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Missy Layfield - Editor

News and Opinion

Recent events in our community have reminded us at the Sand Paper that we enjoy amazing rights and freedoms, unequaled almost anywhere in the world. With those rights and freedoms, come some serious responsibilities, some of which have been challenged this week by readers taking exception to our news coverage and editorial regarding the elevated pool setback controversy.

Our role as a community newspaper is to serve the community and advocate for what we feel is best for our entire community, not agree with everyone. We respect the fact that intelligent people can look at the facts of a situation and come to different conclusions. For some, the lack of agreement with their viewpoint is enough to be branded as the opposition, or, at the very least, as not well informed.

Last week’s coverage of the elevated pool setback issue brought on Letters to the Editor and some statements or implications that we should be embarrassed, are ignorant of the facts or just wrong.

We don’t expect everyone to agree with our opinions. Readers are always invited to respond with a Letter to the Editor. Each week, we print our Submissions Policy that provides letter guidelines.

This all comes with the territory of running a newspaper, and we’re not crying in our beer, but we felt as though some clarifications might be helpful this week just so our readers know exactly where we stand.

1. Our news articles are based on facts. We report the facts and quotes and may report the opinions of others, but the management of the Sand Paper does not express our opinions on local or regional news via our story selection or coverage. That is one of the serious responsibilities mentioned above and one that we regard as inviolable.

2. We do express our opinions in the Editorial. The weekly editorial is the only platform for our opinions in the Sand Paper.

3. We are a small community newspaper with only so many hours in the day to get the news out. We concede almost every story could be longer and include more info, but advertising revenues dictate the size of our free newspaper, which dictates the number and length of the stories we can run. A sad and very rude reality we face each week is that we must make a profit or we fail, and will no longer be able to serve our community.

4. We are not pro-elevated pools and realize that the LDC, which we have read multiple times, exists to protect all homeowners. We reside on a canal and enjoy our view corridors, but understand our neighborhood may change. Next week, every one of our neighbors could put in 8-foot hedges right to the seawall, totally blocking our view. Does the LDC prevent that as it is currently written?

5. We believe our LDC should not be a static document. It needs a major review and updating. The Founders were not wrong, but could not see the future, including FEMA building code rules mandating home elevation. The LDC is already being revised on a piecemeal basis. Signage, Outdoor display, Parasailing/Wave Runners, COP – all these have been or are in the process of being revised. It’s obvious to us that we also need to review and update setbacks and add language dealing with view corridors during a full-scale LDC review.

6. We believe that when the permit was issued for 301 Palermo it was done in good faith. We also believe that Town Council, past and present, and Town staff are intelligent, hard working people whose primary goal is to make FMB a great place to live.

7. Just because you say something, does not make it so. Two law firms, a Town Manager and a Development Director, all with more education and experience in Land Code interpretation and administration than any of us felt our LDC contained insufficient language to prohibit the issuance of a building permit for 301 Palermo. Denying a permit risks legal action and that’s what happened here. While we all wish the situation could have been handled differently, in situations like this a judge normally makes the final decision based on what the code says, and not what you or I think it says or what the Town founders meant to say.

8. We are relieved we have a compromise settlement versus the amazingly slow and expensive process available through the courts. The definition of a good deal is that each party believes they gave too much and received too little, and this deal seems to meet those criteria. Nobody ever gets everything they want.

9. Small variances to any building permit are administratively permitted all the time. This is nothing new, erroneous or criminal in the process. Ask anyone that has submitted and received permits.

10. All property owners have property rights, including builders and developers. The rights of the developer in this situation were rarely mentioned. Anyone who owns property should have the freedom to do with it what they choose within the limits of law. In this case a local business had multiple large projects tied up for months. Is that fair? We think not.

11. We recognize that the face of our community is changing. Million dollar homes will replace smaller ones here just as has occurred in other coastal communities for decades. Very few people will spend a half million dollars or more on a lot and put up a small elevated beach cottage. And elevation is the law. No matter how hard we fight, we can’t stop the future, but we can shape it. If we can recognize that reality, we can then craft our LDC to protect what we can preserve of our beautiful, quaint beachfront town instead of squabbling over this issue that has now been settled.

Bob and Missy Layfield