The Board of County Commissioners took steps during its recent monthly meeting at cleaning up the county after Hurricane Michael.
Time will tell if county officials provided relief to residents of a Jones Homestead neighborhood to whom the action seemed directed.
Commissioners approved amendments to the building code that increased and codified the schedule of potential fines and penalties for building violations and bolstered enforcement powers for the county administrator.
In pertinent part, the building code, which has been in place 18 years, noted attorney Jeremy Novak, provided for fines and penalties up to second degree misdemeanor, subject to arrest and county jail time.
The amendment also provided the county administrator the discretion to cut off the power to a property in violation after a 24-hour notice of violations and required remedies.
The aim, Novak said, was the “health, safety and well being” of all residents.
“We will get people’s attention who are violating your laws by cutting off the power,” said Administrator Michael Hammond. “I plan to firmly enforce this.
“This will be a great tool for us. This allows us to get 99 percent of the problem.”
Novak and Hammond said repeat offenders who lose their power may be required to come before the BOCC in order to have power restored to their property.
Hammond stressed the word “discretion” because, he said, commissioners can count on receiving calls of complaint.
Yes, he said, he would have to think long and hard about cutting off power for “grandma” and stressed the importance of considering violators on a “case by case” basis.
However, he added, in the vast majority of cases the county needed to make a statement.
“Most of these cases are going to be egregious violators of your code,” Hammond said. “This is the medicine we need to address the problems, get things back to where they should be.”
Several residents of a Jones Homestead area street wondered if the amendment to the building code would solve the problems on their street they have made commissioners aware of in repeated communications.
And, Hammond said, “Your problem is the problem we are trying to deal with.”
The issue, as described by the residents who are neighbors of the property in question, is an RV on blocks and not tied down, in violation of the county land development regulations, beneath a pole barn.
There is no apparent power to the property and only after months was the RV tied by a gravity system to septic.
And, there is significant accumulation on the property, from a stack of old tires to an accessory structure, a tent and a number of vehicles.
The health department and county officials have visited the property on numerous occasions.
During the meeting, the three residents received somewhat contradictory information.
“We are all aware of it and we are trying to get it resolved,” Hammond said.
However, during the meeting and in comments to one resident after the meeting, Building Department officials indicated they did not have a problem with anything at the property in question.
Hammond also emphasized no amendments would allow the county to intervene where it pertained to land covenants (two of the residents who spoke are suing the owner of the property in question, who does not live in Gulf County, over land covenants).
But, he added, the property was already “in the hopper” as it pertained to code violations; an emphasis for the amendment to the building code was speeding up the process of addressing code violations.
“Ultimately it will be up to the property owner and it will be very expensive for them,” Hammond said.
The residents noted they had complained for months and the situation had “gone on far too long.”
Hammond also mentioned other problems areas such as St. Joe Beach and Oak Grove.
Commissioners held the final public reading on a flow control ordinance, governing disposal of solid waste in the county, including mandatory garbage pickup in the tourist corridor.
The corridor is, in broad strokes, the area within a one-mile radius of a boundary established by the intersecting at various locations along the coast of U.S. 98, State 30A, CR/State 30E, County 386 and State 71.
Under the new requirements, garbage services are mandatory for all properties; all properties must have at least two collections each week; and if a rental unit/property has more than two bedrooms the property must have two containers.
There is also an emphasis on the requirement of removing the can from the roadside within 24 hours of collection.
Hammond said the changes will mostly impact the smaller “mom-and-pop” operations as the commercial management companies do a “good job” with the garbage.
The first month, Hammond said, will be primarily educational as a transition period.
Commissioners will also consider at a future meeting an ordinance which would place a moratorium on the building of anything but a primary structure within the tourist corridor.