Zoning Commission Frowns On Tiki Hut Variance Request

The Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission met Tuesday, Feb. 28 and spent the bulk of its time discussing a variance request for a backyard tiki hut.

Queens Lane resident Justin Bell requested a variance to allow a rear setback ranging from 14.9 to 15.5 feet, rather than the 20 feet required, and a side setback ranging from 8.9 to 9.1 feet, rather than the required 10 feet, for his already-installed tiki hut.

Development Review Coordinator Kevin Erwin explained to the commission why staff did not support the request.

“Village staff is not supporting the applicant’s variance request because the applicant continued to build the tiki hut after it was brought to his attention that he needed zoning approval,” Erwin said.

Big Cypress Tiki Huts built the tiki hut on Bell’s property. According to information provided by the company, the huts could be built “regardless of zoning and permits.” Therefore, Bell did not believe he needed to ask for village approval.

A code enforcement officer, he said, noticed that construction was occurring and told him there might be a violation.

“I immediately drove to the village to see what was going on. The entire skeleton of the tiki hut was there,” Bell said. “At that point, they had already cut the thatch. It had been paid for. I didn’t want to leave a skeleton of a tiki hut sitting there without thatch on it at that point.”

“You’re not the first person who has encountered this in the village,” Commission Chair Jackie Larson said. “A neighbor of mine went through the exact same thing a number of years ago with code enforcement.”

Village Attorney Jennifer Ashton explained that tiki huts are exempt as long as there is no electrical, mechanical or plumbing, since the structure itself is exempt from Florida building codes. However, they are not exempt from zoning requirements.

“It’s very unfortunate,” she said. “I’ve run into this many times in different situations.”

The village code, Ashton explained, does not include tiki huts. However, there are setback requirements for structures.

Due to the piping and decking for his pool, it isn’t possible to meet the setback requirements, Bell said, noting that Okeechobee Blvd. is behind his home and none of his neighbors have complained about the tiki hut.

“Why would you start a structure of this nature without checking with the village, regardless of what the builder said?” Commission Alternate David Leland asked.

Commissioners June Perrin and Richard Becher suggested that if the issue goes to the Royal Palm Beach Village Council, Bell bring letters from his neighbors showing their support.

“Historically, staff has been very flexible with these mea culpas, and they’ve also been very flexible with variances,” Larson said. “With staff denying this, it is very unusual.”

The land, however, is built out beyond what is reasonable, even if Bell didn’t build it, she said.

“The special condition on this property actually works against you,” Larson said. “There’s too much stuff here already.”

Bell explained that he did try to rectify the issue. It was brought to his attention April 28, and he didn’t receive official notice until mid-July, when he received an official violation. “I did try to comply and provided a map, and thought I was good to go,” he said.

Becher made a motion for denial, which was seconded by Leland. The motion for denial passed 3-2, with Perrin and Commissioner Michael Axelberd opposed.

Also at issue was the amount of pervious land on Bell’s property. Royal Palm Beach requires at least 50 percent of the area on a lot to be pervious, that is, allowing water to pass through. Bell’s lot currently is only 38 percent pervious, with 62 percent impervious. Bell is also seeking a variance to be allowed the additional 12 percent.

“The applicant asserts that the reduced pervious area is necessary because of the layout of all of the existing structures on the property,” Erwin said. “The applicant further states that there have never been any drainage issues on the property and that the pervious area requirements can’t be met without removing existing concrete areas that have been issued a permit in the past.”

Staff did not support the variance request.

“Staff contends that the need for the variance is the result of the actions of the applicant,” Erwin said. “Staff contends that because the property already exceeds the maximum allowable impervious area, that is not a justification to further increase the impervious area non-conformity.”

The tiki hut, Erwin said, increased the impervious area.

The tiki hut, the only addition Bell has made to the property since purchasing it, is what brought the issue of a lack of pervious area to the village’s attention, Larson explained.

Becher made a motion to deny this variance as well, which carried 3-2 with Perrin and Axelberd opposed.

Both items will go to the council for consideration on March 16.

In other business:

• The Shanghai Foot Spa at the Anthony Groves commercial shopping center requested a special exemption to be reapproved because there was a change of ownership. A motion was made and approved 5-0.

• Outback Steakhouse sought approval to change its outdoor seating area, outdoor furniture and the building architecture, and have new signage for the existing restaurant within the Southern Palm Crossing shopping center. Staff recommended approval, and the item passed 5-0.

• Southern Palms Car Wash requested approval for its building architecture, landscaping and proposed signage. The applicant proposed demolishing the existing building on Southern Blvd., formerly a Burger King restaurant and then a flooring store, and building a new car wash. The site meets all requirements mandated by the village, except for parcel size. The site is 1.15 acres, not meeting the minimum 2 acres for the Industrial Limited Zoning District. However, the site is non-conforming because of the Southern Blvd. right-of-way that reduced the area. Agent Damian Brink of Jon E. Schmidt & Associates explained that the building is 35 years old and demolishing it would provide a good opportunity to improve aesthetics along Southern Blvd. The approval passed 5-0.

• Peninsula Properties requested approval for a wall sign for an existing medical office. The sign, which will read “Sears Anti-Aging Institute,” would appear black during the day and white at night, when lit up. Staff recommended approving the sign, which passed 5-0.

• The board also unanimously approved two items regarded the Lennar’s Crestwood redevelopment project. The first was a parking variance in the recreation area to reduce the number of spaces from 157 to 52, which passed 5-0 with the stipulation that sidewalks be built on both sides of the street prior to an issuance of occupancy. Additionally, the applicant sought approval for a clubhouse, three vehicle gates with columns, entry signs, a guardhouse, mail kiosks, a bus shelter, landscaping and seven additional model homes, which was approved 5-0.