Nothing has been done on the property since April 17th of this year, when Newcastle Homes LLC obtained a building permit from City Hall to construct a $9,000 bulkhead on the vacant lots which are zoned “Open Land”.
The general contractor, Chad Kirby Smith, had received an approval, with conditions (2012-0031), from the St Augustine Planning and Zoning Board; allowing installation of a bulkhead-retaining wall on the marsh-front property during its meeting on Tuesday, April 3, 2012.
In a letter dated April 10th, then planning manager Birchim wrote to the parties about one of those approval conditions. “Conservation Overlay Zone Development is valid for a period of one (1) year from the date of approval,” Birchim cautioned. “Failure to exercise the Conservation Overlay Zone Development, by commencement of the use or action approved, shall render the Conservation Overlay Zone Development invalid.
Historic City News requested the award letter, applications and permits in pursuit of our reader’s concern. We received them yesterday afternoon. When we detected the apparent expiration of the planning board approval before the permit was issued, we immediately questioned the documents.
“One of two things has to be true,” counsel for Historic City News observed this morning. “Either the applicant began construction before April 3, 2013, as required by the Planning and Zoning Board conditional approval, obtaining the permit for the installation two years after-the-fact, or, the permit clerk issued the permit on an approval that expired in 2013.”
If the former is true, the City did not inspect the vacant lots in April of this year to see if construction had begun before a permit was obtained, or the City failed to assess the after-the-fact filing penalty that was due. If the latter is true, the request for approval should have gone back to the current Planning and Zoning Board for consideration.
Calls to David Birchim, now the department head, requesting any additional document that might explain the issuance of a building permit for the bulkhead, two-years after receiving a one-year approval from the Planning and Zoning Board, were not returned.
However, Birchim did respond to an inquiry by Mayor Shaver early Tuesday morning, seemingly defending the contractor and pinning the “blame” for delays on St Johns River Water Management District.
“The completion is being held up by the St. Johns River Water Management District, who have stopped the project because of some permitting issues related to the city’s Riberia Street redevelopment project,” Birchim wrote. “They really want to complete the bulkhead and it is tangled up in the water management district, it isn’t their fault.”
Birchim apparently already knew that the state permit, also required when you want to construct in a marsh conservation district, is not in force or viable.
A call asking for clarification from the St Johns Water Management District in Palatka, as well as directly to a plan reviewer in their Jacksonville office, have not been returned.
In the original complaint from the Historic City News reader, we were told that two city officials, Todd Grant and David Birchim, supported the development of the property as an RV park. In the Birchim e-mail to Mayor Shaver, he does indicate “the zoning does allow it but they haven’t come in to discuss their plans”, referring to the rumored interest in an RV Park on the backfilled lot that now extends into the wetlands.
As we go to press with what we know at this time, an e-mail from Planning Technician Tracey Mullins in the City Planning and Zoning office, has come in but simply says, “We are currently researching this.”
The investigation into the permit process, buildable condition, and any restrictions that now encumber the lots and their development will continue and we will update this article as more details are verified.