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Restaurant to pay county $10,000 fine


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001

HUDSON -- The owners of Sam's Hudson Beach Snack Bar have agreed to pay a $10,000 fine for violating FEMA's flood zone restrictions, and Pasco County has tightened up its permit review process to ensure that a problem like this -- which threatened to raise the county's flood insurance premiums -- doesn't happen again.

A fire gutted the popular landmark restaurant in November 1998. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, requires damaged buildings in flood zones to be elevated when the repair cost reaches 50 percent of the structure's market value.

Grace Marisi, who operates the restaurant under the Grace A. Marisi revocable living trust, had an appraisal done that set the restaurant's pre-fire value at $140,000. Her contractor estimated the repair costs at $59,000, less than half of the appraised value. She re-opened the restaurant in November 1999. FEMA reviewed the application and determined that the fix should have cost at least $72,400 and therefore the restaurant should have been elevated. FEMA had said that it would raise the county's flood insurance premiums by 5 percent as a penalty for not enforcing the federal guidelines.

The county's construction code enforcement board came to a settlement with Marisi on April 18. The board's order requires Marisi to pay $10,000 to the county by June 18 and remove some unpermitted roof panels and an unpermitted canopy. Marisi will also not be able to get federal flood insurance.

Marisi chose not to contest the violations and to accept the fine.

"I just really wanted to settle it," said Marisi, who owns the 20-year-old restaurant.

Sara Marisi, Grace's daughter, said that they have not yet determined whether they will apply for private flood insurance.

To ensure that the county doesn't face the prospect of increased flood premiums again, the county has tightened up its review of permits that it issues for modifications made to structures on flood planes.

In the past, those who wanted to apply for those permits could get the permits pulled over the counter after one county staffer had reviewed them.

Now, the county's staff is keeping the permits 24 to 48 hours to ensure that at least two staff members have scrutinized the applications, said county permit manager Rich Olson. If the value of the repair approaches 35 percent of the property's market value, a third staff member will scrutinize the application, said assistant county attorney Joe Richards. The county also is working on additional modifications, he said.

FEMA officials say that they still are working with the county and the restaurant on the case and that the county will most likely not see higher premiums.

"I don't think that this is a probating offense," said Mary Hudak, a FEMA spokeswoman. "We're working with Pasco County to resolve the non-compliance with their ordinance, and we're pleased to know that they've established a procedure that will prevent any future similar occurrences."

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