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Duplex builders file lawsuit

Owners of the 9,000-square-foot building argue that they should not have to pay for the county's mistake.

By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 16, 2002


ODESSA -- The owners of a duplex off Lutz-Lake Fern Road have asked a judge to force Hillsborough County to issue a certificate of occupancy.

Jerry and Mark Sampson say the county's Department of Planning and Growth Management allowed them to nearly finish their 9,000-square-foot residence before issuing a stop work order. They say it is unfair to punish them for the county's mistake.

But the county says the residence, consisting of two units separated by a garage, amounts to an illegal duplex.

The complaint against Hillsborough County government, filed Monday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, says not allowing the Sampsons' project to proceed would be "unjust and inequitable."

The contentious case is being compared to another zoning conflict the state Supreme Court ruled on this month. In that case, justices upheld a lower court decision ordering the demolition of a luxury housing complex in Jensen Beach that violated Martin County's comprehensive land use plan.

The Sampson home is in an area zoned for single-family homes. After neighbors complained that it violated Hillsborough County's land use regulations, planning officials and the county attorney's office reviewed the project and agreed it is a duplex.

"They have two kitchens ... and they're only allowed one kitchen," Chief Assistant County Attorney Jim Porter said Wednesday.

To conform with zoning regulations, officials said Sampson needed to remove the electrical connection to a kitchen in the second unit and submit a modified site plan. That concession upset neighbors who had been demanding that construction end.

Development Services Director Dave Ford issued the stop work order in April after the Sampsons refused to bring site plans into zoning compliance.

The Sampsons purchased the property in December 2000 after county building officials indicated their site plan would be approved, the suit says. Construction began last July, a month after they received their building permit.

According to the suit, the Sampsons should be allowed to finish the house under the current plans because the county continued to issue permits for the work. The house is meant to be a family residence, but because of the stop work order they cannot get final inspections for electricity, air conditioning, and water and sewer systems, the suit says.

Neighbor Bob Haught hopes the Martin County land use case will pressure officials to act against the duplex, including ordering its removal.

In that case, a neighboring homeowner alleged that the $3.3-million apartment complex violated the county's comprehensive land use plan because it had too many units. The courts later agreed that the complex should be demolished.

The Sampsons could be forced to knock down their building, said Porter, the chief assistant county attorney. One difference between the two cases, though, is the developer in Jensen Beach started building before receiving final approvals; the Sampsons had a building permit before hammering the first nail.

Ford recently acknowledged that the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation is investigating him and Jim Paleveda, a Planning and Growth manager, for their handling of the Sampson case. Paleveda's office issued the building permit.

Ron Noble, the Tampa attorney representing the Sampsons, would not comment.

- Josh Zimmer covers Keystone, Citrus Park and the environment. He can be reached at 269-5314 or at zimmer@sptimes.com.

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