County hearing set for possible permit violation on the Mayor’s watering hole

Mayor Stoddard's back yard

What appears in photographs to be a lake that nearly fills the entire back yard of the over 12,000 foot lot at the home of Mayor Philip Stoddard, has been called into question for permitting concerns by Stoddard’s opponents in the upcoming mayoral election. A review hearing by the Miami-Dade County Board of Rules and Appeals is set for February 16.

Stoddard claims he was told by the city he “did not need a permit” when he initially inquired about building the “pond” while doing home renovations in 2004. He also stated in a January 26 email (recovered in a public records request) that “it is not a problem. A courtesy notice is how the city opens an inquiry. Yesterday the city concluded, for the second time, that we did not require a permit to dig a pond in our back yard.”

Unfortunately Stoddard’s claims and the information given by the governing city manager’s office in this case, do not coincide. “The question of the pond is still under review,” said City Manager Hector Mirabile. “Most cities do not regulate ponds unless there is an ordinance and in our city there is but it doesn’t match what is going on.” Mirabile has forwarded the question of pond versus lake versus pool to the South Miami building official and subsequently to the Miami-Dade County Board of Rules and Appeals for an interpretation.

Division Director of the Board and Code Administration Division for Miami-Dade County Michael Goolsby, said the paperwork just landed on his desk and he has yet to review it.

“The Board of Rules and Appeals renders interpretations of building codes from Florida Statute 553 covering the legal authority for building if there is a question, ” said Goolsby. “The situation here appears to be that there is a pond with some kind of liner. In the end is it deemed a private swimming pool, and if so, it requires a permit and must meet the code for a private swimming pool.”

Goolsby went on to explain that the purpose of the code is to ensure that the body of water in question is safe to be built and used. “The codes are in place to make sure structures are constructed safely. It is not about making sure the water is coming from a regulated source but rather to define what is the intention or purpose. Is this a landscape feature or is it intended for recreational swimming and bathing? If it is determined it is defined as a pool, eventually you will end up with something that looks like a pool and not a pond.”

Photos presented to South Miami News by area resident Sharon McCain taken from Stoddard’s FIU homepage appear to answer the question. One photo shows at least four children s w i m m i n g around across the body of water on floats kicking up the surface with their feet. Another image shows Stoddard’s wife, Gray Read, diving off a wooden diving board into the pond with kids swimming around her. A third photo submitted shows what appears to be a 6 foot by 8 foot deck in the center of the body of water with the Stoddards reclining in lounge chairs on the deck.

Former mayor and candidate for mayor opposing Stoddard in the upcoming city elections Julio Robaina, Jr, said, “My biggest concern would be the possibility of contaminating the drinking water source of the residents of South Miami. When you dig into the aquifer without permitting you never know. Our drinking water is sacred. You do not dig into a community source of drinking water without at least pulling a permit and everybody knows that.”

Eduardo Lopez, Engineer Specialist Level 4 for the South Florida Water Management District said typically municipalities in this case are the stricter governing authority but the water management district can get involved if potentially affected neighbors complain. “When it comes to private property it gets very tricky on jurisdiction and how to regulate. The potential impact to adjacent property is the gray area that might trigger a review.” Lopez also said that any digging in the ground beyond four feet could potentially affect ground water conditions.

Stoddard’s watering hole permitting question will be addressed at the next meeting of the Board of Rules and Appeals on February 16 at 1pm at 11850 SW 26 Street. For more information contact Kathy Charles, Board Administrator at 786-315-2571.

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