By ALICIA LEONARD
Kevin Hargett has been overseeing the Walton County Code Enforcement unit since January 2005. Six other employees besides Hargett work to see that hundreds of ordinances enacted by the county are observed and enforced. The unit is on call after-hours and on weekends, with Hargett citing land clearing and noise ordinance violations as some of the on-call situations they handle.
The unit handles around 100 new cases a month and, on average, around 1,300 a year. About 65 percent of those cases are in south Walton.
Hargett said that his unit is a proactive entity. “We do not have to have a complaint called in to check something out. If it’s something that is visible to us, we can stop and investigate. Hargett used signs on the CR-30A scenic corridor and U.S. 98 as an example. “We have an officer that is assigned to the scenic corridor and 98 to handle sign violations, vehicles on the right of way marked for sale, setback issues, storage issues and vendors that are selling along 98 and 30-A,” he said. “There are a lot of codes that deal specifically with these two areas. The officer would stop and give them a notice of violation and usually they move along or rectify the situation and it doesn’t have to go any farther than that. Many times people are just not aware that they are violating these codes and once they are, the situation is easily rectified.”
Hargett answered some specific questions Herald readers submitted on the issue of code enforcement. Regarding a suspicion of building code violations, Hargett said, “If there is a building code violation and it is a building that already has a building permit displayed, then they can call the building department and they will send out an inspector to assess the situation. If it’s a structure that does not have a permit, then they can call us. They usually call us anyway and we direct them to another department if it doesn’t fall under our services.”
Regarding abandoned buildings, Hargett said, “We have a duty-of-maintenance ordinance. It requires people to maintain their property so that is is not a nuisance and doesn’t bring down the property values of those that live nearby. Whoever owns the building, whether it be a foreclosure or an out of town owner, we contact them and send that owner a notice of the code violation.”
Light and noise issue are also something that Code Enforcement is used to dealing with. “We have a light and noise ordinance. The main lighting complaints we get are usually over flood lights and we have a light meter that we use to investigate these complaints. At this moment, the ordinance states that outside lighting cannot go over 10 foot-candles. Anything under that is not considered a violation. Most of our complaint calls are over lights around five- or six foot-candles. In those instances, we encourage the neighbors to try and work it out amongst themselves. Often the power companies will also try and help resolves these issues between neighbors by putting a shield on these lights, even if they are not in violation of code,” said Hargett.
As far as noise ordinance, Hargett said the most complaints about noise are from bands playing in bars and restaurants close to neighborhoods, but it’s not as common as some people think. “In all honesty, we don’t get that many complaints about noise. There have only been a handful of complaints about this and we schedule an officer to go out when the noise most often occurs and take a noise-meter reading and usually that reading has to be taken at the person’s property line and inside the person’s house, as well. Generally speaking, in a residential setting at night, over 50 decibels would be a violation of the noise ordnance.”
Barking dogs would fall under the animal ordinance and not the noise ordinance, as some might think. Hargett said, “They would need to call animal control to address that issue. There is a procedure that they follow and would probably fall under the category of a nuisance animal.”
Coastal dune lake outfalls were another issue that the Herald was asked to address on behalf of citizens. “If there is a structure blocking an outfall or the flow of water, then that is where we would become involved, as well as the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). If it is a structure such as a tent on a sandy part around the outfall, there is an issue with the ‘Leave No Trace’ ordinance and as soon as they get that ordinance straightened out, then we can address umbrellas and chairs and such left out on sandy white areas surrounding an outfall and other beach areas.”
As far as signs along CR-30A, Hargett said they work very hard to work with local business along the scenic corridor to keep up codes and still not hamper visibility
Hargett, “I think we make a very dramatic impact in the community. We clean up the community and we do a lot of good. We treat everyone with the utmost respect and dignity and we get a lot of citizens and shopkeepers to voluntary compliance. About 99 percent of complaints we field end in voluntary compliance and it’s just the one percent that we have to take further action with. A lot of people are just not aware they are in violation. We have a large task, we enforce land development code, land clearing, wetlands, noise and lighting, beach and vendors along 30 miles of beaches, wedding permits for the beaches, special event, fireworks permits for the beaches, outdoor yearly burn permits for property owners, the white-sand protection ordinances, coastal protection zones, duty and maintenance to do with junk and debris at peoples houses, as well as enforcing pool-fencing codes where people don’t have proper fencing around their pools. Code enforcement also handle home-occupation business.”
Signs along CR-30A get a lot of attention, according to Hargett. “We allow people to have temporary signs for sales or grand opening signs for their business. We can issue one temporary permit four times a year for a 14-day time period. Right now we are having a public information drive about realtor and other business signage along the scenic corridors. We contacted the Emerald Coast Realtor Associations and we ask all the realtors and rental properties owners to remove their signs from the right of way. On their property is fine, but when they are in the right of way, work crews have a harder time keeping the corridor beautiful and clean and that is what code enforcement is about along 30-A. It’s keeping the area clean and beautiful, so visitors want to return.
“Dumpsters and trash receptacle are also against code where the right of way is concerned along the scenic corridors. Some get this confused and think we don’t allow trash cans but it is the permanent structures that hold the trash cans that are against code on 30-A. If they have one that is mobile and can be wheeled out on the day of pick-up and then wheeled back that afternoon or night, then we don’t have an issue with that.”
Hargett said that everyone can help keep the south Walton area pristine and inviting. “I love my job and I’m very proud of our employees. They are well-trained and keep up with a lot. Most of us have been here going on four years and most of our officers have code enforcement protection (CEP) designation. To have that many officers be CEP-certified, a top level certification, is not a common thing in the state of Florida.
“Keeping code helps everyone. It keeps the areas uncluttered and beautiful. It keeps citizens and residents safe. It protects the environment and makes visitors want to return here year after year and that’s good for all the citizens of Walton County.”
Anyone with a question or concerns about their neighborhood should contact Hargett at 622-0000.