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Council says yes to dock

Nearly six years ago the New Port Richey City Council told Michael Samartini he couldn't build a dock on the Pithlachascotee River.

Tuesday night, after years of lobbying on his behalf by a neighbor, the council changed its vote to "yes."

"I believe that we need to right the wrong," council member Wendy Brenner said before the unanimous vote.

"I agree . . . there has been an injustice done here," council member Ted Thomas said.

That doesn't mean the council has changed its mind about docks on the river. It still doesn't plan to allow anybody else to build docks along the city's sea wall. But the council members said they thought that the council seated in 1988 made the wrong decision.

Here's why:

When Samartini decided he would like to build a dock he got permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Regulation. He even bought insurance that would protect the city as well as himself if someone was hurt on the dock and sued.

A city building official even told him that the council would approve his request. After all, at the time there were no provisions against docks on the river.

On the strength of all that, Samartini spent $1,200 to bring his boat down from Ohio.

But the council did turn Samartini's request down, saying they were worried about liability. Then, they passed an ordinance that allows existing docks to remain but prohibits the construction of any new docks along the city-owned seawall.

Samartini just shrugged his shoulders at the decision and put his boat in storage at a cost of $97 a month.

But neighbor Lizabeth Jacobs was incensed at what she thought was an injustice. She frequently brought the issue up to council members.

"I don't give up," she said. "I kept going to council every time I could come to council."

Samartini, who was a part-time resident at the time, never got much of a chance to press the matter until he moved down permanently in December. Then, with the help of Jacobs, he gathered together 35 pages of ammunition and took it to City Attorney Lisa Bennett.

After reviewing the documents, Bennett decided that Samartini was entitled to his dock permit based upon the legal theory of vested rights. Because Samartini spent money based on the assurances of a city employee and the strength of an existing ordinance that his dock would be permitted, he is entitled to a permit, she said.

The council agreed, but Mayor Debra Prewitt was quick to say that this will not open the door for more dock approvals. Samartini's case was special, she said.

"It's not a situation where we are setting a precedent," she said.

The new dock will have to be built just like it would have been built in 1988, and if more than half is ever destroyed or needs to be repaired, it will have to be torn down, Bennett said.

Samartini, a quiet man, was happy with the decision.

"I appreciate your granting me the permit," he told the council.

His neighbor, Jacobs, was more effusive.

"I am just so happy it went through," she said. "It took a lot of Hail Marys and Our Fathers."

In other action Tuesday night, the City Council approved an ordinance that will regulate adult-oriented businesses in the city. The council is scheduled to take a second and final vote on the ordinance March 15.

It also approved an agreement with Pasco County to build the first phase of a pipeline that would make sewer effluent available for lawn watering.