Longboat leaders plan to discuss rules enforcement after a spate of problems with home-building projects on the island.
Recurring complaints in two neighborhoods over violations of rules governing construction has prompted town leaders to examine building codes to see how they can be better enforced.
Three times in December, Longboat Key police were called to The Preserve at Longbeach site on Hibiscus Way and Longboat Drive South.
Complaints of clogged drains and other problems also have surfaced around a project at Buttonwood Drive and Gulf of Mexico Drive.
“The Planning, Zoning, and Building Department, Police Department, and the Town Attorney will be meeting to review our existing town codes and the Florida Building Code as it relates to enforcement of some of the recent construction-related violations and we will update the Commission on any recommended follow-up actions,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said in a Jan. 4 email to the commissioners.
At The Preserve, the former Longboat Key Center for the Arts, police were first called the morning of Dec. 26 because of a neighbor's complaint of trucks failing to use a construction entrance to dump dirt, but no violations were witnessed by officers. Less than two hours later, police were called for the same complaint and the town building inspector issued a stop-work order because of soil runoff and stormwater management problems at the site.
The construction manager was told to contact Longboat’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department before continuing the work.
The next morning, the town building official returned to the site where work had resumed and police were called again. Harmer said a site subcontractor also acted unprofessionally toward the residents at the project, but ultimately the site came into compliance and the stop work order was lifted.
“We understand the frustration associated with neighboring construction and strive to be good neighbors,” Preserve developer John Shkor said. “This project will be a very positive enhancement to the neighborhood, and there is a lot of excitement surrounding the various projects in the Village. Some neighbors have expressed their frustrations and others have been very supportive. In the end, we believe the finished product will be very well received.”
Work on the Buttonwood project, where two homes are under construction, was stopped several times last year for working after hours, causing damage to a neighbor’s property and affecting safety of residents and removing trees without permits, Planning, Zoning and Building Director Allen Parsons said.
“The site also had code enforcement actions related to site debris and overgrowth of grass that was subsequently addressed,” he said.
Michael Gautier of Nokomis is listed on town documents as the owner of the 500 and 550 Buttonwood Drive properties. Gautier could not be reached for comment.
New construction of single-family homes is a rarity in Longboat Key, where there is very little vacant land. So why are these problems occurring new residential projects?
Commissioner Ken Schneier thinks the problems at both projects stem from sloppy, early-stage contracting when the land was cleared and construction began.
“Insufficient care was given to prevent runoff and flooding before the ground was improved (in the case of Buttonwood) and before storm sewers were completed (in the case of Hibiscus),” Schneier said.
“In both cases, complaints were made to Planning and Zoning and stop work orders were appropriately issued until silt screens and other protective measures could be installed,” he said. “The effect on neighbors was exacerbated during heavy storms like we had the week before Christmas. Neither contractor was cooperative at first, and many visits by town staff, and ultimately by police in the case of Hibiscus, were necessary to resolve the problems.”
Schneier said town officials are frequently monitoring both projects, in addition to looking at how enforcement actions can be both projects are now being routinely monitored by town officials.
“I believe both situations are now under control and being regularly monitored by the town,” Schneier said. “I believe that our codes have provisions to deal with contractor misbehavior that were applied on Buttonwood and Hibiscus and worked successfully, albeit after the town exerted some pressure. Having said that, these two problems created a good opportunity to review our codes to see if there is a way to achieve more timely compliance.”
But Dave Bishop, president of Buttonwood Harbour Homeowners Association, also thinks the street flooding that happens periodically on Buttonwood Drive after heavy rain may also be caused by clogged drainage pipes, and perhaps global warming. Buttonwood has flooded three times in the last three years, he said.
‘Drains need to be jetted out to determine if there is a blockage,” said Bishop, who gestured toward a street drain by the construction site where water was clearly visible. He also said the drainage ditch behind some of the Buttonwood homes is not actively monitored.
Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said when there is a lot of rain, it takes longer for runoff to recede, especially at low elevation levels.
“This was part of the case in Buttonwood, though, a resident reported that parts of Buttonwood drained off at a faster pace than the entry way,” he said.
During the first part of this year the town is planning on hiring a vendor to clean out some of the pipes that go all the way out to the bayou to make sure there are no blockages downstream of the inlet, Brownman said
“We are coordinating this maintenance activity to allow the lots and 500 and 550 Buttonwood to be more developed and stabilized so that we are not cleaning the pipes twice in case some silt made its way into the storm system from these sites,” he said.