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Date of Issue: November 23, 2006

Anna Maria quadplex must go, duplex status uncertain

The new Anna Maria City Commission may have to face a very vexing question in the near future, following the code enforcement board's Nov. 13 ruling in the case of Pine Avenue property owner Frank Almeda.

The board ruled that Almeda must dismantle the current quadplex configuration he has at his property at 415 Pine Ave. and return the structure to its former use.

But what is the former use?

Almeda's attorney, Chuck Webb, contends that when Almeda bought the property in 1973, Pine Avenue was zoned for duplexes.

Almeda converted the property to a duplex about four years later, but code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon was unable to find any city records to indicate he applied for the proper permits.

In 1998, Almeda applied for a variance to build a triplex, but was rejected.

He admitted that he converted the two-story house to a quadplex a few years ago, and Webb argued that Almeda could return the property to a duplex because it's a grandfathered use, even though the current land use along Pine Avenue is retail-office-residential and no new duplexes are permitted.

City attorney Jim Dye responded that Almeda gave up his grandfathered right to a duplex when he converted the property to four units about two years ago.

Not so, said Webb. The use remains.

He also produced documentation showing that for about the last 25 years, Almeda paid for an occupational license to use the property as a duplex and the Manatee County Tax Collector's Office shows the property as a duplex.

The bizarre story began in July 2005, said code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon, when she received an anonymous complaint that the property was being utilized as a fourplex.

Several attempts to inspect the property following the complaint were canceled by Almeda, said Rathvon, but in January 2006, she was able to gain access to the structure and discovered four units in the building. Efforts to mediate the problem with Almeda were apparently unsuccessful and Rathvon eventually sent the problem to the code enforcement board.

Webb, however, said his client doesn't dispute the fact that he had four units, and he's now converted the residence from a quadplex back to a duplex.

Webb and Almeda maintained that the duplex usage should still remain and the property does not violate any city code because of its grandfathered status.

After hearing more than two hours of testimony and opinions, the board gave Almeda until Dec. 6 to come into compliance and return the property to its former state, but made no ruling on whether or not a duplex at Almeda's property would comply with the city's codes.

The code board, noted chairman Bill Iseman, was not asked to determine the legality of a duplex in the ROR, only with the charges brought by Rathvon. Those charges, noted Webb, were that Almeda operated a fourplex that was in violation of city codes.

Whether or not Almeda is still entitled to operate a duplex is a decision that the city commission will likely have to make, Iseman indicated.