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Permits puzzling all around
Several businesses' failure to file site development plans could result in heavy costs - or maybe not.
By CHUIN-WEI YAP, Times Staff Writer
Published December 9, 2007
DADE CITY - James Taylor is 82 years old. He owns and runs a used car dealership on U.S. 301.
Last week, after 23 years in business, he found out he isn't supposed to.
On a random sweep, a Pasco code enforcement officer discovered that Taylor's Old Timers Car Sales doesn't have a site development permit. That's a piece of paper the county's Development Review Division must give out before a business can set up shop.
Taylor is not alone. On a 5-mile stretch of U.S. 301, Officer Sharon Kresh found four other similar cases. Not all were as old as Taylor's. Some of these businesses opened as recently as 2001 and 2006.
Kresh sent warning tickets. These business owners now have to hire engineers to draw site development plans so the county can issue the permits. They have 30 days to do this or pay $500 and risk getting shut down.
One of them, James Shaheen, of Butchs Used Cars, said he may have to close because he can't afford the $50,000 he needs for the engineering plans.
Taylor is perplexed.
"Why didn't you tell me this a long time ago?" Taylor wants to know. "How come you waited 24 years?"
Looks like they should have waited some more. County officials now say they aren't even sure there are violations.
* * *
Cindy Jolly, the county's development director, is in charge of issuing site development permits.
A day after the St. Petersburg Times raised questions about the five apparent violations, she said not all businesses need these permits.
The permit rules kick in only if the land use changes or new buildings are raised, and only for developments since 1986, when her division was created, Jolly said.
This seems to rule out two of the apparent offenders.
Jolly found that the location of Marys Auto Sales, at 37501 Carringer Road, had housed a series of used car dealerships since 1979. The latest dealer, Mary Harvey, started her business in October 2006.
Jolly confirmed Taylor's business has been open since 1984.
So this means no violations?
Jolly wouldn't commit.
"I don't know if there's a violation," she said Friday. "I haven't completed the review. I haven't talked to the officer."
The other apparent offenders are Shaheen, who runs two dealerships, and JC Automax, a dealership that now appears closed.
What about them? Haven't had a chance to review their cases yet, Jolly said.
Are there more violations? Officials say they aren't sure - but they are checking.
* * *
It's doubtful the businesses intended to evade the authorities.
All of them, except for the one that appears closed, faithfully registered with the Pasco Tax Collector's Office for business tax receipts, also called occupational licenses. They have dealer licenses from the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the Office of Financial Regulation.
"No one ever told me that I needed anything, just the business license," Harvey said. "But I'm not going against them."
So how do business owners know if they should get a site development permit or not?
"When they get other licenses, I think there's a disclaimer," Jolly said. "I don't know."
Tax Collector Mike Olson said his office does not remind business owners - and is not obliged to remind them - to check if they need site development permits.
There are two sentences - in fine print - on every business license issued by Olson's office. This is what it says:
"Issued pursuant and subject to Florida Statutes and Pasco County Ordinances. Issuance does not certify compliance with zoning or other laws."
These two sentences, Olson said, were his idea, not the county's.
* * *
Kresh, the code enforcement officer, who discovered the five cases on U.S. 301, said her job is to give out warnings and tickets when violations are found.
In this case, she said she felt the business owners had no idea what a site development permit was.
"Especially that one guy, Mr. Taylor," she said. "He was just confused."
This is what it may end up costing the dealers - if Pasco can make up its mind on whether there are in fact violations.
"I spoke to a civil engineer," Shaheen said. "They said it will cost me $17,000 to $25,000 to get those plans. I have two lots. That's $50,000 I'm looking at."
Taylor has a 26-year-old site plan. He was told it would cost him $800 to get an engineer to make a copy of that plan and sign off on it.
"I'm going to get them for discrimination," he said.
On what charge? "Picking on the elderly," he said.