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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Second time the charm for Taylor height variance

The old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try again," worked for Robert Taylor in his quest to get an after-the-fact height variance of 3.5 feet for his remodeled Key Royale house in Holmes Beach.

Taylor was originally denied the variance by the board of adjustment last year, but appealed to the city commission.

Commissioners, however, sent the appeal back to the board for a re-hearing, based upon "new evidence" submitted by attorney Mark Barnebey, who represents Taylor. At the BOA re-hearing on Jan. 14, Taylor got his variance.

Taking no chances this time, Taylor and Barnebey's "new evidence" showed that the already-completed roof on the remodeled house was "compatible" with surrounding structures and to tear it down would be a hardship that would cost Taylor upwards of $30,000.

Barnebey said Taylor would have to build a flat roof if the variance was denied, rendering the structure "incompatible" with the adjacent homes. Accompanying pictures showing a flat-roofed house in a neighborhood of gabled roofs helped sway board members.

Taylor originally had an architect and contractor draw up the remodeling plans in 2002, which were then submitted along with the building permit application to the Holmes Beach Building Department for approval.

Building Official Bill Saunders said the plans did not show the street elevation and he asked the contractor for those figures, but never got them.

At that time, the building permit application did not require the street elevation, only the final survey.

Saunders admitted that somewhere he "dropped the ball" and issued the permit without the requested information.

Soon after that, Taylor fired the first contractor and hired Hugh Holmes Jr. of Holmes Construction to build the house.

Holmes, who is chairman of the BOA, recused himself from discussion of the variance and his seat was taken by alternate Bill Myers.

In fact, it was Holmes himself who discovered the roof was 3.5 feet too high and turned the matter over to the city's code enforcement officer.

There was never any intention to hide the mistake, said Holmes.

As a result of the Taylor case, however, the building department now requires the street elevation and height of construction to be included in the building permit application, said Saunders.

Because of those changes, it's virtually "impossible for this to happen again," he added.

Board member Peter Ereg said in his opinion, there are new facts which show that a flat roof on the house would not fit in the neighborhood, making that roof a "hardship" for the next door neighbors to look at. Additionally, "the city has admitted its mistake," he observed.

Ereg did not believe the board was setting any precedent by approving the variance. He had voted against the original variance request.

Board member Jeff Hostetler, who also had voted against the variance, said the new evidence convinced him that Taylor "meets the criteria for a variance."

Several members of the public who live in Key Royale spoke against approval of the variance, while some adjacent land owners said they did not oppose the request.

The motion to approve the variance passed by a 4-1 vote with vice-chairman Russ Olson dissenting.

In other actions, the board denied a variance for an encroachment into the setback at 6618 Gulf Drive North, noting the property was large enough that a proposed storage shed could be located elsewhere.