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East County Wednesday, Apr. 27, 2011 6 years ago

Our View: Common sense code needed


If we are going to have rules, and we certainly need some, then they have to be enforced. But a generous dose of common sense should be ladled out by the rule enforcers.

For instance, if the speed limit is 45 mph, police should not be ticketing someone for going 46 mph, even though it is true that the driver is technically speeding.

Alas, this is too frequently not the case with zoning inspectors.

Take for instance the situation in Manatee County, where code enforcers whip out tape measures to see if boats and other vehicles parked next to a house are sticking out too far.

Literally, if the tongue of a boat trailer parked at the side of a house is jutting out inches beyond the garage, code enforcement gives a warning and then will ticket the owner if it is not moved back.

But there can be a backyard fence line or even the outdoor air conditioning unit on a cement pad that keeps the boat from being back all the way. This has forced people to either renovate the side of their house, get rid of their boat or face fines from $250 to $500 per day.

While all county zoning ordinances apply to Lakewood Ranch, many neighborhoods in the Ranch have more restrictive rules.

It’s silly enough when busybody homeowners associations go on a nitpicking tear. But at least they are private associations. When county code-enforcement acts like the crazy homeowners’ association member wandering the neighborhood in search of violations, things must change.

Hopefully, that is happening. The issue came up at a recent Manatee County Commission meeting, and commissioners were divided. Some saw the foolish waste of resources while others contended the rules are needed to protect property values.

The rule says that boats, commercial vehicles and RVs must be parked next to or behind a house. The goal of such zoning regulations is to keep those vehicles from being parked in the front yard of houses. That is thought to impair neighborhood attractiveness and decrease property values.

But this intersects with government, and so bureaucrats being who they are, every rule is painfully spelled out. So the front of the house is that point which sticks out farthest, such as an awning or porch.

Therefore, an inspector must walk up to the house, stand at the side and eyeball if that boat is protruding beyond the front porch steps. Ugh.

County commissioners decided to have Building Department Director John Barnott review the code and return with recommendations. Perhaps some relaxing of the code is in order and guidelines for inspectors could be delineated. Based on his history, we have confidence that Barnott will get it as right as possible.

But this is such a no-win without calm heads and common sense. Even if the code is relaxed, there will still be rules, and they will still need to be enforced.

Maybe code enforcement will discover some common sense and maybe busybody neighbors will just chill out. Hey, we can dream.

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