By Dan Moffett
One of South Florida’s longest-running building code disputes could be nearing an end after nearly a decade in the courts.
In December, Louis and Wendy Navellier sent a check for $232,000 to the town of Manalapan, a day before the Town Commission was scheduled to consider foreclosure action on their South Ocean Boulevard home.
The payment covered years of $250-per-day fines that accumulated after the Navelliers built a pool cabana that violated the town’s building codes. At one point, the fines reached about $500,000, but a magistrate’s ruling reduced them last year.
The Navelliers have fought the town at every level of the judicial system, unsuccessfully appealing all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. They currently have an appeal pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case began in 2005 when town officials issued a stop-work order at the Navelliers’ oceanfront home because the cabana was constructed too close to a property line. In 2006, town commissioners denied the Navelliers a variance that would have allowed the cabana to remain in the setback area.
In court papers filed with the Florida Supreme Court, the Navelliers blamed their predicament on the builder and the town’s double standard in enforcing its rules. The Navelliers argued that “past animosity” between them and some members of the commission caused the town to deny requests to allow a variance retroactively.
In 2013, commissioners rejected a proposal by Commissioner John Murphy to settle the dispute by allowing the Navelliers to pay $160,000 in fines and remove the cabana. Four commissioners voted no, and Chauncey Johnstone had no opinion. The cabana has since been removed.
"We have tried repeatedly to resolve this matter with the town of Manalapan,” Wendy Navellier said. “Yet, they have consistently chosen not to resolve the dispute on any kind of fair basis and so litigation is still continuing, regardless of how town officials attempt to spin it.”
Navellier said, despite paying the fine, she is hopeful the high court will rule in the couple’s favor. “My husband and I believe in standing up for one’s rights in this great country, and we have taught our children to do the same.”
In other business:
• Working with Florida Public Utilities, town officials are beginning a campaign to educate residents about the possibility of bringing natural gas service to Point Manalapan.
A majority of property owners on the point would have to approve the service before a project to install the gas lines could go forward. Mayor David Cheifetz wants gas company representatives to hold a meeting for residents in January to discuss the benefits of the service, the costs to homeowners and how the approval process would work.
The company is installing gas lines on neighboring Hypoluxo Island, a project that has been years in the making and mirrors what Point Manalapan residents might expect.
• The town has reached an arbitration settlement with former police Officer David Hul over his firing in June.
Under terms of the agreement, the town has rescinded Hul’s firing, and he is permitted to resign with a payment of $10,000. Hul had sought about $40,000 in lost wages, and he admitted violating several department policies. His termination grew out of complaints about his handling of a disturbance at Manalapan Pizza restaurant in February, 2014.
Shortly before Christmas, South Palm Beach hired Hul to fill a patrol officer vacancy in the town’s police department.
• The rear parking lot at Town Hall will be closed for about a week in January while contractors replace concrete and paving as part of renovations to make the building compliant with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.
The $40,000 project to redesign the main entrance is scheduled to be completed in February, well before the March elections, Town Manager Linda Stumpf said.