Sunday, August 17, 2008

Big Item - Little Notice - Again! DAY LABOR CENTER

Here's the agenda for this coming Tuesday's City Commission meeting:

Look what appears as Item N. on the Consent portion of the agenda (highlighted above): A lease agreement between the Mentoring Center, Inc. and the city for use of a portion of the Shuffleboard Courts building to serve as a "resource center."

You might recall the Jennings, Golden and Clemens vote to pursue a lease with a non-profit organization to operate a DAY LABOR CENTER out of the city's shuffleboard court building. This was about 4 months ago or so. The motion directed Commissioner Jennings to work out the details and come back with a lease that addressed some of the concerns raised at the meeting. I was one who spoke at that particular meeting and I brought up certain zoning/process issues that needed to be addressed prior to the establishment of a facility - if that indeed is what we want to do as a city. I also voiced my concern about the city aiding in the potential exploitation of workers who might access work through this program - in terms of physical injury (or worse) and how do we know that these people are being paid a fair wage. By letting this group use a city facility, it would be as if the city is sanctioning and encouraging this activity.

If nothing else, Commissioner Jennings has mastered the art of obfuscation - the ability to hide controversial items - buried in the Consent portion of the agenda and with no discernible obvious mention of what actually is being allowed there through this lease. "Resource Center" is much more of a politically palatable combination of words than "DAY LABOR CENTER" I guess making issues difficult to be aware of and to discuss is o.k. if she wants something controversial passed - you won't hear any mention of workshops or special meetings or things "moving too fast" this time. No, she'll present this as if it's ready to go, all the Commission needs to do is approve the consent agenda.

Commissioner Jennings - I am very disappointed.

I am also disappointed that no where do I see the issue of zoning and land use addressed. Commissioner Jennings acknowledged that this would be an issue the city would have to deal with and it was one of the items to be addressed in the interim. This lack of addressing the zoning and land use issues is in stark contrast to the detail and time Commissioner Jennings lavished on the land use and zoning change for the beach. I guess here it's not as important since it doesn't further her aims.

No, these are not insurmountable issues related to zoning and land use. There are ways, which I will lay out, that would be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and consistent with proper planning/zoning practice. By bringing these issues up, I am sure that Commissioner Jennings would say that I am just being an "obstructionist" and not wanting the labor center to happen. Well, we know what happens when the city doesn't follow the proper procedure on controversial topics - lawsuits ensue, delays happen and money is spent in defense of an action that could have been prevented. I guess if that's what Commissioner Jennings wants - the city to be mired in lawsuits - maybe that is one way that she can promote her anarchist agenda.

Anyway, here are the Comprehensive Plan, land use and zoning issues related to this proposal. First, it's always good to get a sense of the physical surroundings of where we are talking about. This aerial is taken from Google Earth - north is the top of the image. The FEC railroad tracks run north/south through the picture. Just to the left of the tracks - west - is the parking lot for the Shuffleboard Courts and building. The green areas in the middle of the image are the Shuffleboard Courts themselves. At the right edge of the picture, you can see City Hall.

The map below is a page taken from the city's Comprehensive Plan. By way of review, Comprehensive Plans are mandated by the State of Florida. Local governments can amend them up to twice a year. The plans and all amendments to them are ultimately reviewed and approved by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) - if found consistent with other parts of the plan and reflective of the state and regional Comprehensive Plans. Areas throughout the city are assigned future land use designations. These are broader and more general than zoning districts - and subject to DCA approval.

The Future Land Use Map below shows a more detailed view of the area surrounding Lake and Lucerne Avenues - our downtown area - and the areas assigned a variety of future land use designations. This map doesn't have a north arrow. If it did, it would be pointing to the left.
Remember to click on the image to see greater detail.

Now, let's focus on the two publicly owned (by the City of Lake Worth) properties in this area: City Hall and the Shuffleboard Court property (which includes the building, the parking lot and the shuffleboard courts.) City Hall has a future land use designation of "P" for "Public" and the Shuffleboard Court property has a future land use designation of "PROS" for "Public Recreation and Open Space". Alert readers will recall that the future land use designation was formerly "PROS". It is now "Beach and Casino" after the creation of a new future land use designation and the creation of new language. This change was reviewed and eventually approved by DCA - however a court case is pending regarding whether or not the property can be subject to a referendum on the land use and zoning change - but that's another story.

Below is a portion of the Future Land Use element of the Comprehensive Plan and the governing language for these two land use designations:

So we see from the above that a "P" future land designation is more permissive as it includes the broader category of municipal facilities - which is spelled out in greater detail in the zoning code. The zoning code is what implements the future land use designation in the Comprehensive Plan. The "PROS" designation is much more restrictive and only allows "parks and other outdoor open space areas intended for active use." Note the end line in both future land use designations: "...should not be used for other than public recreation/public purposes without careful consideration of the most appropriate use and a properly enacted amendment to the land use plan."

The following gets a little complicated but the key point you have to remember is that the current future land use designation and zoning district do not allow DAY LABOR CENTERs. A change to the Comprehensive Plan and the zoning designation need to be made to allow DAY LABOR CENTERs. There are two ways to do that - but none are currently proposed.

These are the critical points:
  • The current "PROS" land use and zoning designation of the property do not permit Day Labor Centers. It is my belief that these designations best reflect the use of the property as an active recreation center.
  • If the existing land use and zoning designations stay in place, then the language in the Comprehensive Plan has to change to allow Day Labor Centers in the "PROS" district. That would open up all parks in the city to Day Labor Centers.
  • A new future land use designation and zoning district could be created that tailors the specific use of a Day Labor Center to the property. Doing this on such a small, disconnected property would be sanction what is referred to as "spot zoning". This term has been used in connection to the beach which is not an accurate reflection of the reality of it being an 18+ acre parcel of land. Applying a brand new land use designation and zoning district is not proper planning practice.
  • The city could change the future land use designation to "P", which is the same designation carried by the City Hall property. I believe this would be consistent with the use of this public property as a recreation and administrative center for the city. Recently, there have been discussions regarding the eventual moving of City Hall further west and this property has been identified as a possible location. A future land use designation of "P" would best reflect the current and proposed use of the property - as well as the potential future use. This would follow good planning practice - but would also involve a future land use map change which is an amendment to the city's Comprehensive Plan.
  • If the future land use designation is changed to "P", then the property would also need to be rezoned to "P" which is the corresponding zoning district to implement the land use designation.
  • Changes would need to be made to the "P" zoning district in order for the language to support and allow Day Labor Centers.
  • Additionally, that specific use "Day Labor Center" should really be made a use that is permitted through a "Special Use Permit". This would require an additional level of standards that could be applied in the review of the application before the Planning and Zoning Board.
What appears below is a zoning map (locally determined) of the immediate area.

Below is the language for the "PROS" zoning district. It is VERY restrictive - allowing only outdoor active recreation facilities. The existing building - enclosed - is a non-conformity - but adding a DAY LABOR CENTER to the building would be increasing the non-conformity - a big no-no in planning practice.
The language below is the regulating language of the zoning district "P" - which would need to be amended if the property was rezoned from "PROS" to "P" in order to permit Day Labor Centers.

Of course, Commissioner Jennings would like you to ignore this situation completely. In reality, much of this could have already been underway if the city had the foresight and the staff to react normally to situations that require a change in the future land use designations and rezonings.

Let me know if you have any questions or if there is something I can clarify or amplify. I'll chat more about this tonight on my Truth Matters show.