County considers rules for mailboxes and paving on right-of-way

OKEECHOBEE — “The county recognizes private owners have historically placed objects in road right-of-ways for various reasons without a permit, including but not limited to trees, flower beds, swing sets, culvert headwalls, brick paver/decorative stamped concrete driveways, fences and mobile homes,” Okeechobee County Public Works Director Lee Evett told county commissioners at their Aug. 11 meeting.

On Thursday, commissioners considered an administrative regulation dealing with the issue of private property in the county right-of-way. Since it was considered in a workshop session, they did not vote on the issue on Thursday. It will be on the agenda for a vote at a future meeting.

Under the proposed regulation, items in the right-of-way now will not be affected unless the county has to remove something to do work in the right-of-way.

The regulation also restricts materials for new mailboxes to those allowed by the Florida Department of Transportation in the state right-of-way.

“Mail boxes have a unique place in our world,” Mr. Evett said. “They do not require a permit from the county. They also can be very dangerous if not constructed in proper fashion.”

He said the six feet minimum right-of-way adjacent to the county roads or residential street is considered the recovery zone for drivers, in case something in the road (such as an animal or a child) requires a driver to swerve off the paved road. Mailbox materials should be chosen to cause minimum damage to a vehicle should that happen.

This is a microwave mounted on a post that is not regulation for mailboxes.

This is a microwave mounted on a post that is not regulation for mailboxes.

Nationwide, approximately 100 people a year are killed in automotive accidents involving mailboxes, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

The proposed county regulation would adopt the same mailbox rules currently in place for state right-of-way. The county regulation would apply to new mail boxes.

Mr. Evett said for the safety of drivers, certain materials such as brick, stone and concrete are not allowed.

In addition, mailboxes may be anchored by a 4-inch (maximum size) wooden post or a 2-inch (maximum size) steel pole, with the end of post buried no more than 24 inches in the ground.

He said the non-standard mailboxes can be expensive to replace.

mailbox

Mailbox in Okeechobee County

“Some of them are the size of small condominium,” he said.

The Post Office tells you where you will put your mailbox, said Mr. Evett.

“I don’t understand having a safe zone and then the Post Office tells you you have to put the mailbox there,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper.

Mr. Evett showed the commissioners photos of some examples of unusual mailboxes.

He said the popular manatee and dolphin mailboxes fall within those permitted if they are made from resin and anchored by a post that meets the state guidelines.dolphin mailbox

“The ones that are a problem are the concrete ones,” he said.

In some cases, the problem is not the mailbox, but the post used to anchor the mailbox.

He said there are three ways to enforce the regulation. First, he said, the county can send notices to all of the masonry contractors advising them of the restrictions on anything placed on the county right-of-way. Second, the building department can provide this information when anyone takes out a building permit. Third, whenever someone applies for a culvert permit, “we can tell residents at that time about mailbox rules.”

“The mailbox issue is emotionally charged,” said Commissioner Terry Burroughs. He said he has received a lot of phone calls on this issue.

He said they need to make it clear this is not something the county will do retroactively.

“We aren’t going to go around picking up people’s mailboxes,’ he said.
County administrator Robbie Chartier said the county does not currently take down mailboxes.

“We notify property owner when we are coming to replace a culvert, and tell them to take their mailbox down,” said Mrs. Chartier. “They replace it after the work is done.”

“If they have something already, it’s not going to be affected unless the county has to do work in the area,” said Mr. Burroughs.

County Attorney John Cassels said, “the vast majority of mailboxes you buy at Home Depot, you put them up, you don’t have a problem.”

He pointed out the right-of-way where the mailboxes is county property.

“The county is not going out to pick up offending mailboxes,” said Mr. Cassels. “We are trying to avoid new mausoleums being built in the right-of-way.”

“Going forward, we would not allow any of these structures to be constructed on county right-of-way,” said County Commission Chairman Frank Irby. “If you had to tear one out due to culvert work, the property owner would not be allowed to construct that type of structure.”

Commissioners also debated the county’s responsibility for paving in the county right-of-way when culverts are replaced.

Until two years ago, if the county replaced a culvert, the area was just covered with shellrock, said Chairman Irby. Now if the county, removes paving from the right-of-way to replaced a culvert, the county repaves with asphalt or concrete.

Some residents have used more expensive decorative driveway materials and extended their driveways into the county right-of-way.

For driveways on the county right-of-way, Mr. Evett, said the county would only pave with asphalt or concrete. If the resident wanted more expensive materials replaced, the resident would have to pay for the additional expense.

“We want to make clear for people who do construct things in the right-of-way if they use unusual materials, if we have to remove something for county work will only replace it with standard materials,” said Mr. Evett.

Ted Kelchner, who said he lives in the Riverlake Estates where the county plans to replace culverts, objected to this policy.

“I have a stamp type drive way. I have a lot of money invested in it. You encourage people who build homes to improve their driveway. Then all of the sudden it’s a problem if a culvert has to be replaced,” he said.

“I have lived in the area for 18 years, I have maintained the right-of-way myself,” he said. “I expect if the county comes in and cuts my driveway, they will put it back the way they found it.”

“You guys encourage that we improve our property,” Mr. Kelchner said. “You charge more taxes if we improve our property.

“I realize it’s county property, but we maintain it,” he said. “You own it, but we maintain it.

Commissioner Culpepper said he is in favor of the county paying for the replacement of the decorative driveway materials, especially for the first time the county replaces a culvert.

Mr. Evett said that some materials can run into a great deal of expense. For example, in an another Florida county, a homeowner used imported handmade tile.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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