Appeals Process Stays in Neptune; Decisions Won't Go to Federal Court

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Byline: Christopher F. Aguilar, Shorelines staff writer

The Neptune Beach City Council backed off this week from a decision to send city Board of Appeals decisions to federal court instead of hearing them themselves.

After voting 4-1 this month for an ordinance that would send the appeals to Circuit Court, the council held off on the proposal Monday.

"We came to a good consensus to leave it as it is," said Councilwoman Harriet Pruette. "The intent was not to cause citizens unnecessary expense. I can't see taking this downtown and having citizens spend money."

The appeals board, which is composed of volunteers, hears requests from residents and businesses for exceptions to the city's land use regulations. Under the city code, once a decision is made by the board, an applicant can appeal to the council.

For several months, the council has expressed frustration at the appeals process, which requires it to affirm, modify or deny the board's decisions. But the council could only deny the board's decision if a procedural error was shown or it was not supported by substantial evidence.

At some appeals hearings, residents have complained that the council has listened to new evidence introduced by the resident or a representative making the appeal.

"Sometimes it gets off track and cases are reheard," said Sybil Ansbacher, chairwoman of the city's appeals board.

In several cases, projects the council deemed would benefit the city or improve a neighborhood's aesthetics were denied by the board but upheld by the council.

"We can't negotiate the appeal," said Vice Mayor Jimmy Gilbert. …