Manatee County discusses Snead Island conservation easement violations

Article Courtesy of The Bradenton Herald

By Mark Young  

Published September 24, 2015


MANATEE -- A neighborhood feud born when Manatee County officials received a complaint about a 3-year-old girl's swing set blocking a neighbor's view of Terra Ceia Bay continues to fester after county investigators then discovered multiple code violations at nine homes more than a year ago.

At least eight Snead Island homeowners in the affluent Amberwynd Circle neighborhood will be cited again for illegal walkways and other structures built in a conservation easement that separates homes from the bay. Manatee County code enforcement officials met with the vice chairman of the homeowners association Sept. 9 to discuss the violations.


John Barnot, building and development services director, said the meeting was scheduled to help residents understand why the issues have not been resolved since an April 2014 meeting with the county led to an approved remediation plan. Barnot said the plan should have never been approved because it did not resolve the code violations.

"What we did was to share the code with those residents in violation and we want them to comply," said Barnot.


According to county code, walkways on a conservation easement are allowed to access private docks but must be elevated 3 feet to allow sunshine on the grass below and natural water flow. Walkways in the Amberwynd Circle neighborhood are built at ground level. Some are made of shell rock, others are made from brick pavers and at least one is concrete.

Catherine, 3, finds a frog invading her small tower attached to a play set in her Snead Island backyard. Manatee County says the play set must be removed, but the family's backyard is a conservation easement.

Barnot said the 2014 plan to plant sawgrass around the illegal structures was a miscommunication. According to the HOA letter sent to homeowners in 2014, the plan "was approved by the county" as long as no further disturbances to the conservation easement occurred. In exchange, the county agreed to allow "existing walkways, lighting enhancements and irrigation systems" to remain.

Barnot said there is no such as thing as "almost in compliance" and pledged "everything that's out there that doesn't meet code is coming out."

A second round of violation letters, with an order to comply or have a hearing with a special magistrate who could impose daily fines, are expected to be delivered to homeowners Monday, according to code enforcement supervisor Jeff Bowman.

Many illegal walkways were not constructed by current homeowners. However, current homeowners are responsible to resolve the violations even though the illegal structures were approved by the homeowners association architectural review committee.

Bowman said he couldn't answer how those homeowners could address their HOA, but the fact many of them purchased property with the illegal structures is why "we don't want to go in and strong-arm them. We want to work with them because they probably didn't know and we want to educate them."

In addition to the eight homeowners being cited, Bowman said the county also will notify 22 homeowners to stop mowing grass within the easement, which is not allowed. He said those homeowners wouldn't be cited at this time but would receive a letter from the county about handling protected land.

HOA Vice Chairman Emmons Patzer, who hosted the meeting with county code enforcement officials, did not return a call for comment nor did another HOA member who attended. Bowman said Patzer appeared to understand the county position and was amenable to finding a resolution.

Swing set for a little girl

Anthony DiLorenzo, the father of a 3-year-old girl, installed the swing set at the behest of his daughter's doctor to help the child's slow-developing muscles. The swing set has been the only violation scheduled for a special magistrate hearing to date.

DiLorenzo claims the county told him in 2014 all other structures could stay. Only the swing set had to go.

He said he has been fighting to keep his daughter's swing set for two years. It was the first violation cited in June 2013 after the neighbor's complaint about his view to the bay.

While it all began with the swing set, DiLorenzo said he was not allowed to attend the meeting with the HOA vice chairman and the county officials.

"I tried to go, but I wasn't invited in," he said.