The Floral City rental that Commissioner Scott Carnahan calls his home is not permitted as a full-time residence because it’s considered an agricultural structure, county records show.
Carnahan, who lists the cottage at 8340 S. Clark Wise Terrace as his home on county voter records, moved in last summer during his re-election campaign when opponent Scott Adams sued him on a residency issue. Adams claimed Carnahan actually lives in the home he owns in Crystal River instead of residing within his commission district.
The house, a 1965 cabin, is located on 42 acres of rural agricultural land off County Road 48 east of Floral City. It’s unseen from the road and is on a private dirt driveway that serves both the cabin and the owner’s house.
According to county records, the property owners, Ronald and Darlene Gottus, moved the cabin from another location to Floral City in 2004 as a “hobby building” to replace a home that burned down and removed in 1995. They received permits for a well, septic and electrical for the hobby building.
In 2012, Darlene Gottus asked the county to permit the building as “agricultural housing.”
“This would include persons hired to work on our property, to provide security for our property or for agri-tourism where the residents may be learning about agriculture,” she wrote in a letter to the county’s planning department.
Gottus also asked that the impact fee be waived, which the county agreed to because the house was not being utilized as a full-time residence. The current impact fee for a single-family house is $4,809.
Then-County Attorney Kerry Parsons said in a memo to the planning director that the permit to convert the cottage to a residence would include this language: “ No impact fees were assessed, due to the nature of the use as an agriculture housing unit which falls under the purview of the Right-to-Farm Act. The county retains the right to reevaluate and assess an impact fee, if it is later found that the dwelling is not being utilized as an agricultural housing unit.”
Her memo adds: “By adding that language, if upon a later investigation it is found that the dwelling is in fact not being utilized as an agricultural housing unit, we have retained the right to assess impact fees.”
County officials said late Friday they are unsure if the structure requires an impact fee because a prior home on the same site burned down in 1995. Replacing one house with another on the same site does not require an impact fee, they said.
Carnahan did not respond to numerous phone calls and texts Friday. He told a reporter earlier in the week that the owner and county had worked out any issues and that he wouldn’t talk about it.
Darlene Gottus also could not be reached for comment.
Assistant County Administrator Steve Lachnicht, who also oversees the Department of Growth Management, said he wanted to learn more about the permit issue.
“It’s quite an unusual scenario,” Lachnicht, a former Alachua County growth management director, said.
Although they are elected by voters, county commissioners must live in the district they represent. For Carnahan, that’s District 5, which includes Floral City and portions of Inverness.
In 2018, just prior to the August primary, former Commissioner Adams filed suit against Carnahan and Supervisor of Elections Susan Gill, claiming Carnahan was not living in the residence he had listed on his voter registration. Adams wanted Carnahan’s name removed from the ballot and tossed from office; a judge refused, and Carnahan defeated Adams in the primary before being re-elected to a second four-year term in November.
Carnahan acknowledged at the time he “made a small mistake” by living a portion of his term outside his district, but 10 days after Adams filed suit Carnahan said he signed a lease on a house on Clark Wise Terrace in Floral City. He changed his voter registration to reflect the new address.
The 1,008-square-foot building had been moved to its Floral City location from another property on Withlapopka Isles in 2004 to replace a structure that had been down, Darlene Gottus told county planning planning officials in a 2012 letter.
Gottus in 2006 applied for a building permit, but the county determined it was exempt from permitting because its use as an agricultural hobby house. The state protects farms and other agricultural structures from many local regulations, including permitting.
In 2012, Gottus applied for another building permit to convert the cottage to a residence. At the same time, Gottus sent letters to the county’s planning department seeking assistance.
“Although this building was a home, the term Hobby House had been used on the permit as we did not know what we would use the building for at the time,” Gottus wrote in 2012. “We would like to make sure this structure is a legal structure with legal uses.”
The county issued a permit in 2012 for the conversion but it expired a year later with no work done.
The Chronicle asked Building Division Director Carl Jones by email to review the permit to see if it allowed for full time residency in the house.
His response: “No inspections were performed and no certificate of occupancy was issued for a residence. Since it was a cottage before, then the assumption would be that it could remain in use as a cottage since no authorized work was done.”
Jones said later Friday there may be a question whether the impact fee is necessary since the cottage replaced a home that burned down. What wasn’t known was whether the prior structure had been permitted as a full-time residence or was used for a different purpose.
Lachnicht, the assistant county administrator, said state laws that protect agriculture from permitting do not exempt residences.
“You put people in it,” he said, “it’s not exempt.”