Backyard pizza oven cooks up trouble with community ban

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel


Published May 3, 2008


An east Orange County man is using a law designed to encourage modern energy-saving devices to save his old-world backyard pizza oven.

The Waterford Lakes homeowners association told Gary Dobis the oven had to go because it breaks the community's ban on accessory structures. The group sued him in January.

Disagreements between homeowners associations and residents are common. But the 1991 state's renewable-energy regulation usually saves clotheslines and solar panels.

Dobis says his wood-burning oven should count.

Board members say it's the 6-foot structure they object to.

So the oven remains a source of conflict, in addition to being a source of Margherita pizzas, chicken with rosemary and potatoes, pork roasts with home-grown herbs and other Italian delicacies.

In its lawsuit, the Waterford Lakes Community Association said Dobis broke the rules. He didn't submit plans to the association's architectural review board before it was built. When he submitted them after the fact, the plans were denied. He wasn't allowed to appeal.

Dobis' friends from Italy built him the oven during a visit a few years ago.

Gary Dobis checks on a pizza in his wood burning oven at the back of his home in Waterford Lakes.


The stucco exterior matches his house, and it is built to hurricane standards.

They knew he would appreciate the gift, having been stationed in Naples 20 years ago in the Navy.

Dobis uses leftover wood from his son's lawn-care company to fuel the oven. He says he also saves energy by not using his conventional oven.

The energy law doesn't mention ovens, but Marguerite Jordan, spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection, confirmed that a wood-burning stove "is an example of a renewable energy technology."

Other experts say the wood should come from a source that doesn't damage the environment.

Jordan, however, couldn't comment on whether Dobis' stove meets the law's intent.

The law also doesn't waive Dobis' need to seek permission from his homeowners association for the structure, said Colleen Kettles, executive director of the Florida Solar Energy Research and Education Foundation. The association can't say no, but it can impose restrictions on where the structure is built or how it looks, Kettles said.

Association board president Jim Witmer said he could not comment on the dispute because of the lawsuit. Dobis and his wife, Patty, gave depositions to the association's attorney Tuesday.

Dobis said in his 17 years in Waterford Lakes, he never had trouble before with the association. He maintains he's not "anti-homeowner association."

The real-estate broker said he is being unfairly targeted.

Plenty of homeowners have built sheds, hot tubs and other structures in their yards without permission from the architectural review board and were never sued, he said. He said he offered to build a fence to hide the oven and submitted an application. That, too, was denied, he said.

Dobis said he uses the oven a couple of times a week.

"We would use it more if wasn't for the legal problems. You get a little gun-shy."