Saturday, October 6, 2007

Status of Department of Community Affairs Review - Beach and Casino Future Land Use Designation

Sometimes you start to think that nothing comes easy or as expected in Lake Worth. This is one of those times.

What should have been an easy process to create a future land use plan designation that is appropriate for the beach property has turned into an elongated and involved process. This is primarily due to a series of bungles. And, in so doing, we have a situation that looks much worse on its face than it does upon analysis. Unfortunately, because it is complicated and the public has a hard time grasping some planning and zoning issues (like the difference between a future land use designation and a zoning district), there are those that are going to make more of an issue of this than necessary. And, once you peel everything away, there is some good news at the bottom of the bucket. But we have to go through the slop to get to the good stuff.

I'll warn you now. This is one of my longest posts here to date.

So, let me explain what happened and offer a prediction of what will be happening from here on out. But, first let's remember what we are trying to do by changing the future land use designation from Public Recreation and Open Space (PROS) to Beach and Casino (BAC). The following language represents the new language that would be added to the Future Land Use Element of the Comprehensive Plan:
First of all, this single paragraph is not the zoning for the property. This paragraph is an amendment to our Comprehensive Plan that sets the foundation for the zoning district. The Beach and Casino zoning district is locally determined by the City Commission, based on a recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Board, and is not subject to review by the State of Florida Department of Community Affairs. The BAC zoning district is created by a separate ordinance and more specifically regulates the uses permitted on the property and the development standards (height, scale, setbacks, etc.) Second of all, the addition of this language alone does not change the land use designation of the beach property. It merely adds an additional land use designation to the list of available future land use designations for property within the City of Lake Worth. And third, this new BAC language does nothing but reflect that we do have commercial uses (private) along with public uses within this Beach and Casino future land use designation. The current PROS language does not allow anything else but open-air recreation facilities.

By doing this, the City corrects a long-standing inconsistency by creating a future land use designation that actually reflects the conditions present at our beach property. The timing is keyed to the development agreement between the City and Greater Bay - meaning that the future land use and zoning district must be added so that the proposed redevelopment of the beach is consistent with both of them. The City could have created this language 20, 15 or 10 years ago, but for whatever reason, did not. The development agreement with Greater Bay merely pushed the issue.

Below is a segment of the June 5, 2007 City Commission agenda where you can clearly see all three parts (ordinances) related to the future land use plan amendment and zoning change for the beach. Note that items VII.A.1 and 2 are the only ones that are reviewed by the Department of Community Affairs - they are the ones that amend the City's Comprehensive Plan:

Do you remember the three petitions that were circulated by those who want the land use and zoning decision for the beach property to be determined by referendum? Each petition reflected the desire for the Commission to reconsider each of the above ordinances and if the Commission didn't overturn them, then they would go to a referendum. Due to the existence of those petitions and the lawsuits related to the length of the lease and the one initiated by the City for the declaratory judgement, the timeline has not started as laid out in the development agreement. So any delay represented by what is going on here is not part of the critical path. That is piece of good news number one.

Now, after the second reading the State of Florida either finds a local government's proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Plan in compliance or not in compliance. In our case, DCA has chosen to find the proposed amendments not in compliance with the Comprehensive Plan. A valid question here is "Why would they not find these amendments in compliance with the City's Comprehensive Plan?"

Here is the answer. Between first and second reading DCA performs an analysis on what the City sends up as back-up (data and analysis) which justifies the change to the future land use designation that we are seeking. In order for DCA to determine whether or not there will be adequate public services to support what is allowed through the future land use designation, it asks for a "worst case" analysis based upon the maximum amount and intensity of development allowed. In order to do this, one has to establish a measurement by which that is determined. In regulating the use of land, the overall determining factor for non-residential development is something called a "floor area ratio". The City did not include that after first reading, so the DCA sent back a letter called an "Objections, Recommendations and Comments" or ORC report and asked that the City set the maximum floor area ratio allowed for the BAC future land use designation and then perform various studies to determine the impact on public facilities.

So, in order to respond to the ORC report, studies were done to show the impact of the property's redevelopment based on an FAR of .1 (one-tenth). That means that given an 18.6 acre property, one-tenth of the total square footage of the property would be the maximum amount of "built" square footage you could put on it. Thus, the studies were based on roughly 81,022 square feet of building space. Yes, this is more than the casino building and the other retail area proposed, but it also counts locker rooms and other space that would not necessarily produce traffic (pool equipment rooms, etc.) The figure is higher than what is proposed because it is the maximum allowed under this proposed land use designation. Therefore, all of the studies were done on this conservative basis which over-estimated what might be built. This is standard procedure and part of proper planning techniques.
As an aside, you might recall the resulting discussion at the City Commission meetings in May and June where there was a lot of confusion over the traffic report. In order to determine the "maximum" traffic impact, the traffic study (performed by registered traffic engineers) assumed that the existing traffic coming from the beach was the same as any park. This under estimated the amount of traffic generated from the property today. Then, the traffic generated by the maximum amount of building space allowed under the proposed land use designation was layered on top of the existing traffic on the roadways. Therefore, the impact of the proposed project double counted traffic, since the difference in traffic from that generated by a regular park and that generated by our beach in its current state was already on the roadways. The conclusion was that even with these conservative assumptions, the redevelopment of the beach did not have an adverse impact on traffic.
Other analyses regarding the impact on public facilities were performed and none were found to have an adverse impact. Again, these studies were based upon that .1 (one-tenth) FAR.

So, on a vote of 3-2 the Commission voted to approve these three items on second reading and forward the two (2) that were amendments to the Comprehensive Plan to DCA.

Are you still with me? Up to this point, everything worked as it should process-wise and detail-wise. It's after this point that things started to go hay wire.

Do you remember when this item had to be brought back again for "third reading" to correct a scrivener's error that left out the one sentence that established floor area ratio from the adopted Ordinance #2007-09 - the one that creates the future land use designation? For some reason, even though all the back-up material and the accompanying studies were performed based on the stated maximum FAR of .1, one simple sentence indicating the maximum FAR was left out of the final, adopted version of the ordinance that passed on second reading. The Commission held this "third reading" at its July 17th meeting and passed it on a vote of 3-2. According to City staff, this is how DCA told the City to handle the matter.

A few weeks pass and DCA reviewed what was sent up by the City. DCA calls the City and says that since this is a third reading, it will count towards the City's first Comprehensive Plan amendment for 2008! Local governments are limited to two major amendments to their Comprehensive Plans each year. If the City were to go along with this interpretation by DCA, suddenly the City would lose one of its Comprehensive Plan opportunities. Remember that the City will be having changes to the Comprehensive Plan coming through next year and under this interpretation that would likely hold up that process to boot.

So, to avoid that situation, DCA has issued a letter and Notice of Intent to find the City's amendment not in compliance with the Comprehensive Plan. Thus, we are not using one of next years submittal opportunities, but we have to go through the red tape that non-compliance represents. The fact that we are not losing one of next year's amendment possibilities is another slice of good news.

The letter below from DCA is just about as incoherent as it gets. If you read it, it says that the City' amendment is in compliance and non-compliance at the same time. What I understand it meant to say is that in the eyes of DCA, they don't recognize that we have established a maximum FAR for the BAC future land use designation (even though we have). But, if they recognize it, that means we lose one of our chance to amend the Comp Plan next year. And it's in non-compliance because they can't determine the impact (even though the studies are done and show no adverse impact) to public facilities since they couldn't have been done since a maximum FAR isn't established - in their eyes. ARGH!

Have you ever heard of such severe bureaucratitus?

Let's look at the atmospherics here too. DCA has been subject to who knows how many calls from "concerned" citizens here. So much so that I am sure the City is on a special list for extra vigilance. That doesn't help matters any. It also doesn't help matters that we have something from DCA saying that we are in non-compliance with our own Comprehensive Plan and Florida Statutes related to the redevelopment of the beach when we have these "concerned" citizens ready to devour every last crumb of negativity, real or imagined, and spit it out to all who care to hear.

The fact is the DCA has nothing against these amendments - other than the process wasn't what it should be. And in order to dot every "i" and cross every "t", we have to go through this process. What the process is, I am not exactly sure...I think attempts are being made to handle this at the staff level but I can't see how this won't come back to the Commission for final action.

I hope this clears things up as far as the documents below. This situation would be much more critical had the other "clouds" not appeared on the horizon, which I know is small consolation.

You can comment below if you have any questions.

First Citizen Observer Patrol (COP) Ride Last Night

You know, if you haven't acquainted yourself with the City's COP program and you have a little extra time, it's something that you should look into. Joel Morganstern is the gentleman at the Police Department that administers the program. This is where volunteers pick times according to their schedules to ride around our City and OBSERVE - eyes on the street.

No - you aren't there to make arrests - most definitely not. And you are to avoid any areas where there is current "real" police activity. Your role is to be an observer. If you see something suspicious, you call it into dispatch. You look for unsafe conditions, whether traffic signals and street lights are working. You are really providing a visible police-like presence on our streets which can only help. Beyond that, it is a great way to get to know your City better.

For example, last night was my first ride and I went out with veteran COP volunteer Nadine Burns and fellow newbie Jim Stafford. Over a period of almost three hours, sometimes in pouring rain, we traversed the streets of the City. It seems that we went everywhere and really every corner of the City - including the beach. (Which, if you think the beach looks depressing during the day, you should drive up there at night. Can you say "tumbleweeds"?)

Nothing dramatic happened last night but who knows? Our presence may just have prevented something from happening. If you do volunteer, you will need to go through a training session, get an I.D. picture taken (see mugshot on right) and then go to Manno's on Lake Worth Road for a uniform fitting. That's right! You get a uniform of your own, courtesy of the City of Lake Worth, complete with identification patches, black polyester pants (I hear you can get shorts now too) and a nifty hat. Once you have your first initiation ride, you are free to schedule anytime to go out with your fellow COP volunteers.

I'll give you updates from time to time about my adventures right here - so stay tuned!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Listen to Recorded Sputnik Signal, Watch Simulation

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the launching of Sputnik and the initiation of the space race, catch the simulation of Sputnik in orbit and listen to a recorded radio transmission from the first satellite by clicking on the above. For more information on Sputnik, click here.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Midnight Induction - Lake Worth Kiwanis-style

Last Sunday night, err Monday morning, the Kiwanis folks gathered at the Cultural Square for induction of a new member - ME! Chet Taras is taking over the presidential reigns this year and October 1st represents the beginning of the Kiwanis year. Mayor Jeff Clemens was there and performed the midnight induction - he has moved up in the Kiwanis regional hierarchy now.

Anyway, a couple funny things to point out about the event. You see me there in my Sunday go-to-meeting clothes as I was expecting some kind of formal event and thinking others would be dressed similarly. Well, I guess I didn't get the memo. As people started to gather, it was apparent that the dress code was pajamas! We all had a good time and I would have been much more comfortable in P.J.'s, but hey it still worked and all.

Then, you notice that the clock isn't in the picture, although we were standing under it at midnight. Funny thing was the clock was an hour and fifteen minutes slow due to the city-wide power outage the night before. We were joking that we'd have to wait an hour and fifteen minutes more to get a picture of the clock at midnight. So, another Lake Worth moment.

I am looking forward to serving on Kiwanis - especially the reading program in the local elementary schools.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Misty, Watercolored Memories...

Here is a small sampling of the large number of redevelopment proposals for the Lake Worth Beach, as chronicled by the Palm Beach Post Editorial staff. I picked the two proposals that would be most fresh in our collective consciouses: The 1998 RFP developer give-away debacle and the 2002 attempt at a general obligation bond issue.

Those of you that have lived here long enough surely recall the four responses to the City's RFP for beach development - which included condos, hotels, commercial space and ignored the fact that it was a public beach at all. I remember at the time addressing the City Commission and commenting that the City "lifted its skirt a little too high" and realized that too late in the game. The sad fact was the City had no criteria and nothing on the table in terms of expectations that the various private entities had to meet. What resulted is what could be expected - a developer-based plan that left the public out of the decision making process. That is, with the exception of a very agitated crowd at the Lake Worth High School during the revealing of the various proposals.

The following editorial appeared before that public hearing. Remember, the date was December 16, 1998:

Key quotes from the above 1998 editorial: "No one believes the beach property can remain as it is. The casino building is showing its age. There's too much parking and too little open space. One of two staircases to the beach in front of the casino is closed because of deterioration." And the following, "But the Lake Worth beach is not a rundown neighborhood where anything would be an improvement. It is a public park and perhaps the city's finest asset. There is no way to add a hotel or a shopping center without inhibiting public access." So, back in 1998 we came to a conclusion as a community that a developer's vision for the beach wasn't meant for the Lake Worth beach property. We also concluded that something needed to be done - time was a wastin'.

The following editorial appeared about two weeks later in the Palm Beach Post - on Christmas Eve 1998 as a matter of fact:

Key phrases from this 1998 editorial include (besides the headline): "Lake Worth's beach does not need a hotel, but it does need at least a face lift. City commissioners must not let the issue fade now that the shouting has died down." And this humdinger, "At the very least, the 50-year-old (editor's note: 60 years for part of the building, 80 years for other parts) casino building needs work. The dune line, which helps stabilize the beach, could function better if the sidewalk east of the casino were moved west to line up with the sidewalk to the north and south. Some of the parking atop the dune could be eliminated in favor of a picnic area, or more shops, or a nighttime restaurant, and replaced with a small parking garage well behind the dune." And then this, "Mayor Tom Ramiccio, the first member of the commission to come out against the hotel, suggested seeking state historic preservation money for the casino, county money' for a new promenade and landscaping and a private-public partnership, for shops and a parking garage. That's an intriguing idea, especially if the casino could be restored to look like the building destroyed by the 1947 hurricane; it was far more attractive than the box that replaced it."

So, the City went to work. We engaged the services of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC) and they put together a number of community charettes and held a design studio in the City Hall annex where they were able to articulate the community's vision of what a redeveloped beach property would look like. The plan that TCRPC and those that participated in the process resembles the current Greater Bay proposal to a large degree. However, the concept was that the City would go ahead with a general obligation bond for the improvements and continue to operate and manage the property.

The plan had the following parameters. This is a portion of a brochure put out by the City in advance of the March 2002 election:

Here is a black and white rendering of the project:

I will do a future post which explores the difference between this plan and the Greater Bay plan. However, the direction given by our former Mayor Drautz and the Commission at the time was to stick generally with the plan that was associated with the failed attempt at a bond issue. Greater Bay has made some changes. Remember, the site plan that is part of the existing Development Agreement is illustrative only. I am getting ahead of myself and it's time to turn back to history.

Armed with the TCRPC study, a Beach Steering Committee was formed. The following editorial comes from the day of the presentation by the Chairman of that Committee. It deals with the proposal from the Committee and a recommendation to go to referendum on the general obligation bond issue for the project. It's important to realize that the vote was for the bond issue only and not for the zoning or anything else related to the project. It is dated May 15, 2001 and here it is:

What golden nuggets can be pulled from here you ask? Try these: "...the city commission will get what its beach committee hopes is the final, thoroughly tweaked plan, which is based on hours of suggestions from residents. The plan calls for rebuilding the casino wit% its original -1922 look. The amount of floor space would double, and the buiIding would 'link to a parking garage. With the garage, the 19-acre site could have more green space." And, "Even if they do nothing, they will have to pay at least $1 million just to keep the casino safe ,for a few years. Concrete chunks have fallen in the aged building, and deterioration problems will grow with time and exposure to salt air." And, "Expanding commercial space in the casino will help meet the operating cost. Paying off 20 year bonds for stormwater sewers in 2004 will leave the city a chance to use those payments for bonds that would finance casino construction. Taxpayers are used to that charge and could feel comfortable extending it if commissioners can show how much Lake Worth would benefit from renovating the city's most valuable public asset." And finally this - in large type, "Lake Worth has waited long enough to act."

Unfortunately, something happened on the way to the ballot box with this proposal. Someone upset with mangroves islands in the Lake Worth Lagoon - not associated with the beach, or something like that. You'll have to ask around for the full story.

The point is that the time to act has been forever in coming. By not acting, we are restricting the future of our city and the sense of achievement that could bring. I wonder if these editorials are being shown at the door when signatures are being gathered?

We Need to Take this Seriously...

"The type and severity of conditions identified during our investigation vary from location to location, but the extent and quantity of damage is significant. The immediate concern with the deterioration of the reinforced concrete elements is the advanced state of deterioration, especially along the eastern facade, here the public has unrestricted access. The potential for concrete to dislodge and fall from the spalled or deteriorated areas is extremely high."

In the wake of the I-35w bridge collapse, it is a strong reminder that we have to take structural inspection reports seriously. Below is a recent e-mail exchange following up from my comments at the 7/17 City Commission meeting. It sounds like the City is asking for an "update" of the reports - how many reports do we need?