The backyard of Sheri and Matt Clarke’s house on Pine Avenue in Oldsmar. Credit: Matt and Sheri Clarke.
For the past seven years, Oldsmar couple Matt and Sheri Clarke have been busy converting the backyard of their Pine Avenue property into a tropical oasis, complete with towering palms trees, a wraparound deck with a matching tiki bar, and a centerpiece swimming pool, among other amenities.
But according to the Clarkes, their plan to build a 70-foot garage on the property, a seemingly innocuous project that was to kick off the entire transformation, has led to countless hours and many years of frustration, disappointment and exas-peration over the city’s building department practices and code enforcement rules.
Finally, facing a hearing to determine if they have to pay $6,000 in fines, and no closer to completing the garage than they were seven years ago, the Clarkes took their grievances to the City Council last week, presenting the story of their plight and making a request they hope will affect some changes within the department.
Sheri and Matt Clarke at the Oldsmar City Council meeting on Jan. 5, 2016.
“We’re here to request a workshop with the city’s mayor and elected officials, along with the entire city building department, to resolve ongoing issues that we’ve had regarding our plans for a detached garage, as well as recent code violations that we’ve received,” Sheri Clarke said during the Citizens Open Forum portion of the January 5 council meeting.
“We’ve been trying to work with the city’s building department for close to seven years to achieve something that has cost us severely, both financially and emotionally, only to get the runaround.”
Sheri Clarke went on to detail a litany of charges and claims, accusing building department and code enforcement officials of acts such as providing a lengthy list of requests to alter their plans despite being told at the outset that the original project did not violate any city codes or ordinances; posting a variance request notice with incorrect information on it on the Clarke’s property; and fining the couple for permit code violations based on permits that had never been approved.
“How can fines be collected on a permit that doesn’t exist?” an incredulous Sheri Clarke asked.
Following the six-minute speech, city officials addressed the Clarkes’ situation.
Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.
“I would say that this is not the only case where I’ve heard of some confusion with permitting,” Mayor Doug Bevis said while prefacing his remarks with the fact that he is friends with the Clarkes.
“Not always an issue with the city, maybe sometimes with the contractor, so I don’t know that it’s always clear as to what the applicant is supposed to be doing. This isn’t the first case.”
Other council members concurred with the mayor.
“I think our building department and our planning department do a lot of good things,” Council member Eric Seidel said, noting the development along Tampa Road. “But this is an area that’s deficient, I think. We get too many complaints about it. I would be in favor of holding a workshop about how we improve it.”
“My brother’s a contractor, and he won’t work in Oldsmar. So I’ve heard the same things,” Council member Linda Norris said. “But then I know people who have had their permits go through smoothly and everything was fine. So you hear that good and you hear the bad, but unless we hear it, we don’t know.”
“Hopefully there’s definitely something we can do to improve it.”
After City Attorney Tom Trask advised that it would be best to wait until all appeals had been heard in the Clarkes’ pending code enforcement hearing before proceeding — a process that could take months — the city council ultimately agreed to discuss scheduling the proposed workshop at their next meeting.
Afterwards, the Clarkes expressed their thoughts about the council’s decision.
Matt Clarke speaking at the Jan. 5, 2016 Oldsmar City Council meeting.
“We’re happy they decided to look into it, but we were hoping for quicker results after dealing with this for seven years, not schedule a meeting months down the road,” Matt Clarke, who made a brief, emotional speech about the toll the situation has taken on the family after his wife spoke, told Oldsmar Connect.
“We just want the city’s building department to have a little refresher course, because eliminating situations like this is to the benefit the city and the residents.”
“We love the City of Oldsmar, and we’re sad we had to bring this to the council’s attention,” Sheri Clarke added. “But we would like to see some resolution with our situation, and to prevent the same things from happening to other Oldsmar residents.”