Special magistrate hears code cases

Special magistrate hears code cases
Attorney Michael Connolly, serving as Holmes Beach special magistrate, hears arguments from Code Compliance Officer James Thomas while property owner Mohamed Walliagha prepares his rebuttal. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Four cases came in front of special magistrate Michael Connolly Feb. 19, including one repeat offender.

The first case concerned work without a permit and a davit that was constructed on top of a city drainage pipe at 652 Key Royale Drive.

Code Compliance Officer James Thomas presented the case with testimony from City Engineer Lynn Burnett.

Thomas said the davit was built too close to the property line and was installed without obtaining a permit from the city’s building department. Burnett added that the concrete pad that the davit is on and the davit itself are constructed on a stormwater/drainage easement and on top of a stormwater outfall pipe that is collapsing from the additional weight. She recommended that the davit and concrete pad be removed within the next six months to allow for much-needed repairs to the pipe.

During the hearing, it was revealed by building department clerk Angie Birdwell that a permit for demolition of the davit had been issued on Feb. 10 and is good for 180 days.

Connolly ruled that the property owner has 180 days from the permit date to removed the davit and has to pay $127.24 in hearing costs. An additional $250 per day fine may be assessed if the property owner does not come into compliance within the recommended time.

Repeat advertising offender Mohamed Walliagha was next on the docket for advertising his R-1 rental property as a vacation rental with higher than allowed occupancy.

Thomas presented the case, stating that advertising for the property at 515 75th St. allows for rentals of up to 16 people in the seven-bedroom property and for a period of less than the 30-day minimum allowed in the R-1 residential district. Under the city’s ordinances, rental units are allowed a maximum occupancy of two people per bedroom or a total of six, whichever is greater, capping Walliagha’s property at a maximum occupancy of 14.

This is the second time Walliagha has been brought before Connolly during a special magistrate hearing for advertising violations. The first time was Sept. 11, 2019, when Connolly ruled in the city’s favor, ordering the property owner to bring his advertising into compliance with the city’s ordinances. Thomas said that while the advertising did come into compliance for a while after the special magistrate hearing, Walliagha began listing the property on vacation rental sites VRBO, Home Away and Flip Key in December 2019 again in violation of the city’s ordinances. Thomas asked for Walliagha to pay $127.24 in fees along with a $250 per day fine for days the advertising was out of compliance from Dec. 19, 2019, to Jan. 30, 2020.

Walliagha argued that his advertising was on a three-month hold with the websites and was reactivated after that time without his notice. He also stated that since the property is his primary home and is homesteaded, he does not have to adhere to the city’s ordinances concerning rentals in the R-1 district. Thomas argued that the property is listed with all seven bedrooms for rent and that he showed the advertisements to the property owner well in advance of the hearing date, stating that he’s been working with Walliagha for two to three years to bring the property into compliance.

Connolly ruled in the city’s favor, ordering Walliagha to pay a $250 fine along with $127.24 in fees.

The third and fourth cases concerned dilapidated structures, one at 3017 Avenue E and another at 605 Emerald Lane.

The Avenue E property, owned by 3015 Avenue E LLC, was deemed by Thomas to be a dilapidated and unsafe structure.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said that the police officers had responded to the property Jan. 3, finding vagrants squatting on the property. He said the vagrants were removed from the property and said that officers had attempted to contact the property owner to have it boarded up.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer testifies Feb. 19 during one code compliance hearing before the special magistrate. – Kristin Swain | Sun

Thomas said since then the property had not been boarded up and was still open to the elements and abandoned, though it appeared that someone had mowed the lawn. He asked for fees along with a $250 per day fine for every day the property is not in compliance along with a $100-250 per day fine for every day the property remains out of compliance after the recommended 30 days to obtain a permit and 60 days to execute the permit to completion, including demolishing the structure, rehabilitating it or presenting a plan to the building department for rehabilitation. Thomas also noted that a permit had been pulled for the structure in 2019 that allowed for three units to be constructed inside the structure. He said it appeared that before work stopped at the property, five units were being constructed in violation of the permit.

The property owner was not present during the hearing.

Connolly ruled that the property owner has 30 days from the hearing date to obtain a permit from the building department and 60 days from the permit date to complete work or come back before the magistrate for an extension. He also granted the request to impose $127.24 in fees and a $250 per day fine if the property owner does not bring the structure into compliance.

The Emerald Lane property, currently owned by Stephanie Morris of Emerald8 LLC, was a bit of a different story. While Burnett said she inspected the property with Building Official Neal Schwartz and found it to be an unsafe structure, resident Tom Sanger stepped up to say that he was currently in negotiations to purchase the property in an owner-financed transaction to allow for the repairs needed at the home.

Two neighboring property owners also stepped up to serve as witnesses as to the condition of the property, Peter O’Brien and Jim McIntire. O’Brien said that he’s observed the property in its same, boarded up, dilapidated condition for over two years. McIntire said that he hopes the property can be sold to someone who will care for it and bring it up to the standards of the Key Royale neighborhood.

Connolly found in favor of the city, giving the current owner until March 6 to record a deed of sale or obtain a demolition permit. If a new owner is recorded for the property, that person has 30 days to obtain a permit and six months to complete renovations or come back before the magistrate to ask for an extension. He also assessed a $127.24 fee to the current owner and a $250 per day fine if his timeline for renovations or demolition is not met.

The next Holmes Beach special magistrate hearing will be held at 10 a.m. on March 18 at city hall, 5701 Marina Drive.

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