties, county Code Enforcement officials have been frustrated by not only the intransigence of Bob's Boathouse with regard to the timely completion of outstanding requirements for continued operation and adherence to the new noise limitations, but by the utter lack of meaningful sanctions at their disposal to compel that compliance. The existing enforcement structure for vio- lation of any county code works quite well for a law-abiding property owner who inad- vertently runs afoul of those regulations. The problem arises with the occasional property owner who ignores those codes as well as efforts by the county to enforce compliance. Given the relative toothlessness of enforce- ment sanctions, it is no wonder the county is occasionally confronted by such flagrant violations. The problem is aggravated fur- ther by a woefully exiguous corps of Code Enforcement officers to ensure compliance in a county with almost 400,000 residents. The County Commission must meet this chal- lenge head on. First, it must provide many more Code Enforcement officers than the 11 currently available. The Sheriff's Office should not be an adjunct enforcement arm for code matters. Second, it must look at adding sterner penalties — even criminal sanctions — to address the occasional problem of prop- erty owners who openly flout both the intent and letter of local ordinances that exist to ensure the health, welfare and well being of all Sarasota County residents. Lastly, it should tie unpaid penalties assessed by a Special Magistrate to utilities service, rather than just OPINION Sarasota News Leader May 30, 2014 Page 84

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