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Florida man disputes requirement for site plan, building permits

The owner of a longtime roadside produce business and Hillsborough County, Florida, officials are in a dispute over whether the stand has the necessary permits to operate.

County officials contend the owner needs a site development plan and permits for structures if he wants to continue to operate. The owner disagrees, and the county has instituted fines until the owner complies or shuts down the operation.

The man bought the produce business in Tampa in 2008. The previous owners were a family that settled in the North Tampa area in 1894 and once owned 100 acres for farming. They've sold most of the land through the years.

The previous owner says he was never told he needed such permits when he opened the stand in 1993. "They told me as long as I was building a structure that was to sell my produce that I didn't need any local permission," he said.

Along those lines, the new owner said he doesn't need the permits and plans because the business is part of a legal agricultural operation.

While he had 30 days to appeal the decision of the County Code Enforcement and Construction Services office that he be fined, he instead sued the county, seeking to stop all citations and fines.

The new owner has been cited for construction of a new greenhouse where produce is grown, as well as for the structure that has hosted the produce sales for years. He contends, however, that under Florida law, farm buildings on land dedicated to lawful agricultural purposes are exempt from city and county codes.

The original owner says he never sold that parcel of land for commercial development because it is "important to be able to buy produce that is grown locally." Of the new owner, he added it is important for him "to continue to be a farmer. But he needs to be able to market his produce and his way is to sell it directly to the consumer is that stand."

It will be up to the courts to figure out whether the agricultural zoning laws allow such unpermitted structures. But it is a good rule that anytime you buy properties, you verify that is has been properly permitted and is a conforming use. An experienced real estate law attorney can help.

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