RIDGE MANOR — Work to build a frontage road between the Ridge Manor Community Center and a church has been halted by the county after the zoning administrator found numerous violations.
D.A.B. Constructors Inc. and John Shoppa, a director at the community center, will be receiving letters of violation from Chris Linsbeck, the county's zoning administrator.
An investigation began after nearby residents complained about improper activity at the center and how it might affect their residential neighborhood.
"We are not willing to sacrifice our sleep for the good of undefined, dubious future expansion at the center,'' resident Winslow Morrow wrote to county Commissioner Jim Adkins. "We were never consulted by anyone from the center in regard to what they are doing or what impact it would have on our neighborhood.''
After several complaints about noise and dust from the construction activity at the community center site — all on private property — Linsbeck paid a visit late last week. He discovered multiple dump trucks and a bulldozer operated by D.A.B. moving dirt. Trees had been felled, and other specimen trees had dirt piled up around them that could kill them, Linsbeck said.
Shoppa, who was present, explained to Linsbeck that the community center was building a road to connect the center with the adjacent Ridge Manor Community United Methodist Church. He said that he thought that they had all of the permits they needed.
Shoppa told the Tampa Bay Times that the road is needed to provide better access between the two buildings if there is another disaster like the two tropical systems that hit Hernando County in 2004. At that time, Shoppa turned the community center into a distribution point for hurricane supplies for more than 500 local residents, causing traffic backups in the vicinity of the center and the church.
For his work, Shoppa was awarded a Point of Light Award by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.
Linsbeck said there were clearly problems with the work that he found under way on the site last week, which he discovered had not been permitted.
"There was quite a bit of fill dirt out there. It was spread deep into the tree line. There were trees removed, compacted dirt,'' he said. "I basically shut it down to figure out what was happening.''
He issued stop-work orders, one on the community center's property and another on the property of the church.
"There were blatant violations of the landscape ordinance and the flood plain ordinance,'' Linsbeck said.
The fill dirt issues followed an earlier complaint by neighbors that D.A.B. was creating an eyesore at the site by stockpiling asphalt millings from a nearby state road construction job the company was doing. In that case, Linsbeck said, county code enforcement found mounds of the millings.
To store such materials would require a conditional use permit, which had not been sought, Linsbeck said. The county asked D.A.B. to remove the millings, and company workers did so in the days that followed. When a building inspector went to the site to confirm the millings were gone last week, she found the piles of fill dirt, opening a new issue, Linsbeck said.
Joe Lott, D.A.B. corporate counsel, said the company had used the community center property briefly as a storage site for millings, but removed them when asked.
He denied any involvement by D.A.B. in the alleged ordinance violations on the site.
"It's my understanding that no such thing happened,'' Lott said of Linsbeck's report that D.A.B. equipment was working at the site late last week.
If Shoppa used D.A.B. equipment, Lott said, it was not authorized.
Any county code violations on the site would be Shoppa's responsibility, Lott said, adding that Shoppa had signed a release that made him responsible for getting all necessary permits.
"If they give us (a letter of violation), it's false,'' Lott said. "We'll contest it and beat it.''
Typically, it is the contractor who applies for permits, Linsbeck said. But even if that was not D.A.B.'s duty at the frontage road construction site, the company was clearly acting as the contractor, moving the fill dirt, he said.
"I saw D.A.B. out there. Clearly they're involved. D.A.B. was the construction contractor on site. They were the ones dumping the dirt,'' Linsbeck said. "That's enough for me to know they were involved.''
Shoppa said he knew a worker from D.A.B. and struck a deal to get fill dirt in exchange for allowing the company to store the asphalt millings on the site.
"It was a temporary thing to store it. I didn't know I needed to get a permit,'' he said. "D.A.B., they're just the ones that gave us free dirt. ... Their trucks would bring the dirt in.''
Since the stop-work order, Shoppa has visited Linsbeck's office to collect the paperwork needed to seek permits. He has also been in touch with an engineer to do a survey and said he was awaiting a phone call from a surveyor.
Linsbeck's letter of violation will detail what Shoppa and D.A.B. need to do to remedy their infractions. Shoppa said that once the survey is done, the dirt will be removed around the specimen trees, and other necessary steps will be taken.
If the permits cannot be obtained, Linsbeck said all of the fill dirt will have to be removed.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.