Beach Commissioner faces Municipal Code Enforcement Board

Historic City News was informed that St Augustine Beach Commissioner Maggie Koskta was summoned to appear before the Municipal Code Enforcement Board of the City of St. Augustine Beach on Wednesday, January 24, 2018, at 2:00 p.m. in the City Commission Meeting Room at City Hall, 2200 State Road A1A South, St. Augustine Beach.

Genesis Property & Management Group LLC, was issued a citation pertaining to a notice of violation of St. Augustine Beach Code Section 8.00.03, prohibiting flutter signs like the ones installed at Cone Heads Ice Cream, 570 A1A Beach Boulevard.

“I performed a site inspection of your property on 11/01/2017 relative to multiple complaint(s) and noted a continuing condition that required your immediate attention,” Code Enforcement officer Bill Ward wrote in a letter submitted to the Board. “During that inspection, and in a follow-up visit, I interviewed a manager-on-duty and explained the need to remove the referenced signs that are prohibited as outlined in the SAB City Code Sec. 8.00.03.”

Commissioner Kostka, the owner of the business, provided local reporters with a copy of her position on the charges, asking that they be dropped.

I started my business in Feb of 2008 and moved it to St. Augustine Beach in 2012 after purchasing the property where my business is currently located at 570 A1A Beach Blvd.

I was Granted a Certificate of occupancy, Feb, 2012 and
Opened for business March 3, 2012.

My business has been continuously using flags since 2013 with no notice of violation to code.

I would like to draw your attention to several facts pertaining the issue of the sign ordinance.

Originally the change to the sign code was forced to occur due to a lawsuit brought against the city in April 2016 pertaining to the old sign code. The previous sign code was found to be in violation of the 1st and 9th amendments and only after the lawsuit, was our code forced to be changed. A document was then hastily drafted by a legal firm hired by the city to meet the terms of the lawsuit. In reality it was the same sign code the legal firm drafted for a Jacksonville City. The document was plagued with errors, inconsistencies and redundancies. I have stated on numerous occasions I don’t believe this particular document to be a good fit for our community for a number of reasons, but… none the less, it was adopted in June to cover exposure brought by the pending lawsuit at the time, with the understanding the errors would be addressed and resolved. The code was posted on the city webpage in April, 2016.

From sometime in April 2016 through November, 2016 this sign was posted at City Hall that only added to the confusion. (Exhibit A)

Discussion, workshops and special meetings were conducted in an effort to resolve the issues within the new code by the Commission culminating with a special meeting on June 7, 2017 (more than a year since the first draft). This was a very important meeting. I would like to point out that both the city manager, Max Royal and the previous building official, Gary Larson were present and participated in this meeting, along with the full Commission.

Please allow me to share some important facts concerning that meeting.

1. Exhibit B shows the Agenda for that meeting had planned for discussion to allow certain types of signs.

• At every Commission meeting, it is common for the city manager to make recommendations to the board concerning agenda items. This meeting was no different. As a matter of fact, the city manager recommended allowing banner or flag signs as shown in Exhibit C. On Page H the recommendations given to the commission by city manager, Bruce Royale state, “ To allow Flutter/flag signs, To allow portable signs, To delete section 8.00.04 concerning umbrella signs.

• During the meeting, Gary Larson and Max Royal spoke supporting these types of signs: Exhibit D; Page 4 of the meeting minutes show Building Official Larson advised flutter signs could be taken in at night and put out in the morning (paragraph 7) and also commented the Avenue of Palms project was taking away visibility of business owners’ signs.

• After much discussion by the commission and public comment, it was the consensus of the commission to allow 2 temporary signs per business, including flutter signs. Exhibit E; On page 8, the minutes clearly state it was the consensus of the Commission to allow…flutter signs, sandwich boards during the day and a total of 2 temporary signs per business.

2. It was also Commission Consensus to bring the ordinance back for 1st reading at the July, 2017 meeting and 2nd reading at the August 2017 meeting. Exhibit F. City Attorney Jim Wilson advised he could amend the sign ordinance in several different ordinances and discussion ensued further (on page 9) regarding bringing the ordinance back for the 1st reading in July and the second reading in August.

3. It was never put on the agendas for those meetings as Exhibit G shows the agendas for those dates. As a notation, it is the city manager who creates the agendas for Commission meetings.

I would like to address the 2 certified letters I received pertaining to this alleged violation…RE: Notice of Violation to City Code regarding signs Exhibit H. The letters state a site inspection of my property was conducted on 11/1/17 relative to multiple complaints and states my manager was interviewed.

1. Upon investigating this issue, I did NOT find security footage of Mr. Ward inside of my business on 11/1/17, I did note him on footage Wednesday, November 15th, validated by Mr. Ward and Mr. Larson’s email exchange. Exhibit I

2. Upon requesting copies of the multiple complaints that were referred to in the letter, I received only one, made from the city manager, Max Royale. Exhibit J.

In December I then received a citation to appear, even though my business was closed from Nov. 28-December 26th for regularly scheduled maintenance and cleaning and flags were not put out. Exhibit K

The most troubling part of this situation is that the people who knew the changes in the code and were responsible for the final drafting of the code are the very same individuals who brought these allegations against me and my business.

These inconsistencies and incompetence does not encourage community wellbeing. This issue has taken my time, energy and resources to address and the reality is that it is a non-issue as shown here today.

Thank you for your time and service. I certainly hope that your board can be better directed in the future.