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Date of Issue: September 13, 2007

Battling neighbors want commission intervention

What would Anna Maria be without a squabble between neighbors? Some say it wouldn’t be Anna Maria any more.

Two neighbors on Maple Avenue in Anna Maria have been battling since October 2005 over fences, walls and property lines, but now, one of those neighbors wants the Anna Maria City Commission to step in and address their concerns (The Islander, Oct. 26, 2005).

In fact, the Watt family of 105 Maple Ave. has now asked commissioners to “place a temporary hold on [fence] permits being issued and that our concerns be placed on the agenda for discussion on our behalf.”

According to the Watts, their issue with neighbor Jack Guggino began in mid-2005 when they moved to Anna Maria from Illinois. Guggino had a fence built on his property line that actually precluded the Watts from accessing their front door and porch from their sidewalk.

The Watts sued and recently reached an out-of-court settlement with Guggino which solved their biggest problem, namely that “the sidewalk leading to our front door would now be ours and Mr. Guggino’s spite fence, placed at our front door, would finally be removed,” James and Julie Watt said in a recent letter to Mayor Fran Barford.

A new survey has found that the Watts’ property line extends 10 feet closer to the Gulf of Mexico, making Guggino’s fence an encroachment on their property.

But this is Anna Maria, and no agreement that favors one side can go unnoticed by the other.

The Watts claim that after Guggino agreed to the settlement, he applied for a permit to “re-erect” the chain link fence on the new property line. That permit application was rejected by the building department because Guggino had agreed in the settlement not to construct any fence.

But apparently, Guggino is allowed to build a privacy fence because he can claim that as property on the water, “he has the option of claiming the front of his property is the seaward end of his property,” the Watts said. Thus, the back of Guggino’s property reportedly faces the front of the Watts’ property.

As this is the rear of the Guggino property, he’s allowed to build a 6-foot-high fence, while according to the Watts, they can only construct a 4-foot-high fence on the same property line because it’s the front of their house.

The Watts also claim that much of the land along the shore where they live did not exist when their home was built in 1926.

Faced with the prospect of a chain-link fence obstructing their view of the Gulf of Mexico, the Watts have appealed to the commission to study the “uniqueness” of their situation, along with that of others whose property faces the Gulf of Mexico, but may have an obstructed view. The Watts suggest they might have riparian rights to view the Gulf of Mexico.

“This has been a very stressful process for us personally,” said the Watts. Aside from that, however, they contend that their concerns are “legitimate” and that the issue “should be visited” by the city as soon as possible.

But city attorney Jim Dye doesn’t think the “issue” can be solved in a single commission meeting.

To place a moratorium on fence permits requires official action by the commission and two public hearings. The issues raised by the Watts - the size of a fence and the areas affected - are “matters of code that the city would have to respect until formal action is taken changing the policy,” he said.

In addition, Dye said the issue of “view” rights is a private matter between the two parties.

Commission Chairman John Quam said he had not yet placed the issue on any agenda, pending discussion of the concerns between attorneys for the two parties.

“We are hoping they will work out their issues,” said Quam, before the city becomes involved.