Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Help Me Howard: My Swale
Code Enforcement -- say those words to some people and they will start fuming. One of those people is a South Florida woman who has had a swale for 44 years and is now being told, "You have to change it." Is there such a thing as being "grandfathered" in? To find out, we bring in Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- When Shirley Legree moved to Hollywood, you may not have been born yet.
Shirley Legree: "Forty-four years."
Patrick Fraser: "You have lived in this house 44 years?"
Shirley Legree: "Forty-four years, since 1963."
And, when Shirley and her late husband bought their Hollywood house, that Hollywood was not like this Hollywood.
Shirley Legree: "No, the Turnpike wasn't here. Johnson Street was like half asphalt and half dirt road, and it was all cow pasture."
But, for 44 years, one thing has been here -- this rock-covered swale.
Shirley Legree: "It's always been, with the stones for parking."
For 44 years Shirley has "rocked" her swale and used it for parking her car or truck.
Then, this year, she got a notice of violation from a Hollywood Code Enforcement Officer.
Shirley Legree: "They want me to put the sod down and get rid of the stones."
Grass instead of rocks may not be a big deal to some people, but Shirley says she is practical, and, to her, planting grass makes no sense at all.
Shirley Legree: "Where am I going to park? I am going to put the grass out here. I'm going to park on the grass. In six months I am going to put grass down again."
Now, in the Code Enforcement Department's defense, Shirley's stones don't look great, and she told us she would be happy to re-stone the area.
Shirley Legree: "And I am willing to pay for the stones."
But a Code Enforcement Officer told her the rocks were illegal, which surprised Shirley since they have apparently been legal for 44 years.
Shirley Legree: "This is the first year they have complained about it. The new code enforcement that came into this area just doesn't want it to be this way anymore.'
Shirley is not alone -- her neighbors agree -- let her rock her swale.
Shirley Legree: "Him, you put sod down there. In six months, I'm going to have to put sod down again. I don't have a sprinkler system out here."
And to be blunt, at her age, Shirley does not want to have to fight the city over rocks or grass.
Shirley Legree: "I am tired of them. If my health was with me -- you know, I am not a kid. I am 69 years old, and I don't need this aggravation."
Well, we like a little aggravation in our lives, so we will handle it for you, Shirley.
So, Howard, after 44 years, do her rocks have to be removed?
Howard Finkelstein: "In my opinion, she does not have to remove the rocks, for two reasons: First, Hollywood's law does not prohibit rocks or mandate sod for existing homes; secondly, she is 'grandfathered' in. It's that simple."
When I spoke to the head of Code Enforcement, he told me they required sod for their swales and Shirley cannot alter that.
As for Shirley's argument that the swale is "grandfathered" in, the Code Chief told me he would have to research that, but if Shirley updated the rocks over the years she might have lost the right to claim the grandfather clause.
Howard thinks the city is wrong, and Shirley should not give in.
Howard Finkelstein: "Just because Code Enforcement tells you something is illegal does not make it so. They are interpreting the codes as the city sees them. But cities are not perfect, you can fight, and you can win."
The head of Code Enforcement did offer to look for people to donate the sod and might be able to get the swale done for free for Shirley. She told me she would think about it, but most of all just wants to be left alone.
Shirley Legree: "They are picking on me because it's one thing after another."
Patrick Fraser: "It's popular and easy to pick on Code Enforcement, but give Hollywood's Chief credit -- he is trying to work with Shirley.
"If you are having a problem with Code Enforcement, the best thing to do is go read their codes to make sure they are following the law properly and not misinterpreting anything. If you find they are, let them know about it in writing."
Caught between a rock and hard place? Don't let them put the squeeze on you. Contact us, we don't toss stones, but we can crack open a small law book.
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