While denying any wrongdoing, Dr. Richard Walker agreed to pay $34,550 in code fines to settle a three-year-old code enforcement dispute over the waterfront property on North Roosevelt Boulevard he bought from the city in 1995.
The final fine is one-third of the $103,650 city code enforcement had stacked against Walker for having built structures on existing docks in 2011 without proper city permits.
But it's also a bit steeper than the offer Walker made the city Tuesday night at Old City Hall: $10,000 to make the case stop.
City commissioners brokered the settlement Tuesday at the meeting, after 35 minutes of discussion that included Walker defending himself at the podium.
"At the end of the day, I thought fairness and common sense would prevail on this," Walker told commissioners. "To stand here and say I have to pay $103,000 in fines on something I bought from the city, it just seems unfair."
Code director Jim Young and Assistant City Attorney Ron Ramsingh disagreed, saying Walker had plenty of time to bring his property, 2407 N. Roosevelt Blvd., into compliance by obtaining proper city permits.
"Which he never did," Young said. "He applied after the fact for the electrical work."
At issue was the new construction, shed-like buildings, placed atop existing floating docks that were part of the old Flipper Sea School. Code officers said they hadn't been permitted and a Jetski rental business was illegally operating out of the location to boot.
Walker got rid of the floating structures by June 25, 2013.
The fine of $200 per day started running Jan. 25, 2012, and by Tuesday night Walker was facing $103,650, as upheld by the magistrate who oversees code cases, Jefferson Overby.
"I have to believe it's justified," said Commissioner Teri Johnston, who rejected any decrease of the six-figure fine. "This seems very unusual for Judge Overby, who I consider to be a very good judge."
Commissioner Mark Rossi started the settlement ball rolling, saying $10,000 would do.
"It's 10 percent of the total fine," said Rossi. "Dr. Walker is a good man over there. Let's clean it up, move on."
But after some debate, the commission voted 5-2 to set the fine at $34,550, one-third of the entire amount levied.
Commissioners Teri Johnston and Jimmy Weekley dissented. Commissioners Clayton Lopez, Rossi, Billy Wardlow and Tony Yaniz approved the $34,550, along with Mayor Craig Cates.
Walker and his attorney, Donald Yates, told commissioners the correct fine is zero because Walker was in compliance the entire time, having applied to the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permits.
"The only thing left to do was to come before your honors to ask for mitigation on something that should never have happened," Yates said.
Walker brought the property into compliance last June by ridding the site of the docks, Ramsingh said. That's what stopped the fines at $103,650.
"This is a case where he admitted the violation; this wasn't something he pled not guilty to," Ramsingh said. "Several holes in the timeline exceed 180 days. There are no legitimate explanations other than just sitting on your hands."
Magistrate Overby refused to accept a $10,000 payment from Walker as what Yates called a "peace offering" to settle the case.
In a memo, city planner Brendon Cunningham also recommended the commission not reduce the lien by 96 percent, "given the circumstances of self-imposed delay in achieving compliance."
The $103,650 fine was reduced to a lien, which only the commission can mitigate.
"There were Jet Ski floating docks on the south side of the property that were then moved to the inside of the bay," said Ramsingh. "Significant improvements were built there upon."
The new construction became White Knuckle Jet Ski rentals on floating flat platforms that were in place when Walker bought the parcel, Ramsingh said.
"The construction was brand new," Ramsingh said. "That's what triggered the code case."
The floating dock that started the code case in 2011 was worth under $40,000, Walker said.
"There was one shed I built on a dock that had no power to it, no plumbing," Walker said. "Mr. Young came out on two occasions and said I needed no permits to build that shed. I took him at his word."
Soon after, however, a code enforcement officer came out and "red-tagged" the dock as a violation, citing construction, plus plumbing and electrical work had been done without permits.
On Tuesday, Walker stood his ground and said he complied.
"I did every single thing I was told to do when they said apply for the permits," said Walker. "I applied as quickly as I could."