Largo Fire Marshal Timothy Wedin tells Pinellas County Commissioners Aug. 20 about an inspection visit that went awry.
Screenshot by SUZETTE PORTER
Staff shows a photo of six fuel tanks sitting on property permitted for only one – a potential safety concern – during an Aug. 20 public hearing.
CLEARWATER – In November 2012, Pinellas County Commissioners rescinded a conditional use permit for an outdoor vegetative solid waste management facility at 16604 Hwy. 19 N. in unincorporated Clearwater.
On Aug. 20, the commission unanimously voted to deny a new application for the same conditional use on the property.
The property is owned by Berati #2 LLC, headquartered in Belleair Beach, co-owned by Fatbardh and Soloi Shehu. The company first requested a permit for its business in 2010 and approval was granted with nine conditions, plus a 10th that said if any of the nine conditions were not met, the County Commission could rescind the permit.
Berati #2 also runs a landscape business from the location. The conditional use permit only deals with the transferring and storage of vegetative debris.
At a meeting on Nov. 27, 2010, staff told commissioners that six of the nine conditions were unmet despite the business being in operation for two years since the permit was issued. The commission voted unanimously to rescind the permit.
County staff recommended approval of the new permit Aug. 20 with 15 conditions set by the Local Planning Agency. John Cueva, Planning Department zoning manager, said the new concept plan differed from the previous one. The conditions, as recommended by the LPA, address a number of past and present concerns, including those from neighboring properties. The final condition allows the commission to rescind the permit anytime Berati #2 fails to meet any of the other 14 conditions.
Todd Myers, Code Enforcement supervisor, told commissioners that progress had been made to clean up the property since 2010, with much happening in the last six weeks. He said a number of issues were “on the road to being corrected.”
In 2010, Myers showed photos of fuel tanks in an inappropriate location. He brought up fuel tanks when he talked about the property again in 2013. He said the plan called for one fuel tank, but six are located on the property along with an unpermitted light pole.
In addition, when code enforcement visited the property in August, a hissing sound led officers to find employees in the process of spray-painting a semi-tractor truck in unsafe conditions. Largo Fire Rescue was called to address those concerns. The property is located in the Largo Fire District.
Timothy Wedin, Largo fire marshal, said he was “met with some resistance” when he visited the property. He said he waited for about 10 minutes while employees had a private meeting and then asked him to wait until the owner could arrive. He said he tried to talk to the owner, who had been told previously that no spray painting was allowed unless a paint booth was installed and other requirements were met.
“I told him why we were there,” Wedin said. “He got agitated, cussing me and arm waving. He refused access. When I tried to exit, he followed me, continuing the verbal abuse and beat on my car.”
Wedin said he was “very concerned” about the spray painting, the location of what appeared to be single-wall fuel tanks and the unpermitted electrical use on the site.
“It looks like a lot of violations,” he said.
County Attorney Jim Bennett suggested that Commissioners consider approving the conditional use subject to the property owner first coming into compliance with existing conditions and regulations.
Wedin said he wanted to inspect the property without having to pursue a warrant to do so in the company of Sheriff’s deputies.
“I’ve never had to go this far,” he said. “I’ve never been denied.”
Commissioner Karen Seel made her opinion known even before the applicant’s representative, Todd Pressman, had a chance to speak.
“I can’t even consider this,” she said, citing the outstanding code violations and potential fire dangers.
Pressman told the commission that “a lot of progress” had been made and much had been done since code enforcement’s visit. He blamed the problem on a language barrier.
“People on site don’t speak good English,” he said.
He had requested that he be notified in advance of inspections so he could be present to translate, which was not done before Largo Fire Rescue visited the property. He said an email had been sent to Largo Fire Rescue to apologize for the owner’s behavior.
Pressman said there would be no conditional use on the property until all the code violations were satisfied and a new site plan approved.
“We’ve made every effort to rise above and work with the neighbors,” he said, admitting that the owner had created a lot of the friction.
“Code enforcement has been hard on him,” which caused frustration, he said.
One neighbor from an adjacent mobile home park spoke in support of the permit and three wrote letters in support to the LPA. Three neighbors wrote letters to the LPA in opposition and three spoke at the meeting against the permit. They referred to problems with rats and snakes, noise, problems with the employees and others.
“It’s not a transfer station,” said Sally Robinson from Embassy Mobile Home Park. “It’s a dump, pure and simple.”
Cueva said the reason staff recommended approval was that the permit “meets the general standard of our code.” County Administrator Bob LaSala recommended continuing the matter until a report could be made by Largo Fire Rescue on any safety issues.
“I think the board is ready to vote,” said Commission Chair Ken Welch.
Pressman said if the commission approved the permit, a meeting would be set up with Largo and he would make sure what is needed is done.
“We have to come into compliance,” he said. “The system worked. We got the message and cleaned it up.”
A motion to deny was made and seconded.
“I support the denial,” Welch said. “I’ve seen enough history.”