Thursday, July 20, 2006

Where do I begin...

...to tell the story of this week? Let's see. Meeting Monday morning on the presentation and materials for the joint meeting regarding the Master Plan (Remember: July 27, 2006, 5:30 p.m. at the Golf Course Clubhouse), City Commission Tuesday night, getting home at 2 a.m. and then finding that I had only one dog in the backyard, instead of the two I had before I left the meeting. "Mars" had escaped the confines of my supposedly secure and fenced backyard sometime during my absence. Maybe he went to look for me due to the unusual absence of his "Dad"? Anyway, so instead of heading to my bed, I ended up roaming the streets yelling (although not too loudly) "Mars - cookies - Mars - cookies" over and over again until 3 a.m. - trying not to sound like a madman and trying not to panic. I did get some help in the search by a good friend (any friend that responds to a 2 a.m. phone call is a good one!) who even happens to work at Palm Beach County Animal Control. After driving aimlessly around the sleepy streets of northern Lake Worth, we finally found him on Maryland, just a block north of my house - walking down the street like nothing unusual happened. He jumped in the car and got his "cookies". The next day, upon further inspection, there is a hole in the fence that the two of my "children" have been working on, apparently. For the sake of balance, my other "child" is "Venus". She is a little more stout than Mars and can't quite fit through the hole. Time for repairs to the fence, in the mean time, they are staying in the house and being walked for their necessities. They are great "kids" and I don't know what I would do without them.

Anyway, the next day, besides working, we had our reception for our PZHRPB members who are leaving and welcomed the new members. Some people dropped by on their way to the Joint Meeting with the Affordable Housing Task Force and socialized. It turns out that the City of Greenacres Planning Commission meets on the same night as our PZHRPB and I had an application to present there. An unusual coincidence. Their meeting starts at 7 and I was back at the Lake Worth meeting around 9:30.

We were on the topic of "Lake Worth Corners" - had just begun.


See future post on Lake Worth Corners.

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

Monday, July 17, 2006

Planning and Zoning Update - 7/18 City Commission meeting

For those of you that were unable to attend the City Commisson meeting on 7/18, here is the outline that I used for the update regarding Planning, Zoning Historic Resource Preservation Activities:


Planning and Zoning Board – Update

City Commission Meeting

July 18, 2006

1. Introduction

a. Wes Blackman, Chairman, PZHRPB

b. Thank you for the opportunity. A good idea as we come to the end of some board members’ terms and start the terms of new members.

c. Reception in the Commission Conference Room at 5 p.m. to greet the new members and say “so long” to the former members. We all sincerely hope that those members: Helen Greene, Herman Robinson and Jon MacGillis will still be active in the workings of the City and we would love to see them at our meetings – although they might like a little bit of a break.

d. As for the new members, their first meeting will be August 2 and we will welcome Anne Hoctor - planner, Ed LeBlanc – architect and Vincent DeVito – Developer.

e. We look forward to getting to know one another and gelling as a new board.

f. Had the benefit of a well balanced article in the Palm Beach Post yesterday

2. Past

a. Go over handout showing number of cases reviewed over the past 12 months, both PZ and HRPB

i. Many of you occasionally attend our meetings, and we appreciate that when you do.

b. Code Changes: Increased fees for Planned Development (new and amended) and created new fees for ROW abandonment and extension of site plan approval.

c. Corrected inconsistencies throughout the Zoning Code for front setback and permeable surface.

d. Revised the format of the Development Application to add more process information to assist the applicant to prepare for submission.

e. Remind them that this was with a fluctuating staffing level this year – including secretary, planner and urban designer

3. Issues

a. Over the course of the year, we have identified the following issues that relate to redevelopment, the protection of residential neighborhoods, controlling impacts of development and guiding City policies related to the judicious redevelopment of the City. They are as follows:

b. Planning Board -

i. Revised Gateway Zoning Districts (as recommended by the CRA) - increasing density to 30 units per acre and injecting more diverse retail opportunities.

ii. Beach Overlay District – current zoning is Preservation Recreation and Open Space without any standards as it relates to physical improvements and to guide design related issues.

iii. 25 foot wide lots – (subject of current zoning in progress) creation of pattern book, assessment of new building code regulations relating to unprotected openings (is there a better way to say this?)

iv. Construction Management Plans - requirements for and coordination with Building Department re ROW permits and construction impacts to neighboring properties.

v. Vacant Lots - ordinance to address maintenance and speculative demolition.

vi. Alley Improvement - pavement of the City’s alleyway system. Currently, the City has interpreted the Code to require any one development regardless of size that if they have access to or from the alley they have to pave the entire alley. The existing policy creates a burden.

c. HRPB

i. Maintenance of our six (6) existing historic districts: Update each district to reflect the number of years that have passed since the establishment of a district. If a district was established eight years ago, we need to go through the list of structures, contributing or non-contributing, and determine if any may now be considered contributing due to the fact that they are now 50 years old or older - perhaps they weren't eligible to be contributing due to their age at the time of the original survey.

ii. “Re-check" the original surveys to make sure that the designation of contributing vs. non-contributing structures really is an adequate reflection of the importance to the integrity of the historic district they are in. Many times we have questioned whether or not a structure that was a subject of a COA request was contributing or vice versa. Apparently, some of the original surveys were "drive-bys" and their accuracy is in doubt.

iii. Immediately, shore up the designation of each one of our existing districts in light of a technical weakness in the procedure establishing the districts. If we can do it with the revised information, fine. If not, we need to go ahead with this right now.

iv. Two districts that we surveyed, bought and paid for, off the shelf that cover the area in the center of the City, north and south of Lake and Lucerne Avenues and west of Dixie Hwy. Previous Commissions indicated that they didn't want to go forward with these designations. If the Commission's attitude is different now, then it is time to move forward with designation of these districts.

v. Creation of design guidelines and how they will be able to guide compatible and harmonious redevelopment within our historic districts. Right now, we have design guidelines for College Park (only they primarily deal with streetscape) and we have the Major Thoroughfare Guidelines, which also apply to the Downtown. We need to establish the same guidelines for the other four, soon to be six, historic districts. Some of this will be covered with the Master Plan.

vi. Individual historic site designations. The City library, Kristine’s

vii. Controls on demolition by neglect

viii. If we are going to separate the Boards, then a good time to do that would be when we are writing our new land development regulations early next year.

d. Master Plan - Refinement of consultant and community recommendations, review of Evaluation and Appraisal Report - major time commitment and looking at meeting every week to address issues and solicit additional public comment. Separation of Boards issue could be accommodated through the re-write of our land development regulations.

i. Much the same process as we used last year for the successful implementation of the ZIP ordinances

e. Likely have to meet weekly – one week dealing with redevelopment related issues and the next dealing with Code changes.

4. Thank you – Questions.



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


Good Balanced Reporting

in the Palm Beach Post (thank you, Nicole Janok) on the status of our historic districts and master plan process that appeared in today's edition of the local news section. We have our work cut out for us, but we are addressing the issues as best we can. In fact, we had a meeting this morning with the master plan consultants to chart out how next Thursday will go. That is when the City Commission, Planning and Zoning Board, Community Redevelopment Agency and members from the Stakeholder Advisory Committee will get together and put a finer point on some of the outstanding issues.

Then it is off to prepare the Evaluation and Appraisal Report, required by the State of Florida, updating of the City's existing Comprehensive Plan and creation/adoption of new land development regulations that reflect the public input that we have gathered over the past two years. It will be like a "new world" and something that the City will benefit from for years to come.

Let me know if you have any questions prior to the meeting or anytime during the process.

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

Sunday, July 16, 2006

In anticipation of tomorrow's article...










...here are few pictures from the 200 and 300 block of N. M. Street.

Cheers!

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





Storytime - "The Tale of your Trail"

In light of the last post, it got me thinking about my move to Florida from Michigan and my eventual (inevitable?) landing in Lake Worth, the hows and whys, etc. I don't think I can completely wrap my mind around the last sentence of the article by M. Craig Barnes yet. That being: "...the right place isn'’t something you choose, but a place that chooses you, molds you, and tells you who you are." But, maybe if I re-trace my tracks and the events that led to today, maybe the answer will reveal itself.

I will try to make this the "Reader's Digest" version - both in content and brevity - and I encourage you to chime in with the "Tale of your Trail" in the comments section. Please, if this bores you, don't be afraid to hit the "snooze" button and wait for the next post. :)

In 1989, I was "over" Michigan. I worked for the City of East Lansing in the Planning Department. It really was my first exposure to zoning and working in a municipal setting. It was interesting, for the most part, and I worked with a very professional group of people, but it was too familiar to me - I had grown up in the area and was aching for something different. But, for me it was more related to a new job - anywhere else but there. I happened to be in a relationship at the time and my partner begged to move somewhere that was warm and had beaches. So, that year I went to the American Planning Association conference in Atlanta. Interviewed with about 5 different governmental entities, got some offers and accepted a job with the City of West Palm Beach. Compared to the other city's, at the time West Palm Beach offered the best compensation -although less than what I was making in Michigan - over the others and I couldn't help be entranced by the location - part of a large and growing metropolitan area, tropical and on the ocean (at least from a Midwestern point-of-view). Somehow, I just knew it would be a good investment in my future - errr, I should say "our" future.

I sold my house, found a newer apartment in the Westgate area and began work in WPB. My partner joined me once the house closed. In 1989, all the municipalities were working on their comprehensive plans in order to meet the "Rule 9.J.5" requirements related to concurrency (mandating the public facilities be in place at the time of the impacts of development). Busy time and I really was energized by the whole process. I also reveled in the diversity of South Florida - different cultures, loved the sun and the tropical breeze. Unfortunately, the joy I experienced with the move was not shared by my partner. I guess that is called being geographically incompatible. But, the important note here is that I would not have moved to this particular area if it wasn't for his push for a warmer climate. Everything has a purpose.

I ended up moving from the initial apartment to a house on Churchill road in the southern part of West Palm Beach. I lived in a room within this rambling 1920s era Mission-style house, complete with a courtyard, roof-top sun deck, pecky cypress everywhere. Really a cool house. I always gravitate towards the unique and the historic and detest the banality of "suburbia" for all kinds of reasons - dislike "malls", etc. and the neighborhood fit the bill. Its proximity to the water was a plus too. I also don't like being "wedded" to my car seat and like to live near work, etc. This is the time when Lake Worth first entered by radar screen as a potential place to live.

Moved from there to a couple blocks further north in WPB and lived in a garage apartment for a while. My landlord, who lived in the main house, owned other properties with many being in Lake Worth. He was from Washington, D.C. and benefited from wise investing in the DuPont Circle area the decade before. He always said that the same thing was bound to happen in Lake Worth. It would eventually be discovered, renovated and be known as a funky, quirky place.

Jump to the present: It turns out that I happened to bump into him last week in front of the Post Office downtown and he has sold most of his properties in LW now. He is frustrated about the rising taxes and how the rent from his properties can barely cover the burden. He is also frustrated by the City's inattention to basic neighborhood issues - street lighting and sidewalks being at the forefront. He has properties on South J Street near the downtown. The people that live there love to go downtown to the restaurants, Friday on the Avenues, etc. but they are frustrated because they feel that they have to drive (all of six blocks) due to inadequate street lighting along South J Street. His other property, I think he said along South D Street, had a whole section of sidewalk damaged by either an accident or weather, or a combination of both. I guess a whole section was missing. When he called Public Works, he was told "Oh, we don't fix those until someone files a lawsuit" - ARGHH! Can you believe that?!?!??

Anyway, back to our story...

So, my next move was to Lake Worth, this being 1992. I lived in a duplex on the 700 block of South H Street. Hardly the garden spot of the world back then, but it fit the bill for about 5 years. All my time there, the property to the south was this "bombed out" former lodge building (which is now converted to a church and came out rather well). In the parking lot adjacent to where I lived, there was an out building that housed an Ambulance dispatch office, complete with ambulances that would go out at all hours of the day or night, lights flashing - with a siren here or there for extra effect. Some previous "Organ of the City" approved this use for the property without any regard for the neighborhood around it - it was around this time that I started thinking about getting involved and using my planning experience to somehow better the conditions of the City. I must say that even though this area was notorious for crime, gunshots (we could hear them during the winter nights when the windows were open), prostitution, etc., we never had a break-in. When we did have someone "jump the fence" or there was "suspicious activity", we called the Police Department and they were always there in minutes - I think they appreciated the fact that we weren't adding to the problems of the area.

But on the good side, we were really close to downtown - loved to go to Rosie's for their lobster specials, went to the beach often, enjoyed the various events at Bryant Park, etc. Too scared to do much walking in the area, but I did ride my bike quite a bit during the daylight hours. It was while I lived here that I served on the City's Leisure Services Board - got to know Babara Aubel and Lynnette Romano, the Webbers, among others.

My next move was to First Avenue South, between L and M Streets - still renting and trying to save for a down payment on a house in LW. When I first moved in, the Baptist Church on M Street owned properties to the west of my place (still do, now a parking lot). Not more than a month after I moved in - I woke up one morning to the sound of a bulldozer knocking down both structures (prior to our historic district regulations) - one was chopped up former single family house, but it looked pretty intact and the other was more of a "boarding house" that was built right to the sidewalk - looked like it dated from the late 20s or 30s. Well, it turns out that those structures, since they were west of the place I lived in, used to block the western sun. With them gone, I then referred to my place as the "Vietnamese Hot-Box". Especially during the summer, the temperature would be over 90 inside. Due to the high electric rates, I left a smaller A/C on during the day (so the candles wouldn't melt) and turned the larger one on when I got home. It would take 6 hours for the place to cool down to the high 70s. And then the cycle would start over again the next day. I didn't like being in there a lot so I spent a lot of time downtown - Coffee Gallery, Club 502, Toojay's - went to the beach, rode my bike, worked like a dog. It was around this time that I was appointed as the last alternate to the Planning and Zoning Board.

It was then I started to panic (and not because I was appointed to the Planning Board - LOL). I saw what was happening to housing prices south of us and knew that the wave was moving north. Somehow I knew that if I didn't hop on the "equity train", I would be left in the dust. I started the search for a house in LW and remember being shown a lot of marginal properties. Finally, in the summer of 2000, I found my current residence and I really consider myself lucky. It is humbling to know now that if I were in the market now and had to re-buy this house, I couldn't afford it or the taxes or the insurance, etc. And I am sure that many people who read this draw the same conclusion. We really have to think about what this means for preservation of the LW way of life, if there is such a thing.

I've gone on too long. Now it's your turn.

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