Friday, August 08, 2008

A Variety Of Variances And The Futility Of Denying Them


Deputy City Manager Dennis Kelley and I had a little confab a day or two ago in his office. I'd tried to get him to meet at Starbucks and put the coffee on his expense account but he came up with the double excuse that he didn't drink coffee and had no expense account. I'm easy to get along with so I agreed to meet him in his office.

The subject of our discussion was my next door neighbor's fence again, a situation that's been dragging on over two years now. His position is that the fence meets current code requirements and the guy paid a double permit fee because it was constructed without a permit. My position is that it really doesn't meet current code requirements because the thing was measured from the wrong place, and furthermore, besides the fact that no variance was ever sought, it certainly didn't meet the more stringent requirements at the time it was installed

What I'm saying is that if the code said a five foot fence was allowed at the time the fence was built but a six foot fence was constructed without a permit or a variance, maybe you can accept the double permit fee for an after the fact building permit but the fence would still have to get a variance if it was six feet tall whether or not the code was later changed to allow six foot fences. It would have to conform to the code as it existed at the time it was constructed.

So after all this arguing back and forth, all the tap dancing around the issue, and never really coming close to refuting any of my points of argument, he decides that the city attorney should research it. This little Fence Problem has dragged on more than long enough and probably has already cost the taxpayers in excess of $10,000 in wasted staff time. After I agreed that yes, the city attorney should research it, Dennis drops the bombshell! He tells me that North Miami is the laughing stock of all the surrounding towns and cities because of the way we don't enforce our own codes, and give out "hardship" variances like candy simply for the asking. Even if the Board of Adjustment turns down the request the City Council will most likely approve it.

My interest here? Well, that's me on the right, a member of the board, six years now, and that follows a few years on the Charter Review Board and a decade or more as vice-chair of the Planning Commission. My other interest? That the fence was put up by my next door neighbor, and the city attorney told me a few years ago that as the holder of a "quasi-judicial office" it was incumbant on me to report my neighbor to the code enforcement people. I did. Going on three years later the fence is still there. Hence the meeting with Dennis. I take my board appointment seriously! I probably know the city code better than he does, as well as knowing about when and why it's been modified over the years.

And what about me being the only one there wearing a suit, white dress shirt, and that cool looking Jerry Garcia neck tie while sporting a beard and a carefully arranged mess of curls on my head? Hey, it's fun being the best attired dude in the room one time while the next time I have holes in the knees of faded jeans and look like I just came back from a day's fishing, sporting two days worth of stubble on my face and messy unkempt hair. Best of all, I like showing off my hair when most all of the guys twenty years younger than I am are half bald at best.

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