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Code board ruling stings beekeeper

The bitter feud between an Ozello beekeeper and his next-door neighbor didn't end Wednesday. It just got more expensive.

The county Code Enforcement Board voted unanimously to fine Randall Foti, a certified beekeeper, $200 a day for violating the conditions of his home occupation permit. The fines started accruing Monday, his deadline for compliance, and could rack up through his April 15 compliance date.

"I think it was a very unfair decision. I'm just in awe over the whole thing," said Foti, who maintains he has not violated his permit conditions. "It's just a simple beekeeping operation."

But the ruling, as well as the board's recommendation to send the volatile case to the County Commission for possible legal action, was just the news neighbor Jackie Gay hoped to hear.

"We're just trying to get some sleep," said Mrs. Gay, whose yearlong battle with the Fotis has spilled beyond code enforcement to involve animal control, the Citrus County Sheriff's Office and the courts.

The thorny case has even drawn the interest of CBS News' 48 Hours, which taped Wednesday's hearing for part of a segment to air May 3 about several neighborhood disputes.

Foti raises hundreds of bee colonies on other properties, but brings the honeycombs home to extract the honey. His permit allows him to do that, as long as his home business does not disrupt the neighbors or involve nonfamily members, among other conditions.

While Foti says he has followed those rules, Mrs. Gay says her videotapes and logs tell a different story.

"The noise, the fumes, the odors from the processing of honey; the noise from the Bobcat (forklift Foti uses to move the crates of honeycombs)," Mrs. Gay told the board Wednesday. "It happens day in, day out, every single day."

Last month the board found Foti guilty of violating those two permit conditions, and told him to come into compliance by Monday.

Although a code enforcement officer testified Wednesday that he saw no violations in recent visits to the Foti home, Mrs. Gay said the property remains abuzz with noisy work by nonfamily members. The board relied on her testimony.

"If you're out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you may experience some things (that code enforcement officers don't see because) we're not out there that much," code enforcement officer Jerry Schaaf said after the hearing. "We rely on Mrs. Gay to fill in the blanks."

Foti told the Times that he used the forklift only twice in the past month. Deborah Foti added that it was her son and his friends Mrs. Gay saw visiting the property, not employees helping with the business.

"How do you stop it? Tell your son to move out? Tell people not to come over?" Mrs. Foti asked.

Through their attorney, Clark Stillwell, the Fotis offered a solution: Give us 60 days to insulate the work shed and replace the fuel-powered forklift with an electric one, making our business even quieter. The board declined.

Mrs. Gay said she will try to reach a resolution with the Fotis. But she does not see any legal leeway for the beekeeper's home business: County codes do not allow home businesses to be run out of accessory buildings, such as the Foti shed, she said. Nor are food processing home occupations allowed, she said.

Knowing their decision Wednesday would not end the feud, the Code Enforcement Board said the case should go to the County Commission next.

"I don't know that we're going to come to a resolution here," board member Jerry Zielinksi said.

"The Gays are nice people. So are the Fotis," board member George Radford added. "I just wish they could live together."

The County Commission can send problem code enforcement cases to the State Attorney's Office for possible prosecution, as it did two years ago with Paul Gibson, who faced a misdemeanor charge of maintaining a public nuisance for accumulating a sea of junk in his yard.

If that route fails, commissioners can take such cases to civil court, as they did with log yard owners Scott Adams and Charlie Strange, who refuse to apply for county permits for their business.

_ Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 860-7303 or bhallsptimes.com.

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