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Small business owner claims county putting big hurdles in front of him

May 15, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

The owner of Pupi Garden Nursery and a translator for him asked Lehigh community planners to help him with a problem concerning a "pole barn" that he has constructed behind his business at 205 Homestead Road.

The owner is Wilfred Garcia, who speaks Spanish and brought Rogelio Alejo with him to translate and tell or problems he says he has had with Lee Community Development.

Alejo said the owner of the nursery has been told to tear down a pole barn that he built to store mulch, fertilizer and small plantings for his business because he didn't obtain a permit to build it. The nursery owner said he was told he didn't need a permit.

Article Photos

Pupi Garden Nursery owner Wifred Garcia in front of a “poled barn.” The county has told Garcia to make certain changes to his property or he will not be allowed to stay in business.

A call to the county's permitting and licensing bureau was not returned,

It is not a barn but a poled-covering with a roof to provide shade. The sides are open. It is neatly built and is being used by the nursery in the rear of the building and cannot be seen from Homestead Road.

"Garcia says he was told by county officials that he didn't need a permit," Alejo said. He explained that it was a 32 by 32 foot so-called "pole barn" built only for outside storage and away from the hot sun for small plants. He said the owner was told he had to spend money for extensive landscaping at his business, which used to be an animal grooming parlor. It is located on a sharp curve on Homestead Road just a mile or so from the downtown area.

"He feels discriminated. He had planned for more spending such as all the landscaping he was told he must have and he is pleading for help from the community," Alejo said. "He's been told that he must provide 186 shrubs and 24 trees planted 10 feet apart or he will be forced out of business. He didn't count on having to spend more money and that is a problem for him."

Members of the Lehigh Acres Community Planning Corp. first noted that they had noticed a vehicle in front of the building with a "for sale" sign on it and also a boat. Members told Garcia through Alejo that they had to be removed or there would be more problems with code enforcement officials. Garcia agreed to move the personal vehicles.

LACPP member Mohamed Yasin said since the business was a nursery, he should beautify the outside front of the building. Alejo, the translator said he understood and would relay that information to Garcia, who says that is something he has planned to do.

Pupi Garden Nursery opened in January and Garcia has hundreds of plantings in the rear of the building. It is one of the largest nurseries in Lehigh and friends, he said, are glad to see such a business in the area.

At one point during the meeting, Garcia was asked by his interpreter if he wanted to say more.

Garcia stood up from his seat in the area where visitors were sitting and began to talk, but broke down in tears and could not continue.

"He's really upset about how he feels he has been treated by the county in this whole thing," Alejo said. "His friends believe it is making his health worse.

"He didn't put up the open-faced pole barn to break the law or to hurt anyone, but now he feels he is being financially drained to do what the county is requiring. He is here tonight asking for your help," Alejo said.

Member Frank LaRosa said residents in Lehigh who want to start businesses "should not have to go with things like this with staff on the county level."

Jose Rodriguez of Lehigh is an employee at the nursery. He said Garcia is going to do what is required of him. But he said the staff on the county level make no sense in finding fault with the poled covering in the rear of the nursery.

The building is being changed inside while an array of all kinds of tropical plantings are outside. Rodriguez said the nursery plans to also bring some of its stock to the front so it can be seen from Homestead Road.

Already, some of the stock is stored on a big flat-bed near the front of the business.

Garcia, 62, came to Lehigh five years ago and just recently opened up his business. He provides all types of nursery and planting services.

Upon reviewing the site plan and photographs of the Pupi Nursery that were presented to the LACCP on May 9, as well as hearing from the property owner, William Garcia through his translator, Rogelio Alejo, the LACPP board said it will send a favorable recommendation forward to Lee Community Development, noting that the following guidelines were provided for the Pupi Nursery.

According to Jacqui Chevalier Hill, who was taking minutes at the meeting, the board passed a resolution saying it is prudent to add landscaping plants to enhance the front of the sparse building to coordinate with a business that sells plants. And since there is already a fence, it is not necessary to plant trees (of which type is unspecified by the county, so they could be palms which would offer no buffering anyway, shrubs and groundcover which will not be seen. And since the "poled barn" is not in the view of the road, it is not necessary to put a fascia, which had also been demanded by the county.

Rogelio Alejo said he wanted to thank each member on the board for the opportunity to talk about thecounty requirements.

Several on the board made comments about rigid requirements often made by county staff that they say make it almost impossible for local people to open a business.

"All Mr. Garcia wants to do is run a small business that he believes is good for that area of Lehigh. His business is meant to help others beautify their property. He has hired one local person and may hire others.

"This provides opportunity for jobs. He is currently working on the building inside to turn it into an inside nursery for products that are also available at most nurseries," Alejo said.

"You could see tonight how emotional of an issue this is for Mr. Garcia. He wants to do the right thing and be treated right and he doesn't understand why county staff has told him he needs a white fence around his property and certain other things that are not needed," he said.

Pupi Garden Nursery and Wifredo Garcia can be reached at 239-333-7628. He speaks Spanish, so ask for someone who can speak English if necessary. Garcia said he provides bushes, shrubs, ornamental plants, and fruit trees and all types of palms. He also provides ornamental blocks and stone, decorate pots, mailboxes and fountains in addition to top soil, sand, rock and mulch.

"I'm just trying to open up a small business in Lehigh," Garcia said.



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