Highland Beach: Code Enforcement fine withheld; volunteer board revived

By Steve Plunkett

 

Perhaps the timing was wrong.

Heirs to Marco Musa Holdings Ltd. asked the town to reduce a $47,000 code enforcement fine the same month commissioners moved to resurrect the Code Enforcement Board.

At issue was the oceanfront residence that used to be at 3719 S. Ocean Blvd. Musa bought the property in 1999 for $1.7 million, according to county property records. By 2008 the home was assessed at $4.2 million, but was also racking up a code enforcement fine of $250 a day.

Commissioner John Pagliaro, who spent eight years on the enforcement board, reviewed the history of the violations. On March 19, 2008, the board gave Musa 30 days to replace siding, add railings to open balconies and replace windows and roof shingles.

Instead Musa decided to tear the building down at a cost of $15,000. But it took until September to complete the demolition. 

“Mr. Musa did do the things to come into compliance,” Musa Holdings attorney Daniel Taylor said. “But this wasn’t clipping the hedge or the grass or something with landscaping. This was a very big project with a couple of agencies and what have you. … It would have been impossible to comply within the 30 days.”

Taylor asked that the fine be slashed to $5,000.

The request did not sit well with town commissioners. Pagliaro noted the town clerk had checked cases of code violations back to 2007.

“Would you find it hard to believe that not one violator, not one violator, did not pay the fines that were due over that period,” he said.

Louis Reidenberg, who chaired the enforcement board at the time, also argued against lowering the fine. 

“Much time, energy and effort was spent by the Code Enforcement Board to deal with that issue, and to simply disregard it would denigrate the necessity or the opportunity for the Code Enforcement Board to exist in the first place,” Reidenberg said.

Commissioner Doris Trinley wondered why the company had not sought a code reduction years ago.

 “From the info available, it appears Marco Musa Holdings Ltd. has complete and utter disregard if not outright contempt for the town codes and the Code Enforcement Board’s findings of violation of the applicable codes involved. A figurative nose-thumbing,” Trinley said.

She also noted that the town’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report listed Marc A. Musa as paying the most property taxes in Highland Beach, on property assessed at $10.5 million, and Marco Musa the 10th-highest, with property valued at $7.1 million. 

“So I don’t think we’re dealing with poor folks here,” she said.

Vice Mayor Miriam Zwick, another Code Enforcement Board veteran, suggested shaving $2,000 off the original fine.

“It’s like people leaving a restaurant and leaving a dollar tip to show the waiter or waitress that they hadn’t done a good job. And I felt that the lawyers and the family of Marco Musa hadn’t done a good job,” Zwick said before voting with the rest of the commission to keep the full $47,000 fine.

The commission had first and second readings of an ordinance to bring back the Code Enforcement Board at their April and May meetings. They seemed pleased to learn that at least four former board members had applied to be on the revived board, as well as three other residents.

Mayor Bernard Featherman said it would not be a cookie-cutter-type board.

“It makes decisions and it makes it very clearly and helps people as well in our community. We have such smart people here in Highland Beach that we can draw upon,” Featherman said.

At the April workshop session he also urged commissioners to consider resurrecting the Financial Advisory Board, but having it meet quarterly instead of monthly.              Ú

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