PALMETTO -- Eight homeowners in the affluent Amberwynd Circle neighborhood on Snead Island have until Thursday to resolve ongoing code violations regarding illegal structures built within a conservation easement along the mangrove shoreline of Terra Ceia Bay.
According to code enforcement manager Jeff Bowman, the violations will be reinspected Thursday to check on compliance progress.
"A lot of the homeowners have already been contacted and have requested additional time because they are working with contractors to come into compliance," said Bowman. "The code enforcement officer will work with those people and will likely give them an extension."
According to documents obtained by the Bradenton Herald, three illegal boardwalks, three illegal walkways, an illegal fence and an illegal sidewalk must be remedied or Manatee County code enforcement will pursue further action with special magistrate hearings. The illegal boardwalks must be raised to the minimum three-foot elevation required by code to allow for sunlight to reach the bottom and for natural water flow. The fence, sidewalk and walkways made out of shell rock or brick pavers must be removed, as all were constructed at ground level.
The homeowners, many of whom purchased their homes with the illegal structures already built, were issued violations Sept. 17. According to the documents, the violations were listed as "repeat violations," because of the unresolved nature dating back to the spring of 2014.
But it all started months before that when one of Anthony DiLorenzo's neighbors saw a little girl's swing set in his view of the bay in June 2013. That neighbor made a phone call to complain to his homeowners association, which in turn complained to the county. Code enforcement responded and cited DiLorenzo, who then questioned why his daughter's swing set was being targeted while more intrusive structures had been in the easement for years.
The county agreed, citing several neighbors for illegal walkways nine months later. But the county approved a remediation plan developed by the HOA in April 2014 that simply called for planting native vegetation along the illegal structures. The only violation not approved in that plan was the swing set, which DiLorenzo has fought for more than two years.
DiLorenzo appeared before the special magistrate earlier this month and was given until February to remove his daughter's swing set.
Manatee County Director of Building and Development Services John Barnot said the approval of the 2014 plan was a mistake, calling it a miscommunication between code enforcement and residents. Barnot said the violations have never been resolved and are now back in the code enforcement process. Barnot, who did not return a call for comment on Tuesday, previously told the Herald that everything in the neighborhood that is not in compliance will either be brought up to code or "it's all coming out."
DiLorenzo, after sitting through his code enforcement hearing and listening to other cases, said, "There is an absolute need for these guys. There are some unsafe structures out there that could actually hurt someone. But not for this nonsense," referring to his daughter's swing set.
Virtually all of the backyard spaces on the bay are part of the conservation easement, making it difficult to place the swing set anywhere else, DiLorenzo said. His first fight was with the HOA's architectural review committee, which filed, then dropped, legal action against the DiLorenzos' swing set. The HOA ultimately approved the swing set when DiLorenzo moved it about 12 feet over and out of his neighbor's view of the bay.
The architectural review committee also approved the majority of the illegal structures now in the conservation easement, but code enforcement manager Bowman said the county cannot pursue action against an HOA. Instead, county officials are trying to educate the homeowners on what they can and cannot do in a conservation easement.
In addition to the eight violations, all 22 homeowners on the bay were issued informational letters as to their responsibilities, because Bowman said all 22 homeowners were technically in violation for mowing the grass within the conservation easement. They are not, at this time, being cited. The letter to homeowners said the county appreciates the neighborhood's cooperation but, "We will be performing periodic inspections of the easement to ensure compliance with the code. The mowing of the easement is an irreversible and irreparable offense."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.