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Covenants restricting the size and location of beach homes will still carry weight, officials say.
A ruling last week that saved two multi-million dollar North Forest Beach homes from the bulldozer is unlikely to have a larger effect on efforts to maintain the character of the neighborhood, said town and community officials.
The case had been watched closely because it involved covenants that restrict the size and location of homes. Other town restrictions have also been enacted to preserve the beach-
bungalow character of one of the
island's first neighborhoods.
North Forest residents have worried about oversized "monster homes" or mini-hotels popping up. The original ruling in the case, which called for the two houses to be demolished, could have set a standard for beachfront development across the island.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas Kemmerlin ruled in 2004 that the two oceanfront homes must be leveled because they were larger than the covenants allowed. But a state appellate court overturned that ruling last week, saying Kemmerlin ruled on issues not brought up in the original case, and that no measurements were taken to prove the houses violated setback rules.
The decision to overturn the ruling was based mainly on technical aspects and it didn't address the merits of the covenants, said John Snodgrass, executive director of the Forest Beach Owners Association. That means the covenants still carry weight and the association can continue with other lawsuits aimed at houses it says are violations, he said.
"It doesn't help us, doesn't hurt," Snodgrass said. "It helps us know what I's need to be dotted and what T's need to be crossed before we go to trial."
The association has several other suits pending, including one claiming
a house on Heron Street was built within a required setback and another against a house on Avocet Street that involves beach access.
After the 2004 ruling, the town had said it would not issue any building permits for houses whose allowable size was calculated using the strand blocks. Strand blocks are the strips of land that run between the beach and the nearest property lines. They were set up by the island's original developers to maintain public beach access and aesthetics but have been bought up by various entities over the years.
Because the case lasted years, the town resumed permitting those beach homes, but warned property owners that the lawsuit could change things, town manager Steve Riley said.
Despite the overturned ruling, efforts to maintain the neighborhood's character have succeeded, said Town Councilman John Safay, who represents Forest Beach.
"There aren't going to be any more of those kinds of 10,000-square-foot monsters," he said. "It's just unfortunate that so many of them were built and we couldn't do anything about it."