LEE COUNTY — Lee County recently purchased ChangeFinder, a new software technology which identifies changes to building structures by comparing historical aerial photography to current photography. Changes such as new construction, demolitions and building additions were identified by Change Finder, then reviewed by County staff for accuracy and compliance. This county-wide systematic process has identified a significant number of parcels in the unincorporated areas of Lee County that are out of compliance with zoning ordinances.
The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals and the Zoning Administrator have developed an Amnesty Program which will be sending letters to property owners with violations and inform them of the steps necessary to become compliant. Property owners will have a specified period of time to apply for a building permit or zoning petition without penalties or late fees.
Anyone who voluntarily applies to the Amnesty Program may have the undocumented construction at their property recognized by the County provided that the work complies with the Lee County Zoning Code.
Extreme violations such as property setbacks, building in the flood plain, or improper zoning will be handled on a case by case basis and within a time frame determined by the Zoning Administrator.
Property owner are urged to bring their property into zoning compliance to avoid future issues when selling or insuring non-compliant property.
Who should worry about obtaining amnesty?
The program is to encourage people to voluntarily come to the Lee County Zoning Office to obtain the necessary zoning and building permits before the County imposed penalties.
Lee County is getting serious about unpermitted structures, getting them on the tax rolls, and ensuring they meet County and State codes.
The County is also concerned about levying property taxes that reflect the true assessed value of properties. When a permit is issued, the Lee County Assessor’s Office uses the data to assess improvements on the property.
People who have constructed without permits are directed to obtain the proper building permits, and still must meet codes, but will not be charged a penalty from the Zoning Office, which oversees permitting.
In years past, the County enforced permit and code violations only if citizens filed reports or complaints about a structure, or if a County employee spotted something that was dramatically unsafe.
The County responded to complaints when staffing allowed.
Most of the complaints the Zoning Office receives are for new construction that is conducted without obtaining permits.
Lee County Zoning Administrator, Dee Duffy says, “We’ve seen people not be able to sell their homes or secure mortgages because their homes were nonconforming or not built to code. We’ve seen six-figure homes not appear on the tax rolls because people didn’t get permits. It’s time to make sure everybody is playing by the same rules, homes are built according to zoning code, and everyone is paying their fair share of taxes.”
Duffy referenced the new aerial software program that shows “severe violations” of permits having been issued for garages that are now being used as two- or three-bedroom homes. Duffy even mentioned a home built in a flood zone that was not permitted. “The County will aggressively seek compliance to building and zoning requirements and that everyone pays their fair share of taxes. We really don’t have a choice, and it is only fair to those that do pay taxes.”
“The safety of our citizens and visitors, and the enjoyment of and quality of life associated with the use of property by residents and visitors, is a top priority for the Zoning Board of Appeals,” said Chair Bruce Forster. “This program would benefit the community by assuring safe structures and other land use risks to our county.”
For more information about the Amnesty Program, call the Lee County Zoning Office at 815-288-3643.