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Tempers rise in Palm Harbor over high roof

PALM HARBOR — The new — and very tall — roof covering the roller-hockey rink at the Sunderman recreational complex isn't going anywhere for now.

The Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Department built the roof taller than the county's Board of Adjustment allows, and it must fix the problem, said Paul Cassel, director of the county's building and development review services department.

He offered three options:

•  Remove the building.

•  Lower the building height to 25 feet, the maximum mentioned at Board of Adjustment hearings.

•  Return to the Board of Adjustment and ask to keep the building at its present height of 35 feet.

But Rick Burton, Palm Harbor's parks and recreation director, surprised Cassel with his choice: none of the above.

"They are kind of taking the position that they didn't do anything wrong," Cassel said.

Burton did say he was willing to see if taller trees could be planted to screen neighbors' view of the structure. But Cassel said he didn't want to talk about new hypothetical solutions.

"My recommendations are based on code," Cassel said.

Now the situation is at an impasse with three different factions at odds: the neighbors, the recreation department and the county.

"We all have different perspectives," said Cassel, "And we all just want to solve it."

The roof is necessary to protect in-line hockey players during rainy days, Burton said.

Burton said Phil Phillips, the contractor who built the structure, was nervous when he appeared before the Board of Adjustment and answered incorrectly when asked how high he planned to build.

If so, transcripts of the meetings show he was nervous at both hearings. At the first, Phillips said the roof would rise to 24 feet or 25 feet. At the second, where the project was approved, he mentioned 22 feet to 24 feet.

Burton also said the letter he received from the county informing him a variance had been approved didn't mention height restrictions.

Burton doesn't want to take the roof down, lower it or go before the Board of Adjustment again, he said Wednesday.

Too much of the $461,000 project — financed with public money — has already been spent to demolish the roof, he said. Lowering the roof would also require too much additional money, he said. He said he doesn't want to delay the project again by waiting to go before the Board of Adjustment in April.

Instead, Burton said he wants to talk with neighbors such as Martin Del Monte, who lives directly across from the rink.

"Maybe there's something we could do with landscaping that would soften his view," Burton said. "If there are other things he's concerned about, then we can talk about that, too."

Assuaging Del Monte will not be easy.

"There is no landscaping that can grow tall enough," Del Monte said Thursday. "So any meeting with me is going to be very short."

He says the recreation department and its contractor lied to the Board of Adjustment. "They built the roof knowing that it was much higher than they had testified," he said. "And it damaged me."

Del Monte said he may refuse to meet with officials.

"I want the roof removed — period," he said. "Unless they want to buy my house, that's the only other solution I could go for at this point."

The Board of Adjustment clearly considered the height of the roof a concern, Cassel says. The board allowed Palm Harbor Recreation to build only after the agency agreed to extensive and tall landscaping to screen the structure from neighbors.

County documents coming out of the hearings did not mention the roof's height. So the county staff that reviewed the plans and granted permits later did not question the roof height, which was clearly shown on building plans.

"I understand their resistance, because it's not spelled out in black and white," Cassel said. "But I think it's pretty black and white when I read the record (of Board of Adjustment hearings). … Even though it's not written down in the decision letter … it equals a condition."

In the end, Cassel thinks, one of his original options will win out.

His prediction: "I think maybe the third option, going before the Board of Adjustment, will come up."

You can reach Theresa Blackwell at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Tempers rise in Palm Harbor over high roof 02/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, February 28, 2008 8:24pm]
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