TAMPA — Despite the opposition of neighbors, the Tampa City Council on Thursday gave Hillsborough County school superintendent MaryEllen Elia permission to rezone her home's lot in South Tampa.
Elia has been battling neighbors for years over improvements to the home she bought in 2004. Most recently, the argument was over her attempt to replace a canvas awning over her patio with an aluminum roof. Elia was cited in September for starting the project without a permit.
Her next-door neighbor, Susan Gillett, complained that the solid structure just 3 feet from her property line was inappropriate.
Elia told the council her neighbor's opposition to the project has turned into harassment, with pictures of her home taken from inside the Gillett's house circulating throughout the neighborhood and City Hall. "I wonder where they're going to show up and how they're going to be used," Elia said. "We feel like we're being stalked."
She also said neighbors were accusing her of intentionally breaking laws.
Out of concern for her privacy, Elia now wants to enclose the patio with glass windows. Although Elia could have taken the project to the variance review board, her attorney, Gina Grimes, who also represents the school district, said Elia opted to go to the City Council because they have the ability to consider the "totality" of the situation, including the privacy issues. Elia just wants "to be able to put blinds up, be able to sit and talk without anyone hearing you, or taking photographs."
Neighbor Frank Rief told the council that even though the footprint of the home wouldn't change, the glass windows and aluminum roof substantially change the building. The issue of privacy, he said, "is just obfuscating the facts."
Council member Mary Mulhern moved to deny Elia's request, saying it seemed like an end run around the variance review board. Council member Linda Saul-Sena seconded the motion. But it failed with the remaining five council members supporting Elia.
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.