Sunday, June 25, 2006

Separation of Boards - Letter to City Commission from PZHRPB

June 7, 2006

Mayor Marc J. Drautz and Lake Worth City Commission
7 North Dixie Highway
Lake Worth, Florida 33460-3787

RE: Separation of Historic Preservation Duties from the Planning and Zoning Board

Dear Mayor and Commissioners:

At its meeting of May 17, 2006, the members of the Planning and Zoning Board requested that a letter be forwarded to the Commission identifying the following benefits of allowing the Planning and Zoning Board (Board) to continue performing the functions of the Historic Resource Preservation Board (HRPB).

1. The Board is currently comprised of residents who live east of Dixie Highway. While this provides a strong representation for people living in the City’s historic districts (since all of the City’s existing historic districts are east of Dixie Highway.), it does not represent the geographic and social diversity of Lake Worth. The Board is in dire need of representation from the western areas of Lake Worth (still true after the recent round of appointments). There is a potential to compound the problem with the establishment of a separate HRPB. Traditionally, the City Commission has found it difficult to appoint a qualified architect to serve on the current combined boards. This vacancy was addressed during the recent round of board appointments by the selection of an architect. However, another architect would also be needed on a separate HRPB in order to maintain the City’s certified local government status. Creation of two separate boards would double the need for architectural expertise which may still be difficult to find.

2. One of the more focused opponents to maintaining a combined board has suggested that there is an inherent conflict with the current Board’s functions. Rather than a “conflict” between the functions of a Planning and Zoning Board and a Historic Resources Preservation Board, I think the City continues to see and experience the benefits of having expertise, knowledge and abilities in both areas. This was most recently demonstrated at a recent meeting where we talked about a proposed project within a historical district and were able to discuss all sides of the issues involved. Instead of having a “stand-off” of two opposing sides, a board with combined functions is likely better able to strike a compromise and offer innovative alternatives in a collaborative environment.

Although we didn’t “decide” anything at that particular meeting, we were able to discuss all sides of the issue due to the board’s experience in dealing with various competing interests. Is it easy? No! But it is necessary to have this kind of dialog for the City to progress. Separate boards would not only create more conflict, they would extend the procedural and logistical review period for City staff, residents, the two separate boards and the applicant/owner.

3. Staffing needs for an additional board should be considered, especially given the budgetary and physical plant constraints that the City faces. The current system is already overburdened and suffers from under-staffing. Another consideration is the time required for a new board to get up to speed and comfortable with its new functions, with appointees having the required backgrounds, interest and abilities for the tasks at hand.

4. When the functions of the Planning and Zoning Board were consolidated, and the Historic Resource Preservation Board was established, it was done so that all issues could be heard at one time. This reduced the possibility of a long string of individual meetings with the potential for a “back-and-forth” between various boards as changes are made to a particular project. This was also done at a time when the City was trying to make the process as expeditious as possible in relation to the experience in other communities, but still remaining comprehensive in scope.

The attached is a replication of an e-mail sent to the Palm Beach Post in response the article that appeared in the Neighborhood Post insert on May 31. It is from Mr. Frank Palen, Esq. who is the author of the City’s historic preservation code. His response details some of the structural and procedural considerations explored during the time of its creation.

If you have questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at


Wes Blackman, Chairperson
Planning and Zoning Board

Dear Lady,

I served on the Lake Worth P&Z Board/HRPB for eight years (1994-2002) and was present at its birth. I’d like to clarify and expand on several points you make in your article of May 31, 2006 in the Neighborhood Post (“Officials Consider Separating Duties of Municipal Board”).

You state that “Lake Worth once had separate planning & zoning & historic preservation boards, but they were combined in 1997 to streamline the application process for new construction projects.” That is inaccurate. Before 1996, Lake Worth did have a rudimentary historic preservation ordinance, but it was never implemented, as far as I know, and there was never a separate historic preservation board. Until the new ordinance was adopted, the ordinance was a meaningless symbol. The only action the City had taken in the area of historic preservation was to support applications to the Federal Government prepared by interested citizens to have the Gulfstream Hotel and Old City Hall placed on the National Register. While these actions were certainly welcome, they provided these important buildings with no local regulatory protection. That was another incentive for adopting a new ordinance that would be adequately understood and properly implemented and staffed.

The current ordinance was adopted in November 1996 (Ord. 96-29, 11-05-96). We were also able to get the City to create one new staff position for an “Urban Designer” who could administer the preservation code at least part time and perform other planning reviews. The planning director and the urban designer were then able to prepare grant applications for state matching grants to complete the field studies that are necessary precursors to the establishment of historic districts. The first historic districts were not created until 1999 (College Park on 04-20-99 and Old Town on 06-01-99), as a result of these field studies. These grants were also used to prepare Design Guidelines for College Park, Old Town Historic District and Major Thoroughfares, work that has unfortunately stopped as planning resources have been diverted to other matters.

It is true that the 1996 Ordinance combined the functions of the P&Z and HRPB boards. That was partly for efficiency reasons, but also to comply with the Federal & State guidelines for “Certified Local Governments” (“CLG”) -- with CLG certification, the City qualified for preferential treatment in the award of state and federal grants and incentives. A non-CLG board would not qualify for these incentives. The CLG requirements also provide for a certain mix of professionals to serve on the Board, which is easier to satisfy if you use the P&Z Board as the core. CLG designation is in fact a backhanded way of the Federal Government mandating that local historic boards be comprised largely of professionals with backgrounds and training relevant to the Board’s work. Local boards comprised of untrained, technically unqualified preservation enthusiasts, even if well intended, do more harm than good in the administration of a highly technical, highly intrusive regulatory program. It’s easy to be an architecture critic, but it takes proper training and education to fairly administer historic preservation regulations. They are among the most complicated in the realm of “zoning”.

The merger of boards was also encouraged by the negative example of the independent Delray Beach Preservation Board, which at the time appeared to be a disruptive influence. It was felt that Lake Worth’s historic preservation regulations would work more effectively if they were integrated into the development review process from the beginning, not set apart and made adversarial. It should be noted that consolidation of planning review functions has been a long standing City policy. Not only was the HRPB function combined, but in 1996 the former Planning Board was combined with the former Zoning Board of Appeals (Phil Spinelli was the only holdover) and the former Sign Code Appeals Board. I believe this consolidation of “planning” functions has improved coordination of development reviews and resulted in better decision making overall.

The Nuisance Abatement Board was added to P&Z Board functions later. I think that was a mistake. The function of nuisance abatement should have gone to the Special Master. It’s really code enforcement. Consolidation of functions can go too far if it is not properly justified.

I don’t think the “problem” is with the composition of the Board; the problem is with the level of public resources devoted to urban planning functions. The level of staffing, in particular, is grossly inadequate for a City of Lake Worth's size and aspirations. Things will not improve by adding more “Planning Pooh-Bahs”. We need more well trained processionals who can do the hard and often tedious work these sophisticated regulatory ordinances require.


Frank Palen

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"