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Derek Jeter gets okay for taller gate to screen Tampa mansion from nosy photographers

Tampa's Variance Review Board this week approved a request from retired New York Yankees star Derek Jeter to replace his existing 6-foot security gate at his Davis Islands mansion with a new gate that's 8 feet tall at its highest point and opaque so that passers-by can't see into his property. Neighbors and Jeter's representative say uninvited visitors come by constantly and get out of their cars to take pictures, shoot video and even fly drones at the property. JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
Published Jan. 12, 2017

TAMPA — The cars and boats cruise by the mansion on Bahama Circle on Davis Islands every day — about 100 on weekdays, one neighbor estimates, easily double that on weekends.

Outside the massive home of retired New York Yankees star Derek Jeter, the uninvited visitors get out of their cars to take photos, shoot video, lie down on the sidewalk, damage landscaping, antagonize neighborhood dogs and even fly drones.

It's intrusive not only for Jeter but for his neighbors, a representative says, and creates a security risk.

This week, Tampa City Hall agreed, giving Jeter permission to install a taller gate and make it opaque so passers-by can't see into his property.

"People hang out there," Jeter's representative on the request, Stephen Michelini, told the city's Variance Review Board. "They're looking for snapshots. They come at all times of the day and night. … The neighbors themselves have become the enforcers here, and frankly, they're getting a little tired of it."

In 2014, according to a police report, Jeter's property manager called police after a 45-year-old woman damaged a gate control code box and pulled up plants at the house, claiming she lived there.

Neighbors of Jeter, Monica Culpepper and her husband, Brad, a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer turned lawyer, wrote the city in support of the request, saying it is unreasonable for Jeter, 42, who last year married model Hannah Davis, to have to sacrifice his privacy.

Jeter's house has drawn attention ever since it was built in 2009. It covers three lots, and at more than 30,000 square feet, the two-story structure has almost as much space as a Best Buy. During construction, tourists on Segways began rolling by. A water taxi company created a tour of Davis Islands with the mansion — "St. Jetersburg" — as its main attraction.

The home includes seven bathrooms, nine bedrooms, two three-car garages, plus rooms for entertainment, billiards and memorabilia. Jeter's property tax bill is more than $217,000 this year.

When the house was built, he got a variance from the city to build a fence 6 feet tall instead of the 4 feet that city rules allow. At a hearing Tuesday night, only one resident questioned the need for another change.

The city is seeing more requests for variances, said Debbie Zomermaand, who lives on a neighboring street. Those that are granted change neighborhoods one variance at a time, with unintended consequences that often become clear only later. She questioned whether a property owner should be given a break on city rules because of circumstances that arise from his notoriety.

Zomermaand estimates she lives about 500 feet from the Jeter house and doesn't think traffic is as bad as other neighbors say. It's also dropped off in recent years, she said. It's been maybe two years since anyone has asked her where Jeter lives.

Zomermaand said she hasn't met Jeter and doesn't have a problem with him, but was making her comments to preserve her rights in the city's process.

"From all I've heard, Mr. Jeter and his family are well-regarded within our neighborhood," she said.

Variance Review Board chairwoman Susan Long said the board has allowed property owners to install electric fences and barbed wire when security considerations called for it.

"It's a residence where an individual lives and he wants to protect himself and his property," she said. "I just don't have a problem with that."

With the approval, Jeter will be able to replace the existing 6-foot-tall wrought iron gate with a new gate that will be 6 feet tall at the hinges and 8 feet tall at its arched center. It will have the same wrought iron design, but will have a sheet metal backing so outsiders can't see into the property. It will be set back 18 feet from the property line. A security analysis done by two Tampa police officers concluded that making the gate opaque would make the property more secure.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who lives 10 houses away, can recognize when an outsider is looking for Jeter's place by the way they slow down and look around. He's seen a drone hovering overhead.

"It can get bad," said Buckhorn, who was not involved in the decision regarding the gate. "I'm sure there are a number of Christmas cards in New York with people standing in front of Jeter's house with their family. … I can understand why he would want more privacy."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.

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