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Neighbors in Naples learn they don't have full control of their own backyards

Posted at 10:52 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 22:52:15-05

NAPLES — A homeowner in Naples is fighting back, after being told he can't build a pool in his own backyard.

That man found out, it's a utility easement preventing him from building on his property, and the same thing affects 164 other houses in the Gulf Harbor neighborhood.

The man who lives there didn’t want to speak on camera, but his neighbor did and he said he was stunned to learn about this.

"Why would we have an easement on the back of our properties? I have no idea," said Samm Camarata.

Camarata said he’s lived in Gulf Harbor for about 30 years, and he never knew the utility easement was there.

"There’s no electrical or anything back here any longer. No cable, no water, nothing. So I don’t know what a utility easement would be back here for," said Camarata.

We talked with five different people who live in the neighborhood, and nobody knew this thing existed. That may be because it’s not easy to find.

The utility easement doesn’t show up when you look on the property appraiser’s website. The only place it appears is on the original development drawing we obtained that dates back to 1955.

Some of the lots in Gulf Harbor actually have that easement on two different sides of the property. One of them is listed on Zillow right now for $859,000, but while the buyer might think they’re getting all of the land, they’ll only be able to build on a much smaller portion of it.

We showed the drawings to professional surveyor David Hyatt at Marco Surveying and Mapping.

"I think it’s relatively common," said Hyatt.

Utility easements mean the county, or a utility company, owns the rights to use your land for anything from putting up power lines to digging drainage canals.

Hyatt said easements like that prevent homeowners from building docks, sheds, pools, or any other major structure.

"There may not be any facilities in there, but the easement is there, and it’s a legal problem you have to deal with. They don’t just go away because they aren’t just being used," said Hyatt.

Removing the utility easement starts with paying a $1,000 application fee to the County, that covers the cost for staff to review it. Then there’s a $2,000 advertising fee to list the proposal in the local paper.

Matt McLean is the Director of Collier County’s Development Review Division. He said the whole process ends with the proposal going before the Board of County Commissioners, and he said the County usually doesn't want to give up easement rights once it has them.

"We extremely value easements. Even ones that perhaps were put in back in the 50’s," said McLean.

That’s because McLean said the County pays a lot to acquire those easements in the first place.

We checked, and a total of 25 homeowners have completed this whole process of getting rid of easements on their property in the past three years, paying the county a grand total of more than $80,000.

Thankfully for now, Cammarata says he doesn’t have any plans for his backyard, but he also knows the challenge ahead if he ever wants to do some home improvement.

"If I was going to do anything back here where I would need to, I would have to fight them for it I guess," said Cammarata.

We learned the homeowner who is trying to put in the pool is fighting the county for it. He told us he’s trying to take them to court over it instead of paying the $3,000 and going through the whole process to get it removed, but Hyatt tells us, there’s an easy way to make sure you don’t have to deal with any of that.

He said to make sure you request a border survey of any property you plan to purchase, and know how to read it, or have a licensed surveyor look it over before sitting down for any contract discussions.