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It all started with a simple plan - build our dream home and retire

Anticipating a maximum of nine months construction time, we decided that I would retire from my position with the Boeing Company and perform the construction myself, as an "owner-builder", rather than wait for completion of the home by a General Contractor before retirement.

Since purchasing the lot in 1993 we had paid it off, and now owned it free and clear.

We obtained bids for construction tasks I could not efficiently perform myself, for example, masonary and framing tasks, and developed a construction budget of $255,500. We decided we would construct our retirement home, then we would sell our 'old', existing home.

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We had equity of about $700,000 in the 'old' house, so we would be able to use the proceeds to pay ourselves back for the construction cost of the new home, and add the remainder to our retirement savings. We would then be mortgage-free in our new home during our retirement. We also decided to simultaneously remodel the 'old' home and enlarge it's Master Bedroom, to enhance it's resale value, using the same 'talent' that we would hire to construct the new house as an efficiency measure. We decided to complete the new home and the remodeling by the Fall of 2002, and so we commissioned plans in the summer of 2001.

Based on our intended occupancy in 2002, our daughter made her wedding plans, for the ceremony to be held at our new home in February, 2003.

On February 28, 2002 we submitted both of our plans and our permit applications, for both the remodeling of the 'old' house and the new home, to Brevard County. Within days, we we're advised by the plans reviewer that our plans we're for a single family residence, and there was no category for an 'auxiliary building', as we had been earlier advised by the clerk when we we're filling out the application forms. We modified our permit applications to 'Single Family Residence' classification on March 2, 2002, and the permitting process continued. We never again modified our permit category from Single Family Residence, or "SFR", which is category 101 in the building department review jargon.

We quickly went through the permit review and approval process with each department in succession, until we found our application blocked repeatedly by a single County Staff member. Initially she attempted to impose a 50 setback from the waterfront. I responded that nearly a decade earlier her department had previously verified that the applicable setback was 25. She denied that this was true.

I asked her to obtain the earlier department determination. She responded that their 'File Copy' of that determination could not be located, so she didn't believe it existed. So I produced my copy of the 1993 letter from the Director of ONRM that stipulates a 25 river setback. She still blocked the permit, stating that my copy was not "verifiable". I appealed her decree with her management, who verified the letter was factualwith the Director, who made a copy and retained it for the ONRM files. We we're required by the Staff member to make multiple senseless changes to the plans, and then to re-draw and obtain re-approval of the plans, time after time (with substantial costs to revise the drawings each time). It also became necessary for us to repeatedly produce copies of the County's own documents that mysteriously went 'missing' again and again from the County records that we're in the hands of theis Staff member.

We eventually complained to her management about all of her roadblocks. It was determined by her Director that this Staff person was blocking our plans in a vendetta, because she had been over-ruled by her management in a shoreline permit dispute with us when we were buying the lot a decade earlier.

We were unaware that we had ever met her prior to our permit application; she had a different name and a completely different appearance in 1992. The ONRM department permit review was then assigned by the Director to a different ONRM person, and we received our ONRM permit approval the next day.

However, new hurdles now began to appear in the Planning and Zoning department, who had previously approved the permit. For example, we we're forced by P&Z to create a separate new set of plans to build a temporary covered walkway between our new home and our old home, for reasons that seemed irrational: we we're told that we had to provide 'all-weather access' to the bathrooms in our home next door, for our workers.

We could not rent a port-o-let because we we're 'owner-builders' ( "port-o-lets don't provide all-weather access" ), we could remove this temporary walkway when we finished construction, and our permit would not be approved if we didn't add it.

We we're also informed that we could not have shingles, as we're shown on our plans, and must change our plans to have tile roofing, "in order to conform with the neighborhood".

While we have tile roofing on our 'old' house, most of our neighbors have shingle roofs. They produced provisions from the code that referred to 'neighborhood conformity' that really didn't apply to our permit, but we conceded and made all the mandated changes. These and other similar imposed 'requirements' added substantial costs to our home. We eventually ascertained that the ONRM person had enlisted assistance from her friend, our reviewer in P&Z, who agreed to block our permit for a "Single Family Residence".

With all the delays we we're encountering in permitting, we would be hard pressed to complete construction in time for our daughter's wedding. We knew we had the option of appealing the staff conduct to the County Commission, but our schedule could not withstand any further delays, so against our better judgment, we agreed to the many irrational added requirements and their inflation of our costs. Because of the rapidly approaching wedding date, and because of the increased costs resulting from all the superfluous County requirements, we finally revised our building plans in August, 2002 to allow us to construct in two phases. We would partially complete the home to a stage where we could move in when it was 'semi-complete'. Our revised plans covered all of the first floor construction, but only part of the 2nd floor completion, as 'phase 1 of our revised building schedule and plans. This would enable us to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy and move into the new house. We could then hold the wedding at the new house, and sell our 'old' house, obtaining the funds needed to 'finish out' the 2nd floor of new house. Following the wedding and the sale of our 'old' house, I could then complete the remainder of the new home by myself on a leisurely basis, as 'phase 2. The water-front real estate market was really heating up at the time, so we expected no difficulty in selling the 'old' house quickly.

When we discussed this plan with the building department, we we're told about all of the features required under the building code for living. Everything that is necessary for safety and sanitation must be integral to a structure (e.g. load-bearing walls, electrical wiring, fireplaces, A/C piping, etc.) prior to them allowing occupancy, and should be included in our new, 'phase 1, plans. These 'phase 1 plans include allintended exterior and load bearing walls, chimney, exterior doors, windows, integral built-ins such as the fireplaces, electrical service and plumbing, including those located on the future 2nd floor living areas, and all facilities necessary for initial residential use (the 1st floor baths, kitchen facilities and A/C, etc.); these would be necessary in order to enable us to receive a Certificate of Occupancy from Brevard County to live in the partially-completed house. Separate plans we're created for the remaining, 'phase 2, work, addressing completion of the remaining work after we moved in. Those 'phase 2 plans included the remaining room partitions/walls, the 2nd floor baths, the 2nd floor A/C air handler, the 2nd floor interior doors and the 2nd floor plumbing fixtures. These items we're deleted from the original plansand all of them we're items that I could complete at my leisure, anytime after our occupancy of the house.

Our revised plans we're approved by the Planning & Zoning department, and with that last hurdle behind us, we finally obtained a Single Family Residence permit in late July 2002. However, because of the increased construction scope created by the County mandated changes to the plans, our costs had risen dramatically. And, due to the necessary schedule acceleration of the 'phase 1 completion in time for the wedding, we now needed to hire subcontractors to expedite our construction. We therefore needed additotional funding, so we obtained a construction loan this process delaying us further, until late August.

I then retired from employment at the Boeing Company, we filed our "Notice of Commencement" with the County Building Department, the County Clerk, and our construction lender on the morning of September 1 , 2002 and broke ground that day. With all of the delays caused by the County, even the extra measures we had taken we're insuficient to complete 'phase 1 in time to have our daughter's wedding at our new home, as was originally planned. On my birthday in February the wedding took place as scheduled, but at our remodled 'old' home. The reception had to be held at a rented facility, as the 'old' house was too small (another significant additional expense we had not anticipated).

The next month, after nearly seven months of construction on the new house, a Stop Work Order was issued by the Brevard County Building Department.

On the day the Stop Work order was issued, we we're installing the exterior doors and windows in the house, and the roof was being prepared with roofing felt, for installation of the roof tiles on the next day. At the Building Inspector's direction, I had to lay-off all of my workers pending withdrawal of the Stop Work Order. The stated reason written upon the Stop Work Order was because we we're "not building per plans". This was untrue, as every element of the construction had been approved by the building Department, but my attempts to obtain a reversal, or even an explanation, from the Building Official we're repeatedly rebuffed.

Then the 'cover up' began.

A week after the 'Stop Work ' Order was posted at the property, a meeting with the Building Official was finally granted. I was unexpectedly confronted by a large assembly of County staff members from multiple departments.including my first encounter with a County Attorney. I asked if I needed an attorney there to represent me, and was told by the County Attorney "no".I was then instructed by the Building Official that I had to get new copies of my updated plans printed, 'sealed' by an engineer, and re-reviewed by the County, because "the inspectors can't understand the 'redlines' ". That allegation was later refuted by the Chief Building Inspector, who said the inspectors had not even been consulted in the matter, and had encountered no dificulty understanding and approving the 'redline' changes, or any other features of the plan drawings. I was instructed by the County Attorney that the 'cleaned-up' plans we're not subject to re-approval, and that my permit would be unaffected by the 'cleaned up' drawings. According to the Building Official, they we're "needed in order for all parties to be able to clearly evaluate if we we're in compliance with the approved plans". I pressed the issue to understand exactly what needed to be "clearly evaluated", and was told that could only be determined after the plans had been "cleaned up". I was given a list of over 100 plan "discrepancies" to "clean up". The first one said " NOC states SFR", i.e., that our Notice of Comencement filed with the County Building Department and recorded with the County Clerk before the start of construction, indicated that we we're beginning construction of a Single Family Residence. This was certainly no discrepancy, as that's exactly what we had requested and been authorized to build.The remainder of the descrepancies we're for field-changes, or 'redlines', that had already been approved by County Building Inspectors. The descrepancy for each stated that each change "needs to be sealed by a registered engineer"; this is not a requirement under the law.

It is important to understand that 'Redlines' are simple changes to plans, made on-site and approved on-site by County Building Inspectors. This is the standard process of the Brevard County building & inspection process, as it is in every other locality. 'Redlines' are used for non-structural modifications such as relocating an electrical outlet or repositioning a sink, and nearly all approved house plans in the entire nation are modified in the field in this manner. But I was directed by the assembled County staff to have new plans prepared that incorporated all the approved 'redline' changes into a "clean" set of plans, and then to have those plans re-approved, or 'sealed' by a registered professional engineer. At this point in time I had gone through that process dozens of time during the permit approval process, and was unaware that I could not be required to do so after the permits had been issued, except for changes relating to safety (e.g., changing structural elements). I ordered the requested 'cleaned up' plans, the "clean" plans we're 'sealed' by my registered professional engineer, and we're 'approved' for use after the review of both the County plans examiner and his supervisor.

When I then requested that the Stop Work Order be lifted, my request was rejected. I was informed by the Assistant County Manager representing the Planning and Zoning Department that I was not allowed to have some of the features that we're present in the approved plans. I was told that I must again modify the re-approved plans, to delete the kitchen and electrical service, before he would authorize the Building Official to "lift the Stop Work Order". I asked why, and was dumbfounded when he told me that "these items are not permitted in an Addition". I told him that it was a house, not an addition, and he informed me that the County Staff had unilaterally changed my approved permit at the time of the Stop Work Order to allow the construction to continue only as an addition.contrary to every document that had already been approved the prior year by the County. I refused to make the changes, and requested an appeal of their illegal modifications before the Board of County Commissioners. I was told by the County Attorney that the decision of the Assistant County Manager was final, and I could not take an appeal to the Board of County Commissioners. I requested that we be allowed "dry in" the house; to complete installation of the doors, the windows and the roof, in order to prevent further damage from the elements. That request was also rejected..and rejected again on multiple later occasions.

I finally retained an attorney, who also attempted to work things out with the staff.I provided him with a copy of our 1993 letter from ONRM that stipulates a 25 river setback, and we we're told that my authorization was also being revoked in 2003 by the County Staff.We we're informed by the Director of Planning and Zoning that I was violating a newly imposed 50 river setback requirement for the property, even though the 25 setback was approved for the permit. We we're informed by the Director of Planning and Zoning that I "may have vested rights" to build the house to the approved plans, but that was a legal question, and could only be determined by the BoCC.We submitted an appeal of the Staff actions and decisions to the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC), and we're told by the County Attorney that we had waited too long, and therefore we could not file an appeal. We we're told that the Staff determinations we're 'final and irreversable, with no right to appeal'. Knowing that these rulings by the County Attorney we're illegal, and that they violated state law and our constitutional rights by preventing our redress of greivances before our elected officials, we filed a lawsuit against the County Attorney in order to obtain a Board of County Commissioners hearing.

In taking depositions, we discovered that the ONRM letter issued in 1993, and that they still possessed in 2001, and that we had provided when it was 'missing' from the files in 2002, again was 'missing' from the ONRM files in 2003. A request for public records revealed that, along with many other Public Records important to our case, it was indeed again missing from the County records. However, in deposition the author of the ONRM letter asserted the authenticity of our copy of that letter, and verified that a copy had been placed by her into the ONRM files.

But the County Attorney attempted later to assert that the 1993 authorization was not valid, due to a subsequent BoCC decision, of which neither that Director nor I had ever been informed. This County Attorney then proceeded to use every legal trick, gimmick and finagle to prevent us from obtaining a hearing before the Board of County Commissioners. Following our judicial appeals, hearings & renderings on several motions, and Court determination of jurisdiction that was intentionally obfuscated by the County, we obtained a court judgment that allowed us to obtain a hearing before the BoCC. The BoCC conducted an initial hearing to review the Court decree, and decide if it meant we should be allowed to have a second hearing where our appeal of the 'Stop Work' Order could be heard by the BoCC. Deciding in favor of allowing our appeal, the BoCC subsequently conducted two additional hearings on our case. Our successful rebuttal of staff testimony via both our original, and their altered, documentation resulted in a determination by the BoCC in our favor. A Settlement Agreement was directed by the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners, to be prepared by the County Staff. In this settlement, mandated by the BoCC and composed by the County Attorney, we agreed to waive our rights to sue the County or it's employees for damages resulting from the Staff misconduct. We agreed to "abate" our lawsuit for vested rights (i.e. put it 'on hold'), and to eventually withdraw that also when:

1) the County Staff corrects and restores our permit records;

2) the County Staff rescinds the Stop Work Order;

3) the County Staff allows us to complete building the house, and;

4) the County compensates us for all of our additional costs resulting from their misconduct.

The Contract was written by the County Attorney, was negotiated and signed by both the County Attorney and my attorney, and was ratified all five members of the BoCC on November 4, 2004almost twenty months after the Stop Work Order was imposed. Shortly prior to BoCC ratification of the contract, the County Attorney issued payments for part of the legal costs we had incurred, part of the costs projected by a General Contractor to repair the weather damages incurred during the multiple storms that hit while the County had prevented us from protecting the interior, the additional costs demanded by the vendors before they would release the custom doors, windows and roof tiles that had been 'stored' by those suppliers during the 'Stop Work' (when the Building Official refused to let us install them). No payments we're made to the Roberts for any of their other additional expenses incurred because of the County misconduct and cover-up.

The ONRM staffer with the vendetta who had altered the 'permitting folder' after the permits had been issued; who had reinserted herself into the custody of our building records prior to the Stop Work Order; who had 'lost' the records from the ONRM files for which she had taken custody; who had more than fifteen years tenure at the County was involuntarily 'resigned' from the County prior to the BoCC hearings. Also resigning within weeks of the hearings were:

1) her friend in P&Z who imposed the unnecessary roof tiles and covered walkway changes;

2) the County Manager, responsible under criminal statutes for maintaining the sanctity of all Public Records;

3) the Director of the Planning and Zoning Department (P&Z), who violated our vested rights by trying to impose illegal changes to our building plans, and who perjured himself at the BoCC hearings;

4) the Supervisor in the Office of Natural Resources Management (ONRM) who supervised the ONRM staffer, and who had authorized the staffer to take personal posession of multiple 'missing' documents;

5) the assistant County Attorney who had 'headed up' the legal efforts to prevent us from obtaining a Court Order for a BoCC appeal hearing.

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Posted in Business Service Post Date 02/20/2016


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