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Exemptions ease water limits

Landscape variances allow extra watering for a month after plantings. For one company, that means only two days.

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 25, 2000


TAMPA -- A week after enacting tough rules on non-essential water use, the city has granted more than a dozen exemptions to residents and businesses.

Most went to commercial pressure washers and painting contractors who argued that a ban on washing buildings would put them out of business.

But the city's Water Department on Friday handed out the first variances that allow lawn and plant irrigation more frequently than the once-a-week restriction for all other Tampa homes and businesses.

Unlike new watering rules in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, Tampa's regulations don't provide 30-day exemptions for new plantings to take root.

A local television executive, a Hyde Park church and the developer of a small medical office who all received the exemptions planted sod and other landscaping before the new ordinance was approved March 16.

"In a lot of instances, we're talking big money these people have spent," said India Williams, the water department's consumer affairs manager.

Ten more individuals and groups have irrigation variance requests pending. Word that the city was granting exemptions could touch off a flood of new requests and bog down the process, Williams said.

Water department officials approved all 15 requests they reviewed this week, although the applicants didn't get all the relief they wanted.

Painters and pressure-washers generally received permission to perform only specific jobs and must ask the department when they want to wash other structures, Williams said.

The landscape variances allow extra watering only for a month after sod and plants were installed.

That didn't do much for Bay City Development, which planted sod and shrubs around its medical office on Azeele Street at the end of last month. The variance provided just two extra days for the owners to water with a hose.

"I might save a plant or two . . . I hope we won't lose everything," said Velma Saccone, the company's project manager.

Hyde Park United Methodist Church finished planting $28,500 of landscaping -- two 30-foot oak trees, palms, shrubs and sod -- around a new classroom building and activity center two days before City Council approved the new restrictions, said facility manager Chuck Lindeke.

The city will allow church workers to water with a hose each day for two weeks, then every other day for the next two weeks.

"I'll give up the grass, it's the trees and shrubbery that are a lot more costly," said Lindeke.

Philip Metlin, news director at Fox 13, got a variance Friday to water landscaping at his new waterfront home on Davis Islands with a hose every other day through April 4.

He was worried about the health of six new Washingtonian palms. Metlin said he obeyed the ordinance and watered only on Tuesday, but did so "with trepidation and fear."

Another Davis Islands resident with a new lawn, shrubs and trees didn't know the city was accepting requests for exemptions. Colette Tozlosky said she's still watering twice a week and won't mind if a city inspector gives her a fine.

"I've just kind of ignored the restrictions," Tozlosky said. "I'll spend $35 if it saves $3,500 to $5,000 (in landscaping)."

Among those waiting word on their waterings variances are Anne Dwyer, host of Fox 13's Good Day Tampa Bay and the Tampa Palms Community Development District and University of Tampa, both seeking an extra day to water due to the size of their irrigation systems.

The Florida Aquarium received permission Friday to wash off a section of its glass roof to apply a waterproof coating. The city's Recreation Department also wants a variance to water soft-surface tennis courts at Hillsborough Community College and on Davis Islands twice a day.

-- Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at huettel@sptimes.com.

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