TARPON SPRINGS — Henry Ross has been a thorn in the side of Tarpon Springs city officials for a long time, filing lawsuits and objections to city actions and causing a delay in construction of a new water treatment plant.
Now, Ross claims that the city got revenge by intentionally misinterpreting codes, denying him a building permit, and preventing him from selling a piece of waterfront property for a high price.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Ross has sued the city and its development services director, Joey DiPasqua. He is demanding a jury trial, and he wants the city to pay him the difference between the $495,000 he could have gotten for the property and the $286,235 he eventually got for it, plus attorney fees and court costs.
However, the city has filed a motion to have the case dismissed, arguing that Ross never asked the city for a building permit or anything else, so he can't sue for not getting them.
According to Ross' suit, he had a contract for sale of a lot on Florida Avenue. The contract "contemplated" construction of a stilt home on the property once fill dirt was brought in.
The lawsuit states that DiPasqua "purposely misinterpreted" Federal Emergency Management Agency rules about using fill dirt, and thus the deal fell through. Ross, who calls himself an activist in the filing, argues that the city "denied development as retaliation against a citizen resident who exercises his First Amendment rights."
However, in court documents DiPasqua states that while Ross asked him some general questions in 2005 and 2010 about building a stilt house on a piece of property on Florida Avenue, Ross never submitted an application for any permits.
DiPasqua declined to comment for this story.
"It has no merit whatsoever," Jay Daigneault, an attorney who works with City Attorney Jim Yacavone, said of the Ross lawsuit. "There has never been a development application of any kind. The city never made a decision whatsoever involving fill dirt. (Ross) never filed anything with the city and there was never any formal decision rendered by anyone."
Ross could not be reached for this story, and his attorney of record, John Shahan of Tarpon Springs, did not return repeated phone calls.
Ross makes another claim in the lawsuit that also has been rebutted.
He states that the would-be buyer of the lot contracted with Brandon Construction to build the stilt home and that the company had built one under similar circumstances nearby. Ross' suit states that Brandon disagreed with DiPasqua's interpretation of FEMA rules, but the city refused to consider the company's position.
However, Brandon Construction responded that Ross' statements are false and that the company never asked a city employee "to render an interpretation of any City ordinance or federal regulation."
"Brandon construction never entered into a contract with the prospective buyer to build a stilt home on the property," David Brandon said in court documents. "Further, Brandon Construction has never built a home or any other type of building in a 'V' zone in the City of Tarpon Springs."
Ross has filed several lawsuits against the city, including one that attempted to halt construction of a $45 million water treatment plant. Ross asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to deny the city a needed permit.
Bob Robertson, Tarpon's public services program manager, said that Ross' cases have been dismissed by the Second District Court of Appeal but caused a delay of about 20 months in the project.
In 2000, Ross filed a similar request to prevent the city from dredging the Anclote River. That matter took years to resolve.