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HomeBusiness & CommunityCounty Devises Plan To Close Dozens of Local Pool Contractor's Outstanding Permits

County Devises Plan To Close Dozens of Local Pool Contractor’s Outstanding Permits

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“The ultimate thing would be to reactivate all these permits, and some of them are very old. We have, as you can see, homeowners here that have been waiting years for their pools. So, ultimately, reactivate them and complete them as soon as possible.”
— Tom Peters, Building Investigator

West Hernando Pools’ Francis “Frank” Bierwiler found himself in hot water at a special masters hearing this month when the county found that he had between 71 and 65 inactive permits, some of which are for projects that have been left partially completed for a number of years.

At the Feb. 14 meeting, the local contractor and Special Master for Hernando County, Kenneth Warnstadt, came to an agreement to begin dwindling the number of unresolved permits. This ruling extended the hold on Bierwiler’s ability to pull permits originally imposed on him by Tom Peters, Building Investigator for Hernando County’s Building Department, for an additional 30 days until the next hearing in March. Until that time, Bierwiler’s lawyer, Darryl Johnston, promised the county administrators that the contractor would close “10 or 15 a month.”

Why was there a discrepancy in the permit count? Peters’ count of 71 out of a total of 123 permits was as accurate as possible as of Feb. 9. The rest were either active (46) or pending (6) until this issue was resolved. Johnston noted that their own numbers were closer to 65. Peters felt that the discrepancy was possible due to the building department only recently beginning to keep track of the closed cases.

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82 was another amount that was brought up by the council, but that appeared to be caused by Bierwiler’s pulling of more permits before his right to do so was suspended. Regardless, Peters issued the citation on Jan. 22 for these inactive permits, and they needed to be addressed. According to a copy of the permit statuses sent by Peters, some of the inactive ones date as far back as 2016.

Bierwiler and the building investigator have been in constant contact since January to work on reducing the number of permits and Peters has “no issues with that.” He added that Bierwiler has closed 32 permits since September. Peters was asked by county officials what he recommends should be done to resolve the surplus of permits moving forward. The building investigator responded:
“The ultimate thing would be to reactivate all these permits, and some of them are very old. We have, as you can see, homeowners here that have been waiting years for their pools. So, ultimately, reactivate them and complete them as soon as possible.”

Some pools are essentially completed, but need a code-specific detail like an alarm set up before the permits can be officially closed. Other projects are still little more than holes in the ground that have sat inert for months on end. The Bierwieler camp insisted that most of what he is being cited for are inactive permits that simply need to be “finaled out and off of the county’s books.” Some cases may prove to be more challenging to finish than others when factoring in families who have since moved away or are not in the corresponding house for whatever reason. Bierwieler and company understand that it is their responsibility to get the situation resolved.

According to Warnstadt, the problem of unresolved permits under West Hernando Pools’ watch has been taking place since before Bierwiler took the reins of the company in the 2000s and has since persisted. “Was somebody sleeping at the wheel?” Warnstadt asked. To put it bluntly, yes. The local contractor admitted as much but added context for the civil tribunal.

“It was my understanding, when we had a guy working for us, that his job was to get final inspections on this,” said Bierwiler. “I would look at the stack of files and this stack would be active, inactive, signed off. I did not know we were going back ten years on this. This was not brought to my attention.”

Johnston stated that it should take them between 150 and 180 days at their current projected pace to eliminate the lingering permits. To assuage their concerns, the lawyer reiterated that many of the hold-ups are on contracts that have been all but completed. When it comes to issues like life safety concerns, the building department must inspect the pool, noted Peters. If a homeowner is unavailable or uncooperative, three attempts at contact must be made, one by certified mail, before the responsibility no longer falls on Bierwiler’s crew. The contractor will be working to whittle down the unresolved cases by the next hearing on the morning of March 13 so he may regain his ability to pull permits.

“We want to make sure it is done the way the county wants them to have it done or, more importantly, the way you would like to have it done,” Johnston said. “Just need time certain to try to say this is the gun we are under to get this done because we are committed to do it. They have been building pools for 40 years in Hernando County.”

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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