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Date of Issue: June 24, 2009

Property dispute likely bound for court

Ken Lohn had one day in court, and partially won.

Now the Bradenton Beach property owner and resident is preparing for another day in court — and maybe many days in several courts.

“If we end up going to the Supreme Court, OK,” said Lohn, who is fighting the city of Bradenton Beach over a development neighboring his waterfront properties. And he’s referring not to Florida’s highest court, but to the nation’s highest court.

Lohn lives at 500 Bay Drive and owns a duplex nearby.

Both properties feature views of the tranquil Intracoastal Waterway and, nearby his home, Lohn can find a peaceful setting, a shaded bench by the waterfront.

But Lohn is not at peace.

His fight with the city has gone on for years, taking various twists and turns.

The current issue involves Lohn’s appeal of an administrative decision — a city building official’s issuance of a certificate of occupancy for a duplex at 109 Fifth St. S.

The BOA initially denied Lohn’s complaint, first filed in January 2008, finding that it was untimely, as was the complaint he made related to a CO for a duplex at 502 Bay Drive S.

Lohn went to Manatee County Circuit Court, where a judge ruled that his appeal of the CO for the Fifth Street property was timely filed and the complaint could be heard on its merits.

With that decision, Lohn wound up back before the BOA in an April 15 hearing.

Lohn’s issues with 109 Fifth St. S., also known as Hibiscus II and now owned by Synovus Bank, include allegations that improper construction created stormwater management problems, that the building violates the city’s general design standards, and that a driveway used to access multiple properties, including one owned by Lohn, is illegal.

The BOA hearing in April focused on the construction of what Lohn and his attorney, Robert Turffs, referred to as a driveway and what city building official Steve Gilbert called an easement.

 Turffs said the driveway, placed on a 12-foot easement, is less than 12 feet wide, an alleged violation of the LDC, and that the driveway is within 5 feet of Lohn’s property line, another alleged violation of the LDC.

Turffs also argued that the distance from the centerline of Lohn’s driveway to the centerline of the Hibiscus driveway is much less than 40 feet, another alleged violation of the LDC.

Gilbert referred to the code and said a 12-foot-wide driveway is required for multi-family properties and a 10-foot-wide driveway is required for single-family and duplex properties. The improved access in question, Gilbert said, serves duplex properties so the driveway at the site is to be 10 feet, not 12 feet.

Further, Gilbert said that the improved access is on an easement provided for by a “Corrective Grant of Easement for Ingress/Egress and Utility.” The document, signed by Byrne and Noriega, granted Lohn and his wife an easement for ingress and egress and utility purposes to a landlocked lot they owned and committed GSR to building a driveway over the easement in compliance with the city’s LDC.

The improved access is on an easement provided for in a private, legal agreement and, in regards to easements, the LDC states, “This article is not intended to interfere with, abrogate or annul any easement, covenant or other agreements between parties.”

The BOA in April voted to recommend to the city commission that it deny Lohn’s appeal.

Lohn left that meeting threatening to go to court.

He received a copy of the BOA’s recommendation to the commission May 29, and that, too, frustrated him. He said he was owed the document sooner, according to the LDC, and he maintains the recommendation is flawed, even fraudulent.

In a letter to Mayor Michael Pierce, Lohn wrote, “Documents have been pre-dated, the vice chair is beholden to the building official. The city is wasting public money. Your attorney misled me and the entire process has been a case study in Bradenton Beach corruption.”

Lohn found fault with each enumerated “finding of fact” in the recommendation, which the BOA members had verbally set out during their April hearing.

“It’s all baloney,” he said.

“I was chair of the board of adjustment for years. I ran a straight board,” he said.

He sighed and added, “This is stressful.”

“There are principles involved,” he said of his fight.

And there are practicalities.

The duplex that Lohn owns is serviced only by the narrow, crooked driveway he is challenging. Lohn has considered replacing the currently vacant apartments, but, with the driveway configuration, construction could be difficult.

Last week, Commissioner Janie Robertson reminded Turffs that the easement or driveway Lohn is challenging is the only access to his duplex.

The commission considered and agreed with the BOA’s recommendation in the Lohn case June 18.

Lohn said he expected to lose at both the BOA and commission meetings.

“But,” he said, “once I get to a real court, I’m going to win. The law is on my side.”