The Royal Palm Beach Village Council granted a setback variance last week to a homeowner who had an unpermitted tiki hut installed by his pool. The variance was allowed after council members became convinced that the contractor had misled the homeowner that he did not need a permit.
At the March 16 meeting, the council also granted a variance for Justin Bell’s property to take up more than 50 percent of the land area, which he said had been built prior to his purchasing the home.
Bell, who lives on Queens Lane on a lot that backs up to Okeechobee Blvd., asserted that the tiki hut had to be built the way it was due to piping for the pool.
Planning & Zoning Director Bradford O’Brien said staff recommended denial of the variance requests because Bell had continued construction on the tiki hut after code enforcement told him that he needed to apply for a permit. The Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission recommended denial 3-2.
Bell’s attorney, Kevin Kennedy, said Bell had contracted Big Cypress Tiki Huts to do the work at his property, telling him that they did not need a permit because it was being done by the Seminole Indian tribe, which signed a treaty with the United States government in 1990, granting the tribe the right to build tiki huts anywhere regardless of zoning.
“As far as Mr. Bell knew going into this, there were no issues that he needed to seek approval for,” Kennedy said. “Obviously, hindsight is 20-20. If he were going to put a tiki hut on his property today, he would have done things entirely differently, but that’s not the situation that we’re in at the moment.”
Kennedy added that tiki huts are not mentioned in the village code, where many municipalities do refer to them, and Florida Statutes state that tiki huts are exempt from the Florida Code.
He said Bell also canvassed his neighbors for comment after the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, and they had no objections to the tiki hut. Kennedy also pointed out that the variance request is only for several feet at the back of the property, near the wall separating his home from Okeechobee Blvd.
Mayor Fred Pinto said he was deeply concerned that Bell appeared to have been misled by the contractor on permit requirements.
“That’s really a moot point,” Pinto said. “Right now the issue is that the investment was made, and the work was done. It seems like the work was pretty far done before any flags were raised, and it does not appear that any stop or desist order was issued at that point.”
He added that with the setback being up to a wall that does not affect neighbors, and that neighbors do not object, carried a lot of weight in his mind.
Vice Mayor Jeff Hmara agreed with Pinto’s summary, including that the contractor appeared to have misled Bell on variance requirements.
“I’m inclined in the direction to grant a waiver on this under those circumstances,” Hmara said.
Councilwoman Selena Smith was concerned about making a decision contrary to staff and the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recommendations, as well as setting a precedent, but Pinto pointed out that variances are granted based on their individual merit.
“What we need to do is be realistic and compassionate about the situation and the circumstances before us,” he said.
Councilman Richard Valuntas asked how far off the finished tiki hut is from setback requirements and how difficult it would be to correct it. Kennedy said the poles were placed so as not to interfere with pool piping, and massive holes had been drilled into Bell’s pool deck in order to set them. He added that realignment would involve taking down the hut completely.
Hmara made a motion to grant the variance, which carried 5-0.
The council also approved a related variance from village code to allow for the pervious area on site to be 38 percent, where the code requires a minimum pervious area of 50 percent of the total lot area.
O’Brien said the applicant is asking for the variance because the pervious and impervious areas already existed when he bought the property, and the cost to remove already poured concrete would be prohibitive.
However, staff recommended denial, contending that the pervious area was at least partially the result of Bell constructing the tiki hut, with a roof that overhangs slightly behind the pool patio.
The applicant contended that there have never been drainage issues on his property, but engineering staff commented that pervious area contributes to improved water quality and reduces the intensity of stormwater runoff.
The Planning & Zoning Commission recommended denial in a 3-2 vote.
Kennedy said the cause of any violation, aside from pre-existing structures when Bell bought the house, was brought about by an increase in impervious area of about 90 square feet, which is less than 1 percent of his 10,000-square-foot property.
“A company bought the property in a foreclosure sale,” he said. “Mr. Bell took possession of the property from that company in 2013. At the time he took title to the property, all the concrete that’s on the property today had already been poured.”
Kennedy added that all the changes, except for the tiki hut, had been approved previously by the village.
Valuntas made a motion to approve the second variance, which carried 5-0.