SPRING LAKE — When Bob Fornabio built his home on his 5 acres of paradise just off Spring Lake Highway near Hickory Hill in 2003, he was looking forward to the peace and quiet.
It didn't last long.
That same year, the adjacent lot sold to Steven Schryver, and Schryver's vision for his 13.5 acres was very different.
Schryver said that before he even bought the site, he visited with the county's then-zoning administrator, Gary Fisher. He told Fisher he wanted to install a motocross track and run a business on the site, though he soon dropped the idea of the business.
Schryver said Fisher told him there would be no problem building a track on the Spike Road property for personal use and for the use of his friends, as long as he didn't change the historic drainage on the site.
In 2006, the clearing of the land and building of the track began. Soon after, the high-pitched whir of dirt bikes started to pierce the air. That ignited what has become a five-year battle between Schryver and the neighbors and agencies that object to the activities on the property, which Schryver calls "Area 51."
Last week, the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District voted to enter litigation to get Schryver to apply for a permit the agency says he needed in the first place. The agency also wants him to fix the erosion and drainage changes he has created on the site and pay fines that could top $88,000.
With an additional $5,700 in penalties Schryver has been assessed because he lost a code violation and zoning case with Hernando County over the site earlier this year, the investment to clear up all of the issues is approaching the $115,000 he originally paid for the property.
Schryver has appealed the county zoning and code case, but says he never received the consent order to clear up the problems with Swiftmud that was mailed in June. He said someone had been stealing his mail, so he didn't know that the agency had recommended assessing penalties against him totaling $88,625 until a Tampa Bay Times reporter told him.
Because he didn't respond to the consent order, the governing board agreed to go to the next step. Assistant general counsel Martha Moore wrote Schryver on Wednesday, telling him that the Swiftmud staff is still willing to negotiate over the next two weeks, but if no response is received again, "an Administrative Complaint and Order will be issued.'' That could mean even higher costs and legal fees, Moore warned Schryver in the initial consent order.
While Fornabio appreciates that the county and the water management district have tried to help with the incessant noise from Schryver's property, he expressed frustration.
"We went to court, but nothing ever gets done,'' he said.
Another lot and a stand of trees separates Pete Davis from Schryver's property, but he shares Fornabio's displeasure with the noise from the motor bikes.
"It's over the top,'' Davis said. "The people around you within a mile can't even enjoy their weekend. … He's diminishing the quality of life with the noise.''
While it was the neighbors' complaints of noise that first caught the attention of Swiftmud and the county, no noise violations have been filed against Schryver because the sound level isn't high enough to meet the standard in the county's ordinance.
But once officials visited the site, they saw plenty of other things out of order.
In August 2009, Swiftmud issued Schryver his first "notice of unauthorized construction," and over the next several months the agency sought to get him to submit an erosion control plan. Schryver complied in early 2010, and the agency closed its file.
Two years later, Swiftmud got a complaint that Schryver was again working on the site and might be blocking the historic drainage. Swiftmud officials visited and "observed a greatly expanded motocross facility'' and saw erosion and stormwater flowing off the site.
Schryver sought an exemption from the permitting requirement, but the agency rejected the request. As recently as June, the agency received photos showing that even more work has gone on at the site.
Independent of the Swiftmud issues, the complaints of neighbors brought out county inspectors, who found various violations of county codes. In January, a special master heard Schryver's case and found him guilty of clearing land without a permit, violating land use regulations and violating a stop-work order.
The special master relied on the determination of the county's current zoning coordinator, Chris Linsbeck, that the primary use of the property is as a motocross track, not as a residence. While the special master noted that the previous zoning official may have had a different interpretation, there was no evidence of that provided.
A review of case law also determined that a zoning administrator cannot exempt a project from the county's zoning ordinance, the order noted.
Schryver admitted to the Times that he moved earth on his property and violated a stop-work order because he didn't believe Linsbeck gave him a good enough reason to halt the work. He said he was trying to fix the erosion.
He said he disagreed with Linsbeck's ruling that the property is being used primarily for a track. While neighbors dispute the contention, Schryver says he lives there. Schryver blamed much of the delay in settling the issues on his property on confusion about procedures, including months of delay determining whether it was Swiftmud or another state agency that had jurisdiction.
Neighbors also say some work has continued at the site in recent months, but Schryver denies that. The mounds of dirt he has piled on the site cannot be moved because Swiftmud and the county have told him he can't touch anything until issues are resolved.
As far as Schryver is concerned, "I should have been grandfathered'' under the conditions approved by Fisher, he said.
He noted that his case has gotten the attention of national motorcycle organizations and he doesn't understand why other backyard motocross tracks haven't faced the same scrutiny.
"I totally think I'm being railroaded,'' Schryver said. "It's been a big freakin' mess.''