An upcoming decision by the Bonita Springs Land Use and Zoning Board may validate the process for residents requesting street setback variances in Spring Creek Village.
Bruce Hildreth wants to add a carport and a screen room to his home on Bali Hai Lane in Spring Creek Village, a 55 and up community. He said he is not asking for anything more than what his neighbors already have.
Hildreth, a retired emergency physician, moved here from Lake Tahoe in June. He bought his home because it sat on a corner lot in the park with a side yard he thought was large enough to add some additional space for storage.
When Hildreth began the process of obtaining permits through the city of Bonita Springs, he found out he needed to request a variance from the city's Land Development Code to reduce a street setback from the road, because his additions would encroach into the street right of way. He later found his add-ons would cover more than 40 percent of his property, which also requires city approval.
On Friday, Hildreth went in front of the board to plea his case, but confusion between the board, Lee County planners, and Hildreth, caused board members to continue the case until next month.
According to Hildreth, he is not asking to build 4 feet from the paved road of South Seas Boulevard, a main drag in the park. The paved road is 20 feet wide, but on the books there is a 50-foot street right of way, and a 10-foot variance so that property owners do not build up to their property line and block traffic visibility. Hildreth explained in an interview outside his home Friday, that his improvements would need to end 30 feet from the edge of the paved street, which leaves him little room for the additions he would like.
Hildreth at first requested a variance setback, asking for a 4-foot variance, instead of a 10-foot variance. To appease his community, he has changed the request to a 6-foot setback, which would still put his carport and screen room approximately 21 feet from the paved road. A distance he argued at the meeting, was equal to or farther back than all of his neighbors' additions.
Concerning lot coverage, Hildreth argued that most of the properties in his community are covered more than the allowable 40 percent.
Lee County Planner Lisa Hines recommended denying Hildreth's request for traffic concerns. She said his additions might effect the visibility for cars turning onto South Seas Blvd. She also insinuated that approving the variance could set a precedent to allow other property owners to do the same. Hildreth is the first in the park to request a variance.
Hildreth told board members he was unaware the process was going to be such a difficult one.
"I was shocked and truly devastated," Hildreth said of the recommended denial.
Hines told board members that Hildreth was the first in the park to request a variance setback. According to Hildreth, his home is set farther back on the property than most of his neighbors. He also gave the board measurements he took proving his additions would be just as close to the street as some of his neighbors, and farther back than others.
"I thought I had a fair amount of property to put some storage on," Hildreth said.
Hildreth told board members that South Seas Boulevard had "an exceptional and extraordinarily large road right of way."
"Only 20 feet of the 50 feet is paved and being used," Hildreth said.
Hildreth, who pled his case for about an hour, pointed to different locations on a map of Spring Creek Village to other additions just as close to the street.
"The exact thing exists over here," he said pointing.
"I do not see that any visibility is compromised at this intersection at all," Hildreth told the board.
He asked if staff could perform a survey with measurements to show that other properties had the same setback he requested.
"I expected (the request) to be well considered," he said.
Some board members felt a continuation might be necessary to find out more facts, before they make a decision. Board member Chris Bielski wanted to know whether Hildreth's measurements were accurate or not.
"I'm sure that a survey could establish that. If Mr. Hildreth is correct, I would certainly like to have a continuation," board member William Pescosolido said. "It would certainly help me to know who is correct."
According to Hines, she observed corner lots in the park similar to Hildreth's property, but said she's not allowed to take measurements on private property.
Lee County senior planner Alvin "Chip" Block said: "We thought our staff was absolutely correct."
During the public portion of the meeting two neighbors who live on Pago Pago Lane, directly behind Hildreth, spoke against his request because they like the current view from their houses to South Seas Boulevard.
"It will block the view from the back of (my) house," Nancy Neitch said.
Clifford Haimbaugh shared his concern about the view from his home on Pago Pago Lane because originally Hildreth intended to put in a closed garage as opposed to a carport.
"I watch the street for traffic," Haimbaugh said. "This would limit the view of the street considerably" from his window to South Seas Boulevard.
Hildreth agreed that his additions would limit his neighbor's view. He asked Haimbaugh if an open carport would make a difference.
"Makes a difference," Haimbaugh said.
Since Hines said she only compared corner lots, and not other lots on South Seas Boulevard, she agreed there could be property owners near Hildreth's who are encroaching on the street right of way without the proper variances.
"But, that is an issue for code enforcement," Hines said.
Board member James Brandreth said his personal feeling was that he didn't think approving the variance would affect the neighborhood views.
"My personal feeling is that the applicant's plea should be accepted," he said.
Pescosolido said Hildreth's request should be similar to the character of the neighborhood and asked that staff get together again with Hildreth to work it out.
Chairman Robert Incerpi continued the hearing until April 7.
Later, Hildreth discussed his disappointment outside his Bali Hai Lane home. He said he's spent a great deal of time and money on permits and applications to get approval for the additions, which he felt were commonplace in his community.
"I love this park," Hildreth said waving to a neighbor. He added that residents are helpful and supportive of each other.
Hildreth stressed that he was "just trying to appease everybody," but is still adamant about constructing a carport and a screened room. Hildreth said he changed his request from 4 feet to 6 feet in an attempt to be amenable to everyone involved.
"I'll give you another two feet," he said stepping back toward an orange painted line in his yard that mapped out where his additions would extend out to.
According to Hildreth, if his request is shot down by city officials residents might continue to sidestep land use and zoning processes. If residents feel they have a reasonable request and a hearing board who will listen to them, Hildreth said, they'll go through the proper procedures in the future.
"This is validating the variance process," Hildreth said. "I'm not asking for more than what my neighbors have."