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Lehigh Acres home demolished after court ruling

By Staff | Oct 1, 2009

A house under construction at 713 Lincoln Ave. in Lehigh has been torn down and workmen are finishing the crushing and removal of the cement base this week. The house was torn down Monday, Sept. 21, because it was being built on property not owned by the man building the house.
The soil it took to elevate the property is being removed and the lot must be returned to its original condition with local vegetation.
“I don’t understand it,” said Karl M. Sterr, who at one time worked for the old Lehigh Corporation while he lived in Germany. He eventually moved to Lehigh and has been a resident for many years. His job was to entice Europeans to invest in land in Lehigh and to bring them here for a tour of the area with hopes that the person would buy a lot. Many did, Sterr said, and are still living in Lehigh.
He stood near the house he was paying a builder to construct while bulldozers and heavy duty wrecking equipment tore into the roof, pulling to the ground and eating into the walls.
The house was nearly finished with inside stud walls up, he said.
Sterr said what was happening to him was such “a unique and unbelievable thing” that he still can’t understand it.
“My builder got a permit from Lee County and began construction on the home. The documents all appeared to be fine and legal, but an adjacent landowner, showed up with a survey, Kerr said, that he maintains had not been recorded by Lee County.
In a written statement, Kerr said he had received a letter from Lee County stating that the Property Appraiser’s Office is responsible for the geographic mapping of properties in Lee County.
“My builder applied for a survey and the construction permit for a new home construction. The permit was granted.
“The survey matched the information provided by the Property Appraiser’s office and therefore the clearing of the lot for the construction of the home was started.”
He said a neighbor who lives adjacent to the property came out after the construction was nearly finished and “stated they were his lots that were being cleared and built on.”
“I requested documentation from him in the event they differed from the information we had in our hands,” Kerr said.
After a back and forth with lawyers, Kerr said the court “decided the house must be torn down within 60 days” and that he would be required to pay $19,000 for new vegetation for a lot that is about one-third of an acre in size.
He said a judge ruled that the state of the lot was not original but a “private park.”
Kerr said the lot appeared to be unimproved and looked like any other lot in Lehigh with brush and trees.
Kerr said he offered to give the neighbor three adjacent lots that he owned as compensation, but the offer was refused.
“Although the builder did adhere to all the the rules of Lee County, I was sentenced to be the guilty party, therefore the innocent was made the guilty party,” Sterr said.
Eckart Homes of Lehigh was the builder of the new 2,000-square-foot house.
Kerr owns other lots in the area and has sold many of them and homes have been built on some.
The case ended up in court and Kerr said the ruling was against him. The neighbor is Joe Zangari, a local businessman.
According to court papers supplied by Kerr, the following was the court’s ruling:
“The Zangaris have lost a part of their home, a park-like setting painstakingly tended by Mr. Zangari for his family, a private oasis buffering their homestead from the developing neighborhood. And these lots also protected the Zangaris against any argument about the encroachment of their driveway into the lots.”
According to court records, the Zangaris sought a permanent injunction to remove or demolish the house and pay for restoration of the vegetation and lawn to a semblance of the mature forest and park setting that it once was.
“The defendants’ (Kerr) sole defense is that the Zangaris should have done more to stop them from building. The defendants are essentially seeking an equitable lien for improvement made, which amount to approximately $97,000, not including the cost of the land ($50,000) and Eckart Homes’ asserted profits.
“Eckart Homes is not entitled to the value of the improvements. First, neither defendant pled equitable lien as a defense. Second, an equitable lien is not available where a party received actual notice of an adverse claim so as to put an ordinary person on notice,” the ruling read.
“I’ve lost around $300,000 because of this situation,” Kerr said.
“It just doesn’t seem right that we built a home on land that we believed to be owned me,” Kerr said.
“I just don’t understand how all of this happened when for years it was recorded that I owned that land,” he said.