HB commissioner takes aim at builder for clearing trees

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Recently cut Australian pines lay in piles Sept. 4 on residential property between 47th and 48th streets. Islander Photos: Courtesy City of Holmes Beach
Evidence of heavy equipment used to deposit and spread beach-compatible sand was visible Sept. 5 at the 48th Street beach access. Islander Photos: Courtesy City of Holmes Beach
Beachfront property between 47th and 48th streets is cleared for development.

Claiming “irreversible damage” to a beach access and city right of way — cutting Australian pine trees and adding sand between 47th and 48th streets — a Holmes Beach commissioner wants to hold someone accountable.

At the Sept. 13 city meeting, Commission Chair Judy Titsworth called out builder-developer Shawn Kaleta as a “repeat offender” who skirted state and city environmental rules in clearing a block of beachfront residential property.

She asked for the support of the commission and mayor in bringing Kaleta before a special magistrate to be “properly fined” and for the issue to be reported to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

“If more cities would do that, maybe he’d take notice,” she said.

Titsworth thanked building official Jim McGuiness for issuing the stop work order for the property.

The commissioner said she spoke to Kaleta after the city was alerted to the clearing and he advised he had obtained a Florida Department of Environmental Protection after-the-fact permit.

Titsworth criticized the builder for making a pre-emptive strike for development.

State and local rules require developers to obtain a letter of “no objection” from the city before obtaining a Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit and to return to the city for site-plan approval, she said.

Asked for a comment on the matter the next day, Kaleta texted, “I don’t own 47th and I’m not sure why Jim (McGinnis) red tagged the beach access, which is city property.”

Seaward of the coastal construction control line, the beachfront single-family home at 102 47th St. is owned by Fourty Seven Street LLC. The Florida Secretary of State lists Ivo Travnicek as owner.

Titsworth said Kaleta is listed as an agent for the owner on the DEP permit.

She referenced a Sept. 6 letter she wrote to Mayor Bob Johnson that called the city’s initial response to the developer “weak.” In it, Titsworth criticized the mayor for telling her she’s “not the mayor yet,” regarding her research on the 47th-48th street clearing.

Johnson said the city was “well into” the matter at the time of their conversation and he had no further comment on the matter.

The building department’s stop-work order was in place Sept. 14, he said.

Titsworth said the police may have given Kaleta permission to clear vegetation “to open up” the beach access and, later in the meeting, Police Chief Bill Tokajer requested other beach accesses with vegetation be cleared a minimum of “3 or 4 feet” so officers can access the beach on all-terrain vehicles.

After the clearing, Sgt. Mike Pilato, McGuinness and code enforcement officer JT Thomas met Kaleta at his 48th Street home adjacent to the beach access, according to a Sept. 5 email from Pilato to McGuinness.

According to the agreement, the beach access work would stop, while cutting, grinding and clearing the downed Australian pines would continue.

In a followup to the beach meeting, McGuinness wrote Kaleta an email advising him to stop land development and provide excavation and revegetation plans and surveys identifying the volume of fill to be added to the property.

“I’m sorry that he threw the police under the bus,” Titsworth said, referring to HBPD allowing the vegetation removal but, she added, a developer can’t circumvent the DEP.

Asked why Kaleta received an after-the-fact permit without the city signing off, Titsworth said, “Who knows.”

A DEP spokesman did not return a Sept. 15 email from The Islander by press time Sept. 19.

“He is a licensed professional in the field. And with that license, he is to know what is required when he starts to do work.… He just got in trouble for it with the 77th Street beach,” Titsworth said.

However, as reported in November 2017 in The Islander, Kaleta’s 77th Street project met approval from the DEP, including a pool on the Gulffront.

Titsworth agreed that the 47th Street lot was cleared of mostly Australian pines, “which some people love and which some people hate.”

Australian pine trees are considered by the state to be a nuisance and, according to a DEP source, no permit is required to remove Australian pine trees.

“I happen to like some of them because they’re birds nesting in them. He also spread sand on the beach access. Beach accesses are supposed to remain in their natural state,” not landscaped, Titsworth said.

Kaleta again denied Sept. 16 he is the developer or owner of the property at 47th Street. He also denied hiring the company that cleared the 47th Street lot.

Kaleta said in a Sept. 16 text message to The Islander: “I believe the sand spread in the city beach access touched my property (on the north side of the access) so my address was included on the red tag. I called the state to come out so the red tag would be lifted on my personal property, because I was doing no work at the time. I don’t understand why it was tagged at all.”

“I personally think the city made the right choice in clearing its beach access. It gives the street a fresh, new look.”

One thought on “HB commissioner takes aim at builder for clearing trees

  1. Rhonda

    Kaleta is frequently mentioned as a short-term rental investor. He seems to have no concern for residents, the environment, or the destruction of residential communities.

    Reply

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