Pamela Settlegoode just wanted a carport. She needed something that was affordable, but attractive and would keep her cars out of the sun and herself out of the rain. The City had another idea and now, after 11 years and $20,000 in personal expense, the carport is gone. What is left is a Godzilla-sized footprint of an out-of-control bureaucracy and a political class trampling over those who dare get out of line. What has been revealed is simple: St. Petersburg’s City Government is a weapon that will be pointed at those who must be destroyed to meet the nebulous political and personal goals of bureaucrats, cronies and politicians. Pamela Settlegoode has detailed her battle in two letters, one to City Council and one to the Mayor. Nearly all, (except Steve Kornell) sat idly by as the weaponized government was released like the Kraken onto the simple carport of an average citizen. Here are her letters for the public review and to help St. Petersburg resident’s learn about their weaponized government.
“Altogether, my experiences portray a very troubling, vindictive and unacceptable picture of how things actually operate in the zoing and code departments of the city. If you are liked and part of the clubby nature, an applicant can expect support and approval.” Pamela Settlegoode, St. Petersburg Homeowner.
To the City Council
August 22, 2016
City Council Members
St. Petersburg City Hall
175 5th Street North
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Dear City Council Members:
Over the weekend workers torn down my Shade System carport, as ordered by the City. Everyone, except city official Elizabeth Abernethy, perceives this as a vindictive attack upon my character, my property, neighborhood autonomy and serves as glaring example of why citizens are fed up with the overreaching of government. I’m beginning to understand, a bit more, the anger and frustration many Americans are expressing (please know, I’m not angry, but I remain perplexed and hurt by the City’s aggressive actions towards me). The whole thing is bizarre, illogical and appalling. Certainly, it has cost me considerably ($20,000 & time & stress–all for nothing gained). The perception is that all of you, our elected officials, allowed this to happen.
Zoning ordinances should be designed to protect property owners against nuisances–that is the history and intent of such laws. In my particular case, and I am not alone in this opinion, the intention of the City was to inflict harm, over something other residents are allowed to do with impunity. My carport project, in its eleven years, in various compromised forms presented to the City, was never a nuisance, nor did it harm anyone. The city’s biggest problem in its current leadership in zoning and codes, centers on the fact that enforcement is selective as applied, while carving out preferential treatment for others. I was singled out and punished, while other property owners are allowed to build permitted shade structure carports (e.g. Snell Isle’s Brightwaters) and non permitted carports (e.g. all throughout Allendale Terrace) and these are allowed to remain. Commonly this is considered a double standard. Also there is the matter of reporting code violations being “anonymous” which can promote city officials feathering their own nests. No one on my street, or living within the required 300′ parameter complained. To the contrary, residents and our recognized association, came together as a community to support the Shade System installed. No one complained, except Ms. Abernethy.
When sitting in observation or watching code violation hearings on StPeteTV, one comes away with a very troubling picture of disparaging practices targeting race, income, sex, disability and age. Kudos goes to the members of the Code Violation Board in their sincere attempts to overcome this prejudice and injustice. In my case, one member, speaking on behalf of the board, apologized to me for how the City has treated me, over a carport. Ultimately, during the Code Violation Hearing before Magistrate Aaron Sharpe, a sincere apology was offered again, with the comment, “I wish there was something I could do.” It is obvious to most observers that in the case of the Development Review Commission’s (DRC) denial of my variance application that something more was operating, other than what should have been a professional, factual presentation by the City. Please review my assertions re. Abernethy and her Staff Report, outlined in my most recent letter to Mayor Kriseman, attached. One need only Google my name to learn of my steadfast advocacy, on a number of issues (e.g. children who learn with disability, women, equity in education, civil rights/ACLU boards, neighborhoods, the homeless, low income, candidacy for St. Pete. city council, etc.). To some, particularly serving in government capacities, seemingly a “red flag” emerges as a “troublemaker” who needs to be taught a lesson. Evidently being a Jewish woman with a Ph.D. is viewed as highly problematic with certain city officials, moreover this may be the reason Ms. Abernethy presented me as a pushy rich woman who “fires” people (why else would she produce 3 year old exhibits to the DRC centering on one of their friends who happens to be an architect I parted ways with?) and uses her education as a weapon.
Ms. Abernethy alleged violations, articulated in her Staff Report to the DRC, and her numerous communications to me, that there exists some sort of substantial government interest of aesthetics (“architectural style”of Allendale and my home) and public safety (“potential impact to the affected neighbor, with respect to both potential storm water run-off to their property as well as visual intrusion” and “shall reinforce the pedestrian character of the City”). Evidently, Ms. Abernethy’s Staff Report heavily influenced prejudice against me with the DRC members, who chose to completely ignore reports presented from licensed engineers, architects. Also evidence from long time city official Rick Dunn, who volunteered to inspect the Shade System and complete the Site Plan, which Ms. Abernethy demanded, was deemed not important. Ms. Abernethy is not a licensed engineer, nor is she credential or licensed in architecture, yet the City allows her to dictate architectural designs for neighborhoods. Ms. Abernethy intentionally and with malice, left out documents favorable to permitting the variances in her Staff Report (e.g. Allendale’s neighborhood association). I did not make this personal or political, as reportedly some of you believe. Ms. Abernethy did and the facts in this case support it. Ms. Abernethy had an agenda, to irrationally and severely undermine my application through her enforcing authority, in any meaningful way, equal use, in the City’s Zoning Department . Further Ms. Abernethy specifically and deliberately exempted all the other shade structure carports constructed throughout St. Petersburg and the numerous “illegal” carports located throughout Allendale Terrace, many of which are much more visually offensive. This includes the “Walmart” version installed by one of Ms. Abernethy’s friends, located and visible for years right across from Allendale Park.
Lastly, and very importantly, I have heard the City’s refrain concerning “Exhausting My Appeals.” An application that is denied, properly should be allow a forum with elected city council members, before an costly appeal to the Circuit Court. Steve Kornell shared that in the past he attempted to remedy this undemocratic practice by the City, but that none on council supported it. What you have before you now, for your consideration, is a violation of equal protection of the law, pursuant to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Your immediate attention in this matter would be prudent, and very appreciated by me. I want my Shade System carport back. The notion that I have “exhausted my appeals” is not true; there are the higher, Federal Courts (the law) and there’s the Press and petitioning by The People. Please, this is an opportunity for all of you to demonstrate that indeed you support neighborhoods and their people.
Pamella E. Settlegoode, Ph.D
c: Mayor Rick Kriseman
To the Mayor
August 19, 2016
Mayor Rick Kriseman
St. Petersburg City Hall
175 5th Street North
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Dear Mayor Kriseman:
My correspondence with you in matters of constructing a carport over the parking area of my driveway, located in Allendale Terrace, began October 12, 2015. I have written you personally numerous letters and emails and you have yet to answer any of these, nor meet with me concerning the matter. Why?
Today I write to you, because, as your administration has so ordered, I must tear down the Shade System, which is currently serving as a carport over the parking area of my driveway. This is extremely unfair, it has damaged me and I have been singled out. This structure more than meets current codes for building, storm water runoff, fire and safety and does not encroach on my neighbors property, nor does it encroach on city easements. I have filed no lawsuits, and on advice of counsels filed no appeal of the Development Review Commission (DRC) in the Circuit Court; research confirms such appeals for denials is expensive and fruitless. I have some months to decide if I will pursue litigation in the Federal Court on Fourteenth Amendment (due process, equal protection and regulatory taking) and First Amendment violations. The staff in your legal department seem to want litigation; I have sought throughout for a more sensible, reasonable approach. All of this over a carport that I have work diligently over 11 years, compromising along the way, to obtain a building permit. NO PERSON in my neighborhood has opposed any version of the carports presented to city staff, to the contrary, ALL have supported my carport proposals, including the current one erected. The Shade System received not one complaint from the 300′ area in application of the variances and Allendale’s recognized neighborhood association was highly supportive of the Shade System, including its architecture with my home. My home is a Spanish Mission style, circa 1926.
I encourage you to examine the facts in this matter. The majority of individuals who have (e.g. lawyers, city officials, neighbors, neighborhood association/activist, city’s code violation Magistrate, neighborhood police officers, the press and persons currently running for public office) are left wondering why the city would order me to tear down a structure that complies with city building codes and neighbors and the neighborhood supports. The DRC normally approves the type variances I needed considering the age of my home and thet fact that it has been city policies (widening of 38th Avenue N.) that have place the harsh setback restrictions upon my property. This is precisely what variance are intended for and are generally granted. Ms. Abernethy, through her Staff Report to the DRC, sought to prejudice their opinion of me, my project and my property.
Here is an examination of the claims and assertions found in Ms. Abernethy’s Staff Report, exhibits and other communications, most of which identify her zeal to unduly influence prejudice on the entire process.
Please appreciate the fact that under Mayor Baker’s administration, both variances and the proposed design for the carport were unopposed by city official Bob Jefferey, which change drastically under Mayor Foster and your tenure.
*Abernethy’s Staff Report opposes the side property variance, when on older homes with restrictive setbacks flexibility is needed and mostly granted by the DRC.
*Abernethy’s Staff Report includes references to previous zoning official Philip Lazzara, challenging my claim that Mr. Lazzara indicated no permit would be required on a non-permanent shade structure. Mr. Lazzara refused to appear to refute Abernethy’s hearsay that she contacted him.
*Abernethy’s Staff Report claimed the current brick driveway had been “widened” and was not consistent with the 2002 driveway permit. This construction was permitted by the previous owner and it passed its inspection. Moreover, said driveway has not been altered since passing city inspections and lines exactly up with the pool security wall, which was also permitted and passed inspection.
*Abernethy’s Staff Report cites “the magnitude of this structure in the front yard is not consistent with the surrounding development plan. There are no similar structures in the front yards along Foster Hill Drive North.” Ms. Abernethy completely ignores the fact that under her tenure a white vinyl fence was permitted to be installed up to the front and side yard property lines on Foster Hill Drive North. No property located in Allendale Terrace allows such a hideous fencing to run along the front property line, adjacent to the city sidewalk. She chose to completely ignored the fact that there currently exist many illegally constructed carports throughout Allendale, the majority of which do not conform to code or any sort of design standard.
*Abernethy’s Staff Report cites completely non-existent issues, such as concerns for storm water runoff, visual intrusion, pedestrian character and Neighborhood Traditional design requirements. The current Shade System meets all of these concerns. Concerning the claim for design standards for Allendale and my home. First, the architecture of my home is Spanish Mission style, not the Mediterranean Revival style Abernethy claims. Second, Abernethy is not a licensed architect, nor is she a historian, knowledgeable in the architecture of Allendale Terrance. For your examination, I include letters from my architect, Kevin Kuenzel (he was raised in Allendale and continues to reside here) and Ray Arsenault (he wrote the book on St. Pete’s early history, including Allendale, where he is a longtime resident); these were presented to the DRC, which indicated these did not matter.
*Abernethy’s Exhibit 2 to the DRC included a more than three year old communications between myself and Ronn Ginn, an architect I had hired during the Foster administration. I hired Mr. Ginn because he boasted that he was “best friends” with Mayor Foster, claiming they attended the same church, and had friendships with a number of individuals on the DRC–that’s why I hired him. When it turned out that Mr. Ginn also could not overcome the city’s unreasonable demand I build what amounted to be 6′ from my side yard property line, I shared that I would not be proceeding with the application. Mr. Ginn refused to provide me with the plans I paid him for, so I parted ways with him and he was not happy about it. Why would Abernethy include these two emails in her exhibits to the DRC? It was to demonstrate that I “fired” one of their friends and expose Mr. Ginn’s rants and fabrications to his friends on the DRC (I do not have 3 cars, nor do I have any kayak that cost $4,000, as Ginn claimed). As with the other documents, it served to prejudice the DRC’s decision.
*Abernethy intentionally and with malice left out critical exhibits to the DRC. Nina Light’s March 30, 2016 email, to Abernethy and Jones, expressing the neighborhood association views on the Shade System and sharing views on “What is good for one, should be good for all” re. after-the-fact permitting (see attached emails). However, when I presented this as new evidence during my petition for a rehearing before the DRC, the members indicated this would not have change their denial, so they refused a rehearing appeal. This may have been a first, as I inquired with DRC’s Schumaker after the hearing as to why I was denied, when normally an applicant receives after-the-fact variances and permits. Schumaker indicated this was true, but only could shrug to answer why I was denied when others normally receive them.
*Abernethy (zoning) and Gerdes (Codes) have determined that all the illegally constructed carports found throughout Allendale will be allowed to remain, while mine must be torn down. Many of the identified carports (used in my DRC exhibits and previously shared with the mayor) are nothing more than lean-to types and most do not conform to building codes or what is imagined as “design standards” for Allendale. What sort of policy is this? These structures did not have to go through the high standard vetting that mine did. Both of these officials have also determined that the two shade type structures located on Brightwaters Blvd. NE were permitted and met design standards for Old NE. Really? These two structures identified are being used as carports, in front of these homes with 2-car garages. I have no garage, or any protection for my vehicle. It should also be noted, that an Allendale resident, who identified herself as “a best friend” of Abernethy, was allowed to erect a Walmart type, tarp carport, behind the drive-thru and in front of her garages, and did so for several years. I was informed of this tarp carport, when Abernethy showed me her photo of what she wanted me to build, meaning the drive-thru sort in front of the home. When I pointed out the tarp carport erected behind the drive-thru Abernethy avoided the question and it continued to remain intact until a formal complaint was registered. So, if one is a friend of Abernethy, or she likes you, your project is very likely to move forward, unopposed to the DRC or as this last case confirms, it can remain up, even when Abernethy is informed that certainly such a tarp version does not meet her design standard.
*On May 13, 2016, Ronn Ginn, my former architect from over three years ago (who had absolutely nothing to do with my current application during Abernethy’s involvement) filed a formal complaint against my sub-contractor, Glen Hurley, who installed the current Shade System over the parking area of my driveway. Please review documents attached concerning this matter. It is evidence that the city’s retaliation is ongoing. Mr. Ginn, evidently, believes he should still be involved, so he makes up things in his complaint, which was promptly dismissed, because it was not factual and I served as the contractor, not Mr. Hurley. Someone in a formal capacity in zoing, codes or the DRC alerted Mr. Ginn and provided information for his complaint. Consequently, Mr. Hurley was very shaken by this trumped up charge, because he is an outstanding, and honest worker. I had to spend considerable hours addressing Mr. Ginn’s false claims, in order to have the complaint dismissed.
Altogether, my experiences portray a very troubling, vindictive and unacceptable picture of how things actually operate in the zoing and code departments of the city. If you are liked and part of the clubby nature, an applicant can expect support and approval. In my case, in the 11 years attempting to work with the city, the only official who demonstrated and offered any help in moving my project forward was Rick Dunn. If he were in Ms. Abernethy’s position, as Mr. Jeffrey in prior years, my variances would have moved forward unopposed and I would have experienced a city staff that was helpful rather than opposing at every turn. But more importantly, and even more troubling, is when neighbors and our association, comes together as a community to support the NEED, the NATURE and DESIGN of a proposal, that should be the end of the city’s opposition. Neighbors and their Neighborhood have spoken and this is what variance are intended for. It’s not too late to amend this very bad situation. All of Allendale Terrace is upset by this injustice. You as our mayor have the power and wisdom to fix this and spare any further expense and upset. Please, I urge you to listen to our neighborhood and urge city attorney’s to be more responsive to residents and their neighborhoods.
Pamella E. Settlegoode
c: City Council Members