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Politics

Cost of city mistake: $94,000

By NICOLE HUTCHESON
Published April 19, 2007


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LARGO - The city of Largo has agreed to pay nearly $94,000 for a mistake it made a year ago.

That's when Largo officials gave Rose and Michael Brown a permit to build a 2,000-square-foot garage in the back yard of their home at 2860 Vernon Ter.

But the size of the garage exceeded what city rules would normally allow, so Tuesday night city commissioners voted to pay to take down the garage and restore the Browns' property.

Officials issued a permit for the building in April 2006. By May, the Browns' neighbors began complaining to the city's community development office that the steel beams going into the ground for the garage were as high as some of their two-story homes.

On May 15, community development director Mike Staffopoulos halted work on the project.

"It was an error by the city of Largo," Staffopoulos said. "We didn't perform a capability review prior to giving the permit."

The Browns could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and their lawyer, Aubrey O. Dicus Jr., did not return calls from the Times.

Shortly after Staffopoulos' decision, the Browns sought legal counsel. In June, the Browns gave the city three options to rectify the situation: allow them to continue with construction, construct an alternate building with some compensation by the city or let the city compensate them for stopping the project.

The settlement both parties agreed on stipulates that the city must take down the structure, reimburse the Browns for cost of labor and materials on the project and restore their back yard. The city also will pay their legal fees.

The price tag is $93,821. Funds will be used from the city's risk fund to pay for the project.

At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners unanimously approved the settlement, but questioned whether safeguards had been put in place to prevent any similar mistakes from happening in the future.

"I assume when we figured out how this happened, we put something in place to ensure it never happened again?" City Commissioner Gigi Arntzen said.

Since the incident, Staffopoulos said the community development department requires senior level staff to sign off on permits for larger projects.

Mayor Pat Gerard said she was satisfied with the department's extra level of precaution.

"I feel good that he's got it under control and put a procedure in place where it has to go up a couple levels before it goes out the door," Gerard said. "We really do need to be looking at those things closer."

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or 727 445-4162.

[Last modified April 19, 2007, 08:19:50]


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