The owner of a large two-story garage in the Palmetto Point neighborhood in northern Manatee County, in the midst of single-story homes, has won an important victory, but it may be temporary.
"I don't think it's over," said Kris Greene, who last year began construction on the structure in the 400 block of 51st Street Drive with the full blessing of Manatee County officials. "When I got word that the special magistrate ruled in my favor, I was like 'Thank God and I wish these people will get on with their lives.' "
That apparently isn't happening and one vocal neighbor intends to keep the battle going.
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Jeanne Jernigan raised concerns to the county that it had violated its own land development codes by allowing the structure to be built with a 20-foot setback, when ordinances require 25 feet. County staff misinterpreted that ordinance when it allowed the structure to be built in its current location.
The county then initiated a variance request heard by a special magistrate on May 16 in an attempt to rectify the mistake. A ruling blocking a variance would have required it to either be torn down or the removal of five feet of the structure. Both remedies would have been expensive for taxpayers because of the county's mistake.
Jernigan, who did not respond to a call for comment on Monday, testified in May that if the variance request was granted, "It would do nothing but validate the county's perceived selective enforcement."
Jamie Schindewolf, Manatee County planner, said the request would only need to be denied if the setback error would interfere with drainage or emergency access, which it does not. Special Magistrate Kelly Fernandez agreed and ruled in favor of the county's request.
Jernigan has asked for a reconsideration.
Fernandez is expected to respond to Jernigan's letter later this week. Jernigan attempted to file an appeal in district court, but It was not accepted because an appeal can only be filed after Fernandez delivers her final decision.
For Greene, and his wife, Tammy, who left the May hearing in tears, it has been a stressful time.
"It's never been about five feet," Greene said. "It's just that they don't like the building. They think it's too big and too tall, and Jernigan, who I have never even spoken to, doesn't want it moved five feet, she wants it torn down."
The good news is that Greene said, "Everything appears to be settling down in our neighborhood with the exception of a few people and I've made some new friends around here."
Greene said the overwhelming majority of the neighborhood supports him, and so does the overwhelming majority of those responding to the saga on social media.
Greene already has more than $100,000 invested in the garage and intends on putting more money into it to make it look more aesthetically pleasing. Greene has assured his neighbors that the structure was never meant for commercial purposes. The retired firefighter stores the remnants of his former bicycle shop in the garage, as well as some other equipment.
Fernandez's ruling is expected no later than Friday.
"We just want this to be over," Greene said.