At Tuesday morning’s county meeting, zoning issues were a source of contention, as commissioners took a stand on three controversial issues and were threatened with legal repercussions.
Tina and Steve Simmons came before the commission with a request to construct a home 20 feet into the front setback at 890 Gulf Shore Drive on the gulf side of Dog Island. The county board of adjustment unanimously had recommended approval of the request, and former County Planner Alan Pierce said such adjustments had been allowed on St. George Island.
Commissioner Cheryl Sanders disputed the recommendation. “ This is in my area,” she said. “Recently, I have received letters from the Barrier Island Trust, the Nature Conservancy and the Dog Island Conservation Trust opposing this construction. I am firmly opposed. I can find no one on Dog Island in favor of this.”
She moved to deny the construction permit and the motion passed unanimously, after which Tina Simmons rose to her feet and asked if she could speak as the applicant for the permit. She and her husband came to the podium.
Steve Simmons said he was assured by a real estate agent that the lot was buildable, an opinion the property owner said was confirmed both by surveyor Thurman Roddenberry, and Valerie Jones at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
He said that after Dog Island residents complained, DEP told the Simmons they needed to seek permission from the county.
“We sold our home in Memphis, Tennessee and been here since February waiting,” Steve Simmons said. “I feel it is unfair for us not to be able to build.”
Sanders asked Amy Kelly from the planning and zoning office how many structures had been approved on the Gulf side of Dog Island in recent years. She replied she wasn’t aware of any in the last five to 10 years.
“This board has to look out for the health and safety of the county,” Sanders said.
“Who’s going protect people who sell everything they have?” Tina Simmons asked. “I’m living in a camper because we sold everything we have. You should take down every ‘for sale’ sign you have (on Dog Island.)”
Chairman Smokey Parrish said that “we (the county) don’t put the signs up and we don’t have the authority to take them down. What concerns me is what seems to be a double standard from the DEP.”
Steve Simmons said his next move will be to hire an attorney. “I think this is an outrage that has happened to a lot of people in Florida,” he said.
St. George Island businessman Walter Armistead was also disappointed by a decision of county commissioners. Last May, commissioners rezoned land belonging to Armistead (lots 10 through 21, Block 1 East, Unit 1, St. George Island Gulf Beaches; the undeveloped parcel of land across Franklin Boulevard from the Piggly Wiggly Express and adjacent to the old Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar) from C-2 commercial business to C3, commercial recreational.
On Tuesday he returned to the county with a commercial site plan for an RV park on the land. Commissioner Ricky Jones immediately stated he was opposed to an RV Park on the island.
Commissioner Noah Lockley’s motion to approve the plan died for lack of a second. Armistead returned to his seat but returned to the podium 10 minutes later and urged commissioners vote on the issue.
Sanders moved to deny permission to build and the motion passed, with Parrish and Lockley opposed.
“If this is denied I will not be able to use that property,” Armistead said. “Based on your commitment to rezone, I went before P&Z and met all qualifications. The P & Z board approved it unanimously. I think it’s unfair if you now tell me I can’t use it for that.”
At the same meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to place a moratorium on construction permits for metal buildings in the county. The decision was made in response to complaints from some Eastpoint residents about a building on South Bayshore. P & Z recommended the moratorium in all residential zones R 1 through 8.
County Coordinator Michael Morón said the P&Z board was split on the moratorium but has been receiving requests for metal building permits and wants guidance on how to proceed.
He said a permit was issued for such a building at 26 South Bayshore, and that another metal “barn” already constructed on Bayshore on a lot occupied by a house is drawing complaints from neighbors, who say it is being used as a commercial structure. Bayshore is zoned R-1 residential.
Sanders said, zone R4 was designed for cottage industry, not R 1.
Ricky Banks of Eastpoint told commissioners he purchased land on Bayshore to build a metal home there. He said the metal structure has the appearance of a residential structure but costs roughly one-third as much as a stick-built home.
“It gives someone like me that was raised in this county, working on this water, something to work for,” he said. “It’s been a dream my whole life to build a home for my wife.”
County Attorney Michael Shuler proposed putting a four-month moratorium in place until the county can research the matter. He said the determination of standards would take several months.
“Can I recommend you table it until I get my house built?” Banks asked.
Laughter erupted and Banks said, “I want to build a house that I will be proud to live in and my neighbors will be proud to live beside.”
Kelly said that “we can’t stop the building on South Bayshore but we can strongly suggest they make it look more residential.”
Shuler said he would schedule a public hearing to discuss the moratorium.
“If it don’t work out I’m gonna put about 125 hound dogs on the lot and tie a coon there ‘till somebody buys the land,” Banks said.