Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Letter from Ed Schaerer and Response:

July 19, 2006 submittal to City officials, (revised comments as of 7/22/06)

To: All City Commissioners of the City of Lake Worth

And members of the Planning & Zoning Board.

From: Ed Schaerer / Resident of L.W. for over 43 years

209 S. Palmway, Lake Worth, Fl. 33460

Regarding: Present Fiscal State of City Government, Fiscal Responsibilities and Development Issues.

Dear District Commissioners and Planning & Zoning Members,

First of all, please allow me to thank each and every one of you for your personal time and sacrifice that you have decided to give to the City of Lake Worth. It should be obvious that your decision to become involved in city government was to better our community. With that in mind, I would like to address the following issues and respectfully ask that each and every one of you kindly acknowledge my letter to you, so I can at least confirm delivery was made to your attention. If you care to respond back to me with your own personal opinion or views as well that would certainly be welcomed.

Foremost, I am very concerned as to the present financial state of our City and its current level of effectiveness administratively, as well as the ability to meet its monetary obligations in order to operate as a municipality and fund the various City departments.

This combined with a great many other issues, has me in dismay how and why the City is taking such an unusual and detrimental approach to what would appear to be many lost chances to make a positive change for the “Greater Good” of the City. Certainly we can all agree as to the importance of managing funds received from our current tax base is essential. And if we are having trouble meeting our fiscal responsibilities or recognize that more money is needed to pay for required city services, we need to be thinking positively how we can expand the tax base while improving our City at the same time.

With that being said, it is imperative that City officials remain open to finding new and resourceful ways to help the City grow in a positive direction. Naturally this will require substantial planning and community acceptance for change. Acceptance of CHANGE is without a doubt the most important and fundamental requirement needed to move forward. Yet, change is so often resisted by the uninformed masses, and cannot see the wisdom of a project or understanding of the goal. Without the acceptance of change even a municipality will fall into stagnation and will not be able to survive.

An example of one of my concerns to bring to your attention is the recent and sudden surprise decision of the City to reject what seemed to be a valid multi-family development opportunity that was to be built on 4 th Avenue North and Federal Hwy. I ask you, what is the City’s real agenda or position on growth, and why was the developer of this project apparently given so much encouragement to go forward for such a long period of time and not given the final approval needed to develop this site? Assuredly the developer must have spent a considerable amount of money over this period of time only to suffer a financial loss. How does the city benefit from this action? And is the city taking into consideration the financial losses born by the developer, as well as the possibility of legal recourse taken against the City?

I simply don’t understand the reasoning to mislead or defeat those who are coming to our City with investment dollars in one hand and plans in the other, who could be improving the community. Do we want change or not?

What is the underlying problem here, how can we solve it, and is this the kind of message that we are going to be continuing to send out to the people who try to do business in the City of Lake Worth. Over the years, I have spoken with countless numbers of people who had an interest to bring their money and ideas to Lake Worth. Some were interested in just buying a home and living here and others were contractors and developers looking for renovation and new growth opportunities. And it is with some shame that I tell you, how the City has been unfair an inept in a great many cases in dealing with these people. When will the time come for the City to recognize these inefficiencies and begin to take corrective actions that will hold in place? As a result of the City’s questionable to poor service over the years to the public, and with the uncertain and constantly changing interpretation of policy procedures and continuing staffing problems, have given the City of Lake Worth the bad reputation that it deserves.

Again, I ask you. Is there any individual on this Commission or Planning & Zoning Board that honestly feels as though our City has a good reputation to do business with or is “User Friendly” when it comes to most any aspect related to real estate. Such as the issuance of permits, inspections, code enforcement, planning and zoning issues or community development. And how is the public at large supposed to be able to deal with the real enigma or black hole of the “Historical Preservation” issue.

Although there is a list of definitions that explains what qualifies to be a Historic building, however to the best of my knowledge and research, there are no defined guidelines or clarity as to what the administrative procedures for Historical Preservation really are. Therefore, how are we as residents, or contractors and developers supposed to deal with the “Historic Preservation” factor when it comes to demolition, relocation or preservation?

Dealing with the “Historic Preservation” aspect as it is, seems to be a major stumbling block for many residents who simply want to get permits to make needed repairs. But sometimes can be required to do more work and spend more money than what was intended, or forced to use certain mandatory materials. Some just give up shaking their heads in dismay and others find that their request for permit was turned down completely while trying to make minor upgrades or renovations to their home. Owners must get the approval of a certain City employee or individual, and based on who ever that person is at the time, may or may not have an opinion favorable to the resident and the requested change. Most anything to do with the word “Historical” in it, means there is a whole lot of political and administrative confusion and red tape. And as the city staff positions are constantly changing, with no new clear guidelines to give the owner, it is left to who ever the City employee is, that sits in the chair at that time to give his / her interpation. This is unfair and unacceptable.

There are many even more extenuating circumstances and some very serious and litigious issues that come before us now. This “Historic Preservation” factor combined with other City procedure can have an enormous impact. Take for example when Planning & Zoning Board Members cast their vote as to the acceptance or denial of any given proposed development.

The consequence of the Planning & Zoning Boards decision to approve or deny a project will seriously affect the real value and marketability of residential and commercial real estate.

By the City taking a position to limit the rights of use and disposition of people’s real property, and to do so unfairly or without appropriate policies in place, is likely to have severe financial and legal repercussions.

For example, say you are an owner of a property, or lets say there is a group of (6) six property owners that are all contiguous to each other and each one has signed a legally binding contracts to sell their properties to a Developer. There are now several millions of dollars in the assemblage that is promised to pay and the transfer of title ownership is in the wings of the Boards final decision. Let’s also assume that (2) old houses in this group may or may not have any real Historical significance but the project happens to be in a Historic neighborhood. The two questionable older houses have managed to be relocated to a new location regardless of their Historical relevancy. And let’s just say there were about twenty very good reasons why this would be a beneficial project for the City to approve.

The Developer then appeals directly to the neighborhood residents in good faith and meets openly as to the building a luxury product. And at the same time is working diligently with City Planners and other officials to try and ascertain what is actually required to meet all areas of compliance, such as building setbacks, landscaping, present approved zoning, building height, parking and so on. During which time the Developer asks the City for very specific guidelines as to what will be acceptable in order to get an approval.

Think about this very carefully. The Developer works with City Planners and other officials to try and determine what is required to meet all areas of compliance, and asks for very specific guidelines as to what will be acceptable in order to get an approval.

Lets further assume in this scenario that the city does not adequately give the Developer clear and decisive guidelines on how to proceed or what the City is willing to accept in order to be approved for development.

Subsequently, a regular public meeting and Planning & Zoning forum is held to address issues with this developers project. And as it is normally the case of most well thought out projects and opportunities to enhance the community one way or another for the “Greater Good.” This means change. Yes, that’s right it’s that bad word again for the negative thinking people, CHANGE. And once again as a result of human nature, with any kind of change often comes the mob.

The public meeting room will then fill with a much larger group of the nay- sayers who are opposing change in general. And the topic is rarely an important issue or factor for this group. The main thing is they want to stop it what ever it is, because things will never be the same again if we make that change. And of course this will be the group that will speak out the loudest and block the view of what others are trying see that might very well be a good improvement for the City in a great number of ways.

Although the Commissioners and Board Members who are present might understand the good business sense and positive attributes of the proposed project, they underscore the greater good of the project by looking into the audience and start doing the simple math of how many people are here that oppose the project and are speaking the loudest, versus how many people are here that promote it. Now the Board Members and elected Commissioners start thinking about what is the path of least resistance for that particular moment in time, and how it might be political suicide to deny the now angry mob. Will the City Officials walk out of the meeting with the cheers of the mob behind them, counting up in their minds the false votes for the next election? Or will they look carefully and responsibly at the project that has been placed before them, considering the many ramifications and need to make the overall best decision as to the greatest benefit and highest and best use for the City of Lake Worth. What the outcome of this similar to life scenario will be is yet to be seen.

However, it would indeed be a very sad state of affairs if the City officials and powers that be, were to base their decision making process based solely on the number of people who show up in a public forum to resist change. And that we need for our City leaders to take into consideration the majority of people who did vote for you but do not have the time to attend public meetings. Don’t forget that these are the people who have placed their trust and confidence in you to make the right choices and decisions on their behalf. We need your sound judgment and a good fiscal policy that makes dollars as well good sense for the City of Lake Worth.

I respectfully submit to the City Commissioners as well as the Planning & Zoning Board Members to weigh carefully as to what is the “Greater Good” for the whole City, and in favor of positive change and fiscal responsibility.

You are currently faced with such a decision, whereas a proposed new high- end luxury condominium development project of which the likes the City of Lake Worth has never seen before, is in your hands for approval or denial. This proposed project located on 3rd Avenue S. of Palmway & Lakeside, is now being targeted with a lot of negativity. I am directly impacted by this development, as I would literally look out of my front door and across the street and would see a very big CHANGE.

This change does not scare me, or have me complaining that I would have to look up a little higher to the see blue sky. And I really don’t care what color the building will be painted. As far as the height goes, why not build it to the already approved 60-foot height that is established in our present zoning. I also do not believe the wind currents will be diminished and will continue to flow with the tropical breezes. Instead of living in a problematic rental based neighborhood, it will become one of a more owner based. And perhaps this change will bring back more pride of living in the area. The present power poles and overhead electric lines scheduled to go underground will certainly not be missed. (Revised comments here) (Although I just discovered at the last P&Z meeting on 7/19/06 there was a current moratorium on alleyways and abandonment of such, and apparently this was also new information to the developer, and this is after many meetings with staff and with several department heads. So, this is in my opinion another prime example of leading developers down a path of deception. Otherwise I would encourage the alleyway abandonment as long as access was not denied in any form to surrounding residents.) Look how many other alleyways have been approved for abandonment in the past. I also believe that living so close to such a new landmark building will positively affect and increase my homes market value. And I will be very happy to see the extra landscaping on the west side of Palmway and have hopes that it too will slow down the fast traffic coming down Palmway.

In closing, please consider this letter as my request for you to act on my behalf to make positive changes that will help make our City a better place to live and work. And definitely to approve the permit and plans to build the luxury condominium project south for Palmway and Lakeside.


Ed Schaerer

My response:

Dear Mr. Schaerer:

Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful letter. I met you just briefly before the Planning and Zoning Board meeting last Wednesday night. Unfortunately, I was unable to start the meeting due to a professional scheduling conflict. I am not sure if you know this, but I am a professional urban planner and have been one for 23 years, 17 years of which have been in Palm Beach County. I have lived in Lake Worth for 12 years and currently live on Columbia Drive in College Park. I have also been on the board for 8 years and in my 5th year as Chairman.

I did eventually make it back to the meeting, but only after the alley issue concerning the proposed development at Third Avenue and South Palmway had been discussed. If you stayed for that presentation, you know that the Board made a unanimous recommendation to the City Commission to deny the alley abandonment and relocation request.

As a way to disseminate information, I have started a "blog". You can find it by clicking on the following: wesblackman.blogspot.com In it, I address many of the issues identified in your letter. There is a lengthy discussion of the Board's recent denial of the townhouse project in the 300 block of North Federal Hwy and there is a summary of the meeting where we informally discussed the project you reference later in your letter. I encourage you to review what I have said about our situation and the failings of the process.

You are absolutely correct - the City needs to have standard and decipherable regulations so that the development community and the residents know what to expect and what is expected of them as we proceed through the development review process - particularly as it relates to matters involving Historic Preservation. I have outlined a whole series of revisions and updates to our Historic Districts - they are listed on my "blog" and I recently shared these with the City Commission as part of an update on the Board's activities.

Unfortunately, we are left in the role of Cassandra in that we are able to predict the future but seemingly can do nothing about it due to budget constraints. We need a full staff of competent and well-trained professionals in the Community Development Department - and a full staff for a City of our size would include a director, an urban designer, two planners dedicated to review of projects and two planners dedicated to addressing long term issues (studies, up-dates to the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code, etc.). The prospects of having such a staff are dim at best in the near to mid-term which is a travesty given the critical period that Lake Worth is in as it relates to its physical development.

You might be aware that the City has undertaken a substantial effort as it relates to the development of a Master Plan, which really will take the form of changes to the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations. These are now coming to fruition and a major joint meeting of the City Commission, Planning and Zoning Board, CRA and members of the Stakeholders Advisory Committee will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the Golf Course Club House this coming Thursday, July 27th. I would encourage your attendance at that meeting if at all possible. However, having all the most up-to-date regulations that reflect citizen input is like buying a new car without wheels or tires if you don't have the appropriate number of staff to administer the regulations.

With your permission, if you could send me the electronic copy of your letter, I would like to include it in my 'blog" for others to see along with this response. If you chose not to, I understand - but I do think it would be helpful as many people use it as a reliable source of information. The issues you raise are improtant ones.

Again, thanks for your letter. I would be interested if you have heard from anyone else.

Wes Blackman

And in response to my response:

Dear Mr. Wes Blackman,
Thank you very much for taking the time to respond back to me. So far you are the only person who has been courteous enough or has found the time to respond. So, thank you again for acknowledging me with your e-mail, as well as for your service and expertise that you definitely bring to the City. It is obvious, that you are more keenly aware of the City's problems than I am, and I wish you encouragement in turning the tides of our City affairs that are in such disorder.
Whenever possible, I would like to try an add a positive statement or an idea or two that might be helpful to solving the many problems, rather than just making a complaint. Perhaps I might be able to attend more of the upcoming meetings, and see if I might be able to make a contribution in this area.
Attached please find a copy of my last e-mail response which was recently sent to the City Manager and City Commissioners along with a slight revision of the letter that I handed to you last week. It will be interesting to see if anyone else is willing to communicate with me.
I apologize for sounding negative, but I must say I thought there was some grandstanding going on at the last P& Z meeting by the Board, that may have been fueled on from the nay-sayers who were in attendance and resistant to any kind of change. And I believe that certain comments made by members of the Board that were directed to Mr. David Keir, were totally inappropriate. Perhaps a review of the minutes might enlighten you, or others who might consider what form might be taken to show a more unbiased or constructive way to try and work with those individuals who are bringing development projects forward.
Of course not all projects or development ideas are good for the City, however I believe we should at least be respectful to those individuals who are bringing forth ideas and plans to our City Fathers for review.
Best of luck in your efforts and uphill climb to make the City of Lake Worth a better place to live and do business with.
Ed Schaerer

This just in from Darrin Engle, urban designer:

"Just FYI – Ed Schaerer owns both 209 and 222 South Palmway. 222 South Palmway is one of the properties that makes up The Palms development. At a previous board meeting he spoke as a concerned citizen in favor of The Palms. This was after the public was told that anybody speaking that had financial interest in the development needed to say that, he didn’t. James Hoffman was exposed that night by Herman Robinson, after he admitted involvement. I believe Ed feels he can go under the radar because he does not appear to be part of the development team. According to the county tax appraiser, he still owns 222 South Palmway, it is not one of the properties recently purchased by James Hoffman (226 & 230 S. Palmway) or Brian Swerdlow of Northbrook, Illinois (227 S. Lakeside). The remaining properties are owned James Petric (218 S. Palmway) and 100 Third Avenue LLC (possibly James M. Hopkins, Jr. and Sr.)."

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