What’s a few feet, give or take?
In the case of a new house in East Padgett Estates — the difference of a few feet is proving to be a costly mistake.
The house, at 4537 Victoria Road, in Land O’ Lakes, was built with improper setbacks.
The violation of county regulations has sparked neighborhood disputes, led to lengthy public hearings and caused a substantial loss of money for the builder.
The Pasco County Planning Commission voted 4-3 on April 6 to reject SoHo Builder’s request for a variance to the side yard and front yard setback requirements.
If the request had been granted, the county could have issued a certificate of occupancy. Since the variance was denied, the house can’t be occupied.
The applicant now has the option to appeal the planning board’s decision to the Pasco County Commission.
The zoning district where the house is located requires a 10-foot minimum side yard setback on each side and a 25-foot minimum front yard setback.
But the house is 73-feet wide on a 90-foot-wide lot, meaning that it fails to meet the side yard setbacks by a total of 3 feet.
The structure also was built with a 20-foot front yard setback, instead of the required 25 feet.
Patrick Plummer, a representative for the builder, appeared before the planning board twice, seeking a variance.
The board denied it in January and did so again on April 6.
Plummer acknowledged that he erred during the process, but he also pointed out mistakes made by the county.
Plummer said once the setback error was discovered, a new site plan and set of building plans was submitted — for a 70-foot-wide house.
But county officials said there’s no evidence in the county’s records that the new plans were submitted.
Still, the county shares in the blame, according to Scott Carley, chief field inspector for Pasco County’s building construction services.
He said the county uses a system that allows different departments to see the same plans simultaneously.
In this case, zoning flagged the setback issue, but that didn’t prevent electrical, mechanical, plumbing and building from proceeding, Carley said.
“Forty percent is on us,” Carley said, noting this case has been a learning experience for the county.
Plummer asked the planning board to grant the variance.
“This was a bona fide error. We did not intentionally build a larger house. We did not try to circumvent anything,” he said.
But a former president of the area’s homeowner’s association said the buyer should have known the long-established required setbacks for the house.
Planning board member Jaime Girardi said he understands that the builder isn’t the only one at fault, however, he added: “You built something out there that’s drastically different from the rest of the neighborhood.”
Girardi also raised concerns about drainage issues and the insufficient landscaping plan.
County planning staff recommended denial of the request, saying that substantial evidence had not been submitted to justify a variance.
The planning board was divided.
While noting the builder should have spotted the error and stopped the building process to avoid having a completed house that failed to meet requirements, they also acknowledged that errors within the county’s process contributed to the problem.
Planning board member Jon Moody made a motion to support staff in its recommendation for denial and was joined by board members Peter Hanzel and Chris Poole.
Board Chairman Charles Grey and board members Derek Pontlitz and Girardi voted against Moody’s motion.
That left a 3-3 vote, requiring board member Chris Williams to break the tie.
Williams voted in favor of the staff’s recommendation to reject the variance.
In casting that vote, Williams said it was a tough call, but added: “It’s a big mistake. It’s going to be there a long time.”
Williams, planning director of Pasco County Schools, normally only votes on planning requests that involve school district issues. However, he’s also the designated tie-breaker, in the rare events that the planning board is evenly divided.
Published April 26, 2023