Rights Of Way Prompt Talks

By KATHY STEELE The Tampa Tribune

Published: Feb 10, 2007

TAMPA - Within a week of buying their Ardson Place home in 2004, the first notice from city code enforcement arrived. A retaining wall and fence was in the right of way and had to be removed.

"Our entire lot will wash away," owner Marc Silverman recalled thinking. The 1925 house in Bayshore Gardens is on an elevated lot, protected from erosion by the fence, wall and a hedge around the wall.

Nearly three years ago, Silverman and partner Matthew Richards-Silverman hired a lawyer and the matter went away.

But here it comes again for them and many other residents citywide. Code enforcement citations in recent months to Palma Ceia and Seminole Heights residents prompted a look at the city's policy on decorative landscaping, concrete steps and retaining walls that have crept into rights of way.

The city's land development staff met Tuesday with a handful of residents to discuss a proposed ordinance regulating rights of way. A second meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 20 in city council chambers, 315 E. Kennedy Blvd.

It's a problem decades in the making, as little attention was paid to changes made to public land used primarily to access utilities, such as water meters.

"There is a liability issue the city needs to acknowledge any time something is put in the right of way, " said Gloria Moreda, land development coordination manager.

Obstructions can block a motorist's view or cause a pedestrian to trip.

"There needs to be a real clear reason why you should allow these encroachments," Moreda said.

The ordinance would require residents to apply for a fee-based permit, undergo a review by city departments and get city council approval before installing major encroachments into rights of way. Examples are foundations, retaining walls taller than 30 inches, ramps, balconies and canopies.

Minor encroachments likely would be handled administratively, also for a fee, and would include free-standing items such as flowerpots, planter boxes, low retaining walls and awnings.

Residents with existing encroachments would have to apply for permits.

Under current code, city officials said, Silverman can apply for a waiver for the fence and wall at a cost of about $400 for a survey. The waiver request would be reviewed by city departments and the council.

Encroachments popped up helter-skelter, in part because residents are unsure where the right of way starts, especially in neighborhoods without sidewalks, said Gary Ellsworth, president of the South Seminole Heights Civic Association.

"There is no consistency as to where right of way starts. It can be off-center from the center of a street," he said. "Some neighbors will disagree, but half of their front yard is city property."

Residents are looking for compromise on existing encroachments, said Randy Baron, president of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association.

"We don't want people to have to rip out existing stuff," he said.

Moreda said the council, which has final approval on the ordinance, likely will have a workshop in March.

Reporter Kathy Steele can be reached at (813) 835-2103 or ksteele@tampatrib.com.


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