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Man with Lou Gehrig's disease battles Pinellas zoning glitch

CLEARWATER— The first sign came four years ago when Dave Scott's left leg started giving out.

He had been an active guy, a contractor and an accordion player who found his way from his native Ireland to live in America.

He went to doctors. They told him he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — Lou Gehrig's disease.

The disease will take the 78-year-old's body, then his life.

His wife Nancy, 69, can no longer care for him by herself, so they made a plan: sell their home in unincorporated St. Petersburg, move to Houston to be near a daughter and get treatment.

They'd live off the proceeds. The house is half packed.

But then they came up against the Pinellas County Code. And now their move seems very much in doubt.

"The thing is, I don't now how many days I have," Scott said from his wheelchair, as a tear fell down his cheek Tuesday.

His wife's hands trembled. She said, "Oh, God."

• • •

Their lot on 78th Lane N has two single-story houses on it, one built in 1952 and the other in 1954. The Scotts bought them in 1994 for $31,900 out of foreclosure. They live in one, rent out the other.

They found a buyer for their property for $165,000 but stumbled into a problem this month.

The homes pre-date the county's land development code, which originated in 1963. The code now bans two houses on one lot with the residential zoning on the Scotts' land. If more than 50 percent of a house is destroyed, the county won't let the owner rebuild it on the land.

But the buyer's lender, VanDyk, can't finance the federally assisted loan without a written promise from the county that the houses can be rebuilt, said their real estate agent Alexis Bond.

Without financing, they don't have a buyer. The county says the Scotts' only alternative is to apply for a rezoning and land use change, paying $3,100 in fees in a process that takes at least five months and public meetings by four county boards.

The county can't legally give the Scotts' buyer the assurance they need for their loan, officials said.

"We looked at every angle to try to do this within the parameters of the zoning," said John Cueva, zoning manager.

Countless other properties face similar circumstances, Cueva said. Pinellas is preparing a new land development code that would allow more flexibility with similar cases. It won't be in effect this year, though.

Their real estate agents pleaded to the County Commission for the Scotts on Tuesday afternoon and earned sympathy.

"They don't have a year," said Commissioner John Morroni. "They need it done."

But County Attorney Jim Bennett delivered bad news:

"At the risk of becoming the Grinch, the answer is we have no way of granting dispensation that's going to be recognized legally by a bank."

• • •

At Christmas last year, Dave Scott said he walked up 13 steps to his daughter's door without a cane. His legs are no use to him now; they only get cold. The degenerative neurological disease, which leads to paralysis and later death, is spreading up his back.

Some day, he expects to be able to use only his eyes.

He was the youngest of 11 children. He left Ireland in 1957 without losing his accent. He recalled being a contractor who would travel cross-country to build stores like Sports Authority.

He played accordion in a band, the Sounds of Ireland, in the Coliseum, the old Bayfront Center and Irish clubs in St. Petersburg. He and his wife said they became U.S. citizens six years ago.

On Tuesday, he held his medical files and property records, but they went unseen by county officials.

"If they could really look at our case and change the law," he said, "it would be the best Christmas present ever."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes.

Dave Scott, 78, has ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. He and his wife, Nancy, want to move to Texas to be near a daughter.

JOSEPH GARNETT JR. | Times

Dave Scott, 78, has ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. He and his wife, Nancy, want to move to Texas to be near a daughter.

Man with Lou Gehrig's disease battles Pinellas zoning glitch 12/20/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 1:25pm]
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