Sunday, June 24, 2018
News Roundup

Lake Cox fence dispute continues in Port Richey City Hall

PORT RICHEY — Lucila Sullivan wells up with emotion when she talks about the fence she has erected around her waterfront back yard in a quiet tree-canopied neighborhood.

Sullivan's home sits at the end of Candlelight Court, a cul-de-sac on Lake Cox, a small pond that for decades has provided a pretty view and served as a neighborhood fishing hole. The homes have a New Port Richey address but are located in Port Richey city limits.

Sullivan said her husband died four years ago and shortly thereafter, a storm took down her old fence. Then problems started. She started seeing teens trespassing on her property to get to the water and witnessed drug use around her yard.

Her solution: a 6-foot solid white PVC fence to keep them out and protect her pool.

"I lost my husband. My husband died. I'm alone and I need my privacy," she said. "I'm just trying to live my life in peace."

But the new fence has caused new problems. One of her neighbors, Thomas Brown, says it violates city code because it obstructs his and his neighbors' view of Lake Cox. Brown also argues that all fences along canals or natural bodies of water can only be 4 feet tall and be made out of either chain link or decorative wrought iron, according to city code.

For months, Brown, 75, has railed at the City Council to act on his claim that the fence should come down. This week's council meeting was no different.

"What's going to be done about this fence? This goes on and on," Brown said.

Brown, however, appears to be fighting an increasingly bitter losing battle.

City Manager Tom O'Neill has granted Sullivan an exemption allowed by the city code for the fence to remain.

O'Neill said he, his staff and the city attorney have spent numerous hours investigating Brown's complaint and have determined the sight line to the water from his home — across the street from Sullivan and several homes up from the lake — has not been hampered by the fence.

In addition, city code allows for the city manager to waive the height requirement should a property owner demonstrate it would create a "potential health, safety, or welfare hazard." O'Neill said this applies to Sullivan's case because of her concerns about trespassers.

Another aspect of the case irks Brown: When he began complaining to the city, officials realized Sullivan didn't have a permit for the fence and granted her one after it was built. O'Neill's exemption also came after the fence's construction.

"I just can't understand it. What good are these ordinances if you don't enforce them?" Brown said.

O'Neill said permits are often issued when the city learns that a fence has been erected without one, as long as they are found to be in compliance. He added that 6-foot fences that are not chain link or wrought iron are all over Candlelight Court, but the city doesn't have the time or resources to be driving around sniffing out illegal fences.

"This appears to be a neighborhood dispute where it's impossible to make everyone happy," O'Neill said. "Some of those cases are not black and white — they have gray area. Sometimes you have to make a call, so I made the call. In my mind, the matter is concluded."

Brown is not satisfied and plans to continue the fight. At the meeting Tuesday, he had council members asking O'Neill to provide a written explanation of the city's stance.

Mayor Eloise Taylor said after the meeting she wants to see the legal review continue to address issues such as where Sullivan's property line is and whether Lake Cox is a natural body of water. (O'Neill contends it's a man-made lake.)

Council member Terry Rowe said he wants the case looked at thoroughly because he is concerned about the precedent O'Neill's decision might set. He said he is most troubled by a part of the fence that juts out several feet into the lake.

"I just don't want people lining up seeking exemptions to build fences that are not in compliance with the code because of this case," he said.

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