Code enforcement quandary in Barefoot Bay

By Henry A. Stephens
Published February 28, 2008

A month after the Barefoot Bay Recreation District Board of Trustees removed improperly imposed fines from their code enforcement methods, they're now looking at ways to fine people properly for violating the community's Deed of Restrictions.

"You all ultimately have the authority to enforce your Deed of Restrictions," board attorney Cliff Repperger told trustees Tuesday. "The question is how do you do it. Fining has never been (ruled by a judge) to be invalid."

The deed dictates appearance standards for homes, such as what type of fencing can be used or how high the grass can be.

For years, Repperger said, the district relied on state law that allows cities and counties to create code enforcement boards and issue fines against residents found to have violated the deed. With fines of up to $250 or $500 compounded daily, some fines reached thousands of dollars.

But in October 2004, Gov. Charlie Crist, then the state's attorney general, issued an opinion that a special district doesn't qualify for the code-enforcement fining powers state law granted to cities and counties.

Repperger said his predecessor, Jack Torpy, dealt with the opinion by drafting a 2006 resolution that no longer referred back to the state's city-county law, but instead mirrored it and continued to allow for fines.

Last month the trustees approved a new resolution, revising their enforcement methods to remove fines and instead refer violations to Repperger to file lawsuits if someone doesn't comply with cleanup orders.

"And we'll see Mr. Repperger's fees go up," Trustee Rob Allan said.

Code Enforcement Director Ken Austin said he has 29 open cases, which each could become a lawsuit if the violations aren't cleaned up.

Meanwhile, he said, he has "probably less than 50" cases of residents who were fined under the old resolution. One by one, he said, the board has been reducing the fines from thousands of dollars to just $100 to $150 to cover the cost of mailing violation notices and other investigation.

But suing violators ties up the court, Repperger said. He said he has been working with state Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach, to see about a bill extending the state's city-county law to cover special districts or doing so through a Barefoot Bay referendum.

Fining is too dangerous a tool in Barefoot Bay, resident Gabrielle Davis said Wednesday. She recalled getting a fine in 2005 that climbed to $7,600 for not having a lamppost before the district dropped it.

"They don't know what to do (with fines)," she said. "They don't know what they're doing now."