By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
EDGEWATER - The folks at the American Legion Post 285 know a few things about fighting battles. They're veterans with honorable discharges.
But when the legion moved into its new facility at 4497 U.S. 1, the veterans' organization got a feud none expected. The organization and Edgewater seemed locked into a Hatfields-and-McCoys relationship city officials say is completely unnecessary.
At its Oct. 19 meeting, the Volusia County Council heard from Vice Commander Don Sanders who said the organization wants to unannex from the city.
"We want to talk about annexing from the city back into the county," he told the council during public comment.
"Good luck with that," County Chair Frank Bruno responded.
Mr. Bruno is an army veteran. His term ends this month. The council can't take actions on items mentioned during public comment - it must place them on later agendas as business items.
Mr. Sanders said annexation into Edgewater had cost the American Legion about $92,000, and he requested waivers on county sewage impact fees.
While the legion's building is annexed into Edgewater, it's on the county's water and sewer system. Previously it had a septic tank, but because of larger occupancy, had to attach to the sewer system.
In a phone interview after the meeting, Joie Alexander, council member from New Smyrna Beach, said the county is working with the legion to see what it can do to reduce the fee, or extend its payment over time.
"I will work on it to see what we can do, if anything," she said. "We waived some of those (impact fees) anyway."
In a phone interview after the meeting, Commander Wallace "Eddie" Ferreira said the legion went with annexation into Edgewater as it moved into its new building in August 2011. He wasn't at the council meeting, and said Mr. Sanders wasn't speaking with the legion's board's knowledge, but was expressing its opinions.
Mr. Ferreira said after annexing into the city, the legion got hit with numerous expenses to bring the building up to various codes. He said former council member Theodore "Ted" Cooper assured them those expenses wouldn't happen. Mr. Cooper died last December.
"We, the American Legion, put our faith in him," Mr. Ferreira said. "He being a councilman telling us that if we went with the city there wouldn't be an impact fee and a lot of things. After we annexed into the city, and we paid thousands for it, they started telling us we have to do things."
For example, the legion paid about $9,000 to bring the building up to state codes under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. A fire-safety system cost about $21,000. Plumbing upgrades ran about $8,000. The county impact fee, he said, is about $2,400. But the whopper was sewage and water lift stations that ended up costing more than $40,000, according to Mr. Ferreira.
But, these were things the legion would had to have done whether in the city or county, according to Fire Chief Steve Cousins and Code Supervisor Jeff Lariscy. In a phone interview, they said the city waived about $13,000 of impact fees and offered fewer requirements for occupying the building than the county. That, they claim, likely saved the American Legion some money.
Chief Cousins said the building had been a boat shop, and with the change in use and occupancy, up to 200 now, several state requirements came into play.
"The county's hands were tied on that; the city's hands were tied on that," he said.
Mr. Ferreira said that many of the upgrades were beneficial to the legion and he doesn't resent all of them. However, he said the city has sought to prevent the legion from hosting Wounded Warriors events and told it to remove American flags. That, he said, is what gets blood pressures at the post up the most.
"With all these fees and the city telling me I'm in code violation because you let the flowers die, you're in violation because of your sign - it just seems they find little things to pick at," he said.
Mr. Lariscy, a Navy veteran who qualifies for membership in the legion, said he's not trying to make anyone's life hard. He said the city has codes, as does the county, and he's obligated to enforce them evenhandedly. He noted that in many cases code issues can be resolved over time to reduce burdens, but it takes communication from property owners to do that.