Code Enforcement Board hears about land cleared at Flora Parke

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  • A developer and the neighbors of this land in Flora Parke have very different ideas of what should be done with it. GARY D. MORGAN/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER
    A developer and the neighbors of this land in Flora Parke have very different ideas of what should be done with it. GARY D. MORGAN/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER
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The Nassau County Code Enforcement Board met Sept. 8 to consider three code violations, one of which received a lot of attention from the residents on Fern Parke Way in the Flora Parke community. On Aug. 12, construction vehicles began clearing trees and brush from the cul-de-sac area, which alarmed the residents.

Nassau County officials were called and a stop-work order citing violations of county ordinances and regulations, along with lack of permits, was issued. The construction crew initially ignored the stop-work order but then Assistant County Manager Taco Pope arrived on the scene and assured the residents there would be a temporary one-week work stoppage.

The residents said that when they moved into the development, they were told the cul-de-sac area would not be disturbed, some saying they paid premiums to be adjacent to a “preserve.”

The Sept. 8 meeting was held as a quasi-judicial hearing.

Code Enforcement Officer Michael Favors was called on to present the background on the case (20-4893, Flora Parke Development, Inc.), as well as the documentation of the violation. Favors read the background, “Violation of Ordinance 99-17, Article 6, Permits, Section 6.2.4, Review approval and Section 6.3, State and federal permits. A stop-work order by the Engineering Department was issued August 12, 2020. The property owner was cited August 12, 2020. The Notice of Violation and the Notice of Public Hearing were posted on the property, mailed 1st class mail, and certified return receipt. The property is zoned Planned Unit Development (PUD).” The documentation included pictures, video, and correspondence relevant to the violation. Favors said, “Code Enforcement is asking for administrative fees totaling $518.84.”

Witnesses from some of the county departments involved then testified under oath.

Senior Development Review Engineer Caleb Hurst said he visited the site after the stop-work order was issued and reported what he saw.

The next witness was Director of Engineering Robert Companion, who spoke by telephone. Companion testified about his part in determining that an ordinance had been violated and his issuing of a stop-work order. He also visited the site and described what he saw there. Companion elaborated on the violation by stating, “Whenever you have an approved set of plans, which in this case would have been back from 2005 for Flora Parke Phase IV, if you change or alter that site, it is no longer in compliance with that approved site plan.”

Companion added another part of the violation states that “before any work commences copies of applicable permits must be submitted before issuance of approval by Nassau County.” Companion noted the St. Johns River Water Management District would also issue a permit and there was none received by the county. The News-Leader checked the St. John’s River Water Management District online database prior to the meeting. The database contained an application to do the work on the site via a letter dated Aug. 20 and written by Terra Worx Land Group Inc., but there was no indication a permit had been issued by SJRWMD for the work.

Pope was also called as a witness, describing his visit to the site, what he viewed, and the interactions he had there. 

There were a lot of questions and discussion from the Code Enforcement Board members in attempts to understand the matter.

Albert T. Franson, the attorney representing SEDA Construction Inc. and Flora Parke Development, was the next speaker and he entered some documents into the record. He referred to a pending civil lawsuit over whether houses can be built on the lot in question. The plaintiff in that case is SEDA Construction Company and the defendants are Nassau County, Florida and Keith Ellis, who is a building official/plans examiner for Nassau County. The case was filed April 1.

Franson raised a number of issues, including the name on the stop-work order. SEDA Construction was listed as the developer while the owner of the property is actually Flora Parke Development, a separate legal entity. Franson was asked whom he represents and responded that he represents both companies.

“SEDA Construction has been wrongfully added. They have been defamed because of the vast amount of multimedia,” Franson said.

He said one of the ordinances, the roadway and drainage ordinance, is not applicable, and based on that, the “citation should be abated.”

Franson’s opinion is that the developer is reducing space but not eliminating it and does not have to replat as a result. “We believe SEDA is the wronged party and they clearly should not be a part of this proceeding and obviously we believe the full citation should be abated,” he concluded.

The next speaker was Alan Huppmann, who lives on Fern Parke Way. Huppmann described the situation he witnessed on the day in question. He began to describe how he had purchased his property, and as he continued, Franson interjected that the hearing was being held on only what happened that day. Huppmann then spoke to what happened and how upset it made the neighbors, calling what occurred an “irreversible situation.”

Margaret Kirkland, representing the Amelia Tree Conservancy, also spoke about the damage and how long it would take to restore the environment. Her testimony was contested since the hearing was supposed to be limited to what occurred the day of the alleged violation.

The next speakers were Michael Redmond and Eron Thompson of Fern Parke Way, who both spoke about their experiences on the day of the event. Thompson had some questions about the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and regulations about bringing in fill dirt, and requested that the board review the framework on which the plat was established.

There was prolonged discussion on the ordinances cited and Companion was brought back to attempt to clarify the ordinances to which the stop-work order related.

The board then voted to continue the case to its meeting on Oct. 13 and to continue the stop-work order.

The day after the meeting, the News-Leader spoke with Huppmann about his impression of how the hearing went. He said he and his neighbors want to see “the maximum possible penalties,” adding they “remain concerned about the lack of protection for citizens from similar incidents in the future.”