City orders its own mayor to stop construction on his home addition
Sweetwater Mayor Jose Diaz says he will try to 'cure' violations
SWEETWATER, Fla. – The oversized backyard construction project rises high from the ground next door to the home of Octavio Guerrero, who calls it a visual eyesore and safety hazard that violates the zoning laws of his neighborhood.
"I can't believe this construction can be in the city of Sweetwater," Guerrero said. "No considering open space, no considering the drainage issues and a building like this is a fire hazard. You don't have an open space. You don't have an open area. Where does the water go?"
The project doesn't comply with the neighborhood's zoning laws regarding setbacks and open space, and Guerrero and his wife, Lucy Castro, have repeatedly complained to the city and other governmental entities, which were slow to act. They said they believe the lack of response is because of who owns the home next door and who is behind the construction -- Sweetwater Mayor Jose Diaz.
A Local 10 News investigation of the project found that the mayor failed to record a legally required notice of commencement for the project and that it was being built despite the fact that a variance Diaz was able to get from the city's zoning board back in 2010 had long expired.
"I have pulled all the permits and if there is anything wrong at this point I am more than willing to cure it," Diaz told Local 10's Bob Norman.
"It looks like you're in violation of your own rules," Norman said.
"I will meet with the building official and if there is anything violating the city code, or in violation, I would be more than willing to have it remedied for that and go through the legal process to set the example," Diaz said. "We are here to do things right."
"But right now you're not doing things right," Norman said.
"I don't know. I don't know," said Diaz. "I don't have any documentation that shows otherwise."
Diaz received that documentation Tuesday when the city issued a stop-work order on his project, citing the fact that the variance had expired. The mayor will not be allowed to resume building unless the zoning board again agrees to allow him to circumvent his neighborhood setback and open space laws. If the board doesn't agree, which the couple next door said they very much hopes happens, he will be forced to demolish the buildings.
The mayor said he didn't believe he had to file a notice of commencement, which is a basic legal requirement and should be posted on the property.
"I'm not an expert on building," said Diaz. "If nobody asks me for that, I don't submit things."
But city records show that the city warned him about his failure to record the notice of commencement in October 2013, yet it still was not done.
The city's building director, Carlos Lanza, said the city mistakenly allowed the mayor to continue building, even issuing a permit, because the overworked staff doesn't have time to check such things and the computer system is faulty.
But Guerrero said he suspects special treatment and has filed an ethics complaint with the state.
"He's the mayor," Guerrero said. "He's the boss."
Diaz said he is willing to accept any repercussions from the illegal construction.
"If there is punishment, I will take it," he said. "If I cannot finish it up, sir, I will demolish it. I will solve the problem. I am a problem solver."
Guerrero said he wants it demolished.
"It doesn't belong in this neighborhood," Guerrero said. "It was all violations."
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