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Army veteran considering new suit against town

February 19, 2020
By NATHAN MAYBERG (nmayberg@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Martin Le Blanc has seen tougher battles than this. The Vietnam War veteran knows what it's like to lose those he served with and suffer wounds in battle.

The Town of Fort Myers Beach resident's latest struggle is not in some faraway place but in his front yard on Bahia Via. He was cited by code enforcement in 2017 for replacing a railing on his balcony without a permit, but he contended the old railing had just fallen off during a storm and he hadn't begun replacing it. He claimed all of the major work on his home has been funded by the government due to the nature of his service and injuries which make it difficult for him to walk, and that he has always applied for permits for the work done on his home previously.

The matter ended up in federal court and Le Blanc lost. The town put a lien on his property for the railing violation as well as for a fence on his property which never received a permit. Le Blanc said the fence was there when he purchased his home. The total outstanding violations add up to $143,500 according to records provided by Town Manager Roger Hernstadt.

Article Photos

Martin Le Blanc stands outside his home on Bahia Via with friend and co-author Janet Gottlieb Sailian, where an alleged violation over his balcony railing has led to a lien on his property and $143,500 in fines.

NATHAN MAYBERG

Now Le Blanc is reaching out to other property owners who have racked up costly violations and says he wants to take the town to court again. He believes the town does not do enough to work with property owners on such issues.

"We tried to resolve it with him," Hernstadt said. "He took it to court and he lost. He's in violation until he's in compliance."

Le Blanc said he didn't agree with the terms of the settlement offer from the town because he maintains that he did nothing wrong regarding the railing.

"I can't do much on this house unless the (Department of Veterans Affairs) and an architect are working together," Le Blanc said.

Hernstadt said Le Blanc is now in compliance with the town code for the new railing which eventually went up though the fence work has yet to be settled. Hernstadt said that if a previous owner of the property constructed the fence, then Le Blanc's issue is with the previous property owner and not the town. According to Hernstadt, Le Blanc owes $46,200 for the railing issue and $97,300 for the fence on his property.

Le Blanc sees the issue as a wider one in how costly code violations can become.

"The town should be working with the homeowner instead of against them," Le Blanc said.

Hernstadt says Le Blanc still has the option of going in front of the town council and asking for mitigation. The Beach Baptist Church recently took that route and ended up shaving off almost $90,000 worth of accumulated fines after the town council agreed to do so after a dispute that lasted several years. Other property owners in similar situations have gotten much smaller reductions after going in front of the town council to seek relief.

This month, Joe Orlandini appeared in front of the town council regarding two of his properties on Estero Boulevard which have accumulated fines of six figures, which he blamed on changes to the code enforcement staff. The council agreed to let him work out a deal with Hernstadt for a reduction in fines. Hernstadt said he would be meeting with Orlandini to discuss the matter.

Hernstadt said the amount of the fines are set by town magistrates, who are appointed by the town. The state sets the minimum and maximum rates for the fines.

In response to Le Blanc's suggestion that the town does not work with property owners enough to avoid the costly disputes, Hernstadt said "we have many, many people that we work out compliance agreements with." He said that property owners who run afoul of town codes and need more time to resolve their issues can be given more time before the matter ends up in front of a magistrate.

"My advice to (Le Blanc) is to take the offer we would give him to resolve the case," Hernstadt said.

Meanwhile, Le Blanc said he can't get a loan from the federal government to do additional work on his home he needs done to help accommodate his disability due to the lien. He wants to change the system by which liens are placed on properties.

"If I can get the town to come up with some mechanism long-term I would be happy so all of us can benefit," Le Blanc said. "Once you are in the system, it doesn't seem that there is a good way out."

 
 

 

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