By Rich Pollack
Highland Beach town commissioners appear to be modifying a ban on Saturday construction work, a move highlighting the divide between many single-family homeowners and some condo associations.
Two years ago, in a move championed by residents of the Bel Lido Isle neighborhood, the Town Commission enacted an ordinance that prohibited “construction, demolition, alteration or repair of any building” on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, with few exceptions.
That same ordinance also prohibited construction work before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m.
Now, however, a new commission led by Mayor Doug Hillman appears to be focused on allowing “quiet work” on Saturdays and expanding the work hours during the week to 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday work would still be prohibited.
Hillman contends that the current ordinance is too restrictive and, in many cases, adds time and costs to construction projects.
“The net effect on large projects is that it took an 18-month project and made it a 24-month project,” Hillman said.
Hillman said he and other commissioners want to be fair to all residents and are focused on “the needs of the entire town.”
That, he says, is the rationale behind limiting construction to “quiet work.”
“We’re not going to let loud noise and major construction take place on Saturdays,” he said. “It’s not going to happen. If it does, we’re going to stop it immediately.”
Some residents of Bel Lido, however, aren’t buying it.
“This is about peace and quiet and enjoyment of our homes,” says Mayde Weiner, one of the community’s residents speaking out against changing the ordinance. “We get bombarded five days a week and we just want peace and enjoyment on Saturdays.”
Weiner says that Bel Lido is different from most of the rest of the town because it has narrow streets and many of the homes are on the water, where noise carries. She also points out that the community does not have a homeowners association, which can enact rules against noisy work.
Condominium communities, she says, can pass rules to ensure peace and quiet on weekends, while Bel Lido cannot.
Another issue for Bel Lido, she says, is that it is a very desirable community, with construction of new homes seemingly always taking place.
“It’s a constant cycle,” she says. “It rolls over from one project to another.”
She also contends that changing the hours won’t dramatically shorten the time to complete projects.
When it comes to enforcing the proposed quiet work on Saturdays, Weiner disagrees with Hillman on how effective enforcement can be.
The town has only one code enforcement officer and although Weiner says the Police Department is responsive on weekends, there are still times when work is done on Saturdays.
For example, she says, workers have cut tile inside a garage and people have put debris into a dumpster on a construction site on Saturdays.
Town Manager Marshall Labadie says that the code enforcement officer will work at least four consecutive Saturdays to ensure compliance if the ordinance is modified.
In a draft of the proposed ordinance, the town specifically mentions what work is not permissible and town officials have made it clear that the ordinance pertains only to work that requires a permit. The ordinance, for example, would not apply to painting a house since that does not require a permit.
Among the work that would be prohibited:
• Use of dump trucks, backhoes, bulldozers, cranes or similar equipment.
• Large-scale delivery or removal of construction material such that it requires unloading by a forklift or other machinery, or otherwise creates a noise disturbance.
• Use of compressors, nail guns and generators.
Commissioners last month delayed passing a revised ordinance on first reading after asking Labadie to draft a provision that would allow for some projects to proceed even if they did not comply with the quiet provision.
That request was prompted in part by a request from a condominium undergoing a large construction project that asked to allow work on Saturday before the bulk of residents return for the season.
“Our parking deck is torn up and we have nowhere to put our residents when they return for the season,” wrote Steve Sassone of Penthouse Towers.
While no formal vote has been taken on the ordinance, the commission appears split 4-1. Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman, who lives in Bel Lido, is against revisions while Vice Mayor Greg Babij, also a Bel Lido resident, supports the changes, as do some other residents of Bel Lido.
Hillman and Commissioners Evalyn David and John Shoemaker, who live in condominium communities, also support the changes.
Hillman says he hopes the commission will enact the changes to the ordinance and give it a chance to have an impact.
“If we’re wrong, we’ll change it,” he said.