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Bradenton Beach homeowner wins variance to elevate home

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

Special Master Harold Youmans conducts a hearing Oct. 17 on a variance relief for a Bradenton Beach homeowner requesting to elevate his home by 8 feet. Islander Photo: Mark Young

A Bradenton Beach homeowner, with no objection from the city, was awarded variance relief during an Oct. 17 special master hearing at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

Chris Miller, 1201 B Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach, sought to elevate his home by 8 feet and to move the home 3 feet to the west.

Even though the city was not objecting to Miller’s request, building official Steve Gilbert said the hearing before Special Master Harold Youmans was required because Miller sought a variance.

Gilbert said anytime an action requires relief from the land development code, it must go through the process to ensure the city is protected from litigation.

“There can’t be an appearance of playing favorites,” said Gilbert. “The city can’t tell one person that they can and turn around and tell another they can’t. The action still has to follow the requirements for a variance relief, so it has to be heard either by a board of adjustment or, in the case of Bradenton Beach, a special master.”

Youmans said the burden of proof rests solely on the applicant, and asked several questions before making his quasi-judicial ruling.

Miller said the purpose of the request to lift the 1950s-era home above base flood elevation is to minimize storm damage.

“A key factual piece of evidence I need has to do with whether you have practical difficulties or personal hardships that are unique to the property that is beyond your control,” said Youmans. “What has happened to you that required you to seek to raise this property?”

Miller said the surrounding properties are above flood elevation, and he feels his home is in danger at its current elevation. Also, the cost of flood insurance for a property below flood elevation is substantially more.

Youmans said the cost of insurance by itself is not a reason to grant relief, but that a potential hardship is a reason.

“I’ve spoken with the flood insurance people and they have no claims on record,” said Miller. “But I believe this house sold for $15,000 in the 1990s, and I don’t believe any previous owners felt the need to insure it at that price. But it appears to me that the house has flooded before.”

Miller said nothing is level and the floor is sinking.

By raising the small home on the 150-foot lot, and moving it back 3 feet, per a request from the city, Miller said parking would be easier. He said pulling in and out of his property onto Gulf Drive is a safety hazard.

“A broad issue in these cases has to do with harmony in the community,” said Youmans. “The issue here is, if what you are proposing is complementary to the city’s comprehensive plan and this plan should be OK. Do you anticipate opposition?”

The city supported Miller’s request, as did Miller’s neighbor, Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, who spoke in support of Miller’s proposal. Other neighbors on both sides of Miller’s property submitted letters of no objection.

One letter of objection was submitted by a neighbor north of Miller’s property, Richard Perry, who stated his objection was based on concerns that his view to the Gulf of Mexico would be impeded.

Youmans considered the objection, but dismissed it in his conclusion.

“When someone comes into this state and buys a piece of property and there’s a gulf, a lake, a stream or whatever else, and someone else comes down and buys the property in front of him, courts in this state have consistently said you don’t buy a view,” Youmans said. “I’m not rejecting his decision to object. It’s just a matter of law that he has no legitimate claim to a view. It just doesn’t exist.”

Youmans concluded that Miller’s request met the six primary specifics when seeking a variance, but warned that his order would become invalid should any specifics of the project to elevate and move the home change from the evidence submitted.

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