Saturday, August 1, 2009

Being served regularly from now until Tuesday night's City Commission meeting...

Rescinding of Sunset Property Zoning/Land Use: The Effect

This item is on the agenda for the upcoming August 4th City Commission meeting. I thought it would be helpful to remind everyone - again - what exactly this means and the implications it carries. It is being promoted as single family land use and zoning, which it is not. It also would allow other uses than single family and multiple family townhomes - including private kennels.

The following analysis was put together by the Zoning Director of Palm Beach County - who happened to sit on the Planning and Zoning Board at the time the recommendation was made to the City Commission. It was not put together by the property owner or their agent.

A comparison is also given related to the development standards for Palm Beach County MR-5. The County also allows a transfer of development rights, which would allow up to 36 units an acre on the 4 acre property.

The traffic study done for the project assumed a conservatively high figure of eighty (80) units and met the County's traffic performance standards. The project would have been limited to a maximum of forty (40) units and would also have gone through special use permit and site plan review by the Planning and Zoning Board.

Click the items below for greater detail. This project has been drawn out for purely political reasons for four years and is sure to be a source of another lawsuit against the city.

And if anyone one is wondering...

I am also wondering if yours truly will run for Mayor or the District #3 Commission seat or nothing at all. Your guess is as good as mine right now.

Thanks for your expressions of curiosity. We'll all know by August 17th what the answer is. Until then...

Found: The Lake Worth of Old

Thanks to David Keir for providing these. Pictures are labeled Dixie Hwy. Lake Worth - can you identify the locations?

FULL TEXT - Tyranny – Alive and Well in Lake Worth? By Wes Blackman, AICP

In the United States of America, we enjoy many freedoms made possible by our form of government. These freedoms spring from our Constitution. Being part of this representative democracy, we have the freedom to chose the degree to which we participate and engage in the process of governing ourselves. There are many that are so involved in the day-to-day activities of life, raising a family, pursuing a career or just getting by that choose not to involve themselves in the on-going affairs of civic life. This freedom allows those that choose not to engage the ability to let others take on the responsibilities of self-government.

It is therefore the rare individual that chooses to emerge from a group of people being governed and desires to take a role in creating an environment of how we will be governed. When this happens, it is something to be celebrated and encouraged.

Recently in Lake Worth, a group of nearly 30 people took the time to submit applications to serve on the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). These people performed the cost/benefit analysis that those who choose to serve the public must perform. Would giving time to benefit the city in which I live be worth the time and commitment it would take to serve? Those 30 people thought they'd like to give it a shot and try to make a positive difference. Probably most thought if they did not make it through the interview process, at least their effort to apply would be acknowledged by those making the appointments as a public service worthy of admiration in and of itself.

This group of 30 expressed a desire to serve on one of the city's volunteer boards – the Community Redevelopment Agency. In response to their application, they received notice that they would be interviewed by a group of elected officials who would appoint 6 of the 30 to serve their community in an effort to combat Lake Worth's slum and blight. These interviews were to take place on June 8th of this year.

Due to a series of difficult-to-explain events, the applicants seeking a role in guiding the city of Lake Worth were turned around at the door. They were told that interviews were cancelled – some by just a note placed on the door to City Hall.

Those who enjoy the intrigue of past foibles on the part of the city might be interested in how this situation came to pass, but the principle message sent to those volunteer applicants was: “We don't know if we need you after all.” A poor message to be sent by the city to its most engaged citizens. Our elected officials then chose to discuss the very nature of the board these volunteers were applying to – perhaps eliminating their role in it entirely.

That discussion came to pass this past Monday night. Assembled in the City Commission's chambers that evening were many of the already sitting CRA volunteer board members and various interested members of the public. All were waiting to here the reasons for, yet again, the elected City Commission taking over this volunteer board. The previous attempt came as recently as last year.

Drawing from a quarter-of-a-century experience as a certified urban planner and one that has been primarily involved in redevelopment, the make-up of CRA boards reflects the unique characteristics of the community and the goals of the elected body of that community. In the history of the Lake Worth CRA, it has been both made up of the elected City Commission and an appointed board. It has been an appointed board much more than one made up of elected officials. The CRA relates to a “district” where there is a concentration of slum and blight. Having an all volunteer and appointed board is usually a way to involve those who live within, or have a business within, that district. The theory is that the people who have an interest, material and otherwise, in that specific area are the people that you want making decisions about its redevelopment. Another reason for an elected body to establish a board of appointees is to bring in professional redevelopment expertise that is offered free of charge and that may not be represented by the skills and expertise of those on the elected body.

We didn't hear that discussion on Monday night. What we heard was the need for “control and oversight.” This coming from an elected body whose record doesn't compare too favorably with the results of the volunteer CRA board – funding and improvements to our two major entrance corridors from I-95, application for $25 million in Federal money for a Neighborhood Stabilization Program in our most blighted neighborhoods, facade grants to local businesses, support of targeted code enforcement and police efforts and more.

Instead of being lauded for the volunteer board's work, we heard that the board is “out of control” with spending. What the Commission did not realize is that next year, due to the second highest decline in municipal property values in all 38 Palm Beach County municipalities, there will essentially be NO discretionary spending possible in what may be a $2.2 million CRA operating budget. This is down from the present $4.9 million operating budget of the current fiscal year.

We also heard that there is too much talk and criticism of the City Commission by members of the CRA and that this “has to stop.” One of our freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution is that of free speech and, associated with that, no required “blind allegiance” to those who appoint us. What was suggested here by the City Commission is that, if they admittedly didn't have time to do an adequate job of addressing slum and blight conditions themselves, they would like a “rubber stamp” board that they can count on for complete agreement in all matters. This is practically an impossibility, as no one person thinks exactly the same as another person on all matters.

Also associated with freedom of speech is the right to dissent and the right to express that dissent. According to parliamentary procedure, someone makes a motion, there is discussion (where consent or dissent can be expressed) and then there is a vote. Many times there are people who vote their convictions based on the information presented and end up on the losing side of the vote. Other times, they may find themselves on the prevailing side of an issue. This is a standard part of how we govern ourselves.

To expect complete adherence to the view of one, a majority or all members of the body that appoints you to act in the public interest, is not democracy – that my friends is tyranny. If we continue to have discussions in the Commission chambers were dissent and debate are discouraged, then we are missing an opportunity to explore a greater range of ideas, experiences and expertise that can make our city a better place to live, work and play. If not, Lake Worth will continue to be left in the dust of the other municipalities in Palm Beach County.

After Monday night, one is left to wonder if “blind allegiance” is all that is expected by a certain few of our elected officials – regardless of the impact that would have on our future.

This is the full text of the op-ed article which appeared in the Lake Worth Herald on July 30, 2009.

Benjamin Disraeli

Click title for historic biographical information.

Here are some quotes:
As a general rule the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information

Great services are not canceled by one act or by one single error.

Grief is the agony of an instant, the indulgence of grief the blunder of a life.

I repeat...that all power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that from the people, and for the people all springs, and all must exist.

In a progressive country change is constant; ...change... is inevitable.

Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for truth.

No government can be long secure without formidable opposition.

The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.

The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, may be preserved by quotation.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Agenda for 8/4 City Commission Meeting

"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."

Former Delray Beach Mayor Jeff Perlman put this phrase up as his FaceBook status last night. I thought it was very poignant.

Need I say more? Thank you new visitors!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Critical Mass, disruptive mobilizations and environmental awareness

Click title for link. Reference is made to Critical Mass, a group of bikers that organize instantaneous mass demonstrations which snarl traffic to bring awareness to alternate modes of transportation. An excerpt from the article:
I’ve been studying transnational social movements for about a decade, and in my research I have found one of the most used strategies ENGOs tend to use is public protest. I’ve been fascinated by some organizations’ choice of disruptive techniques not because I think they are particularly effective but because I always wonder its effectiveness. In my research, I have found that many ENGOs that use lobbying, letter-writing, sitting on intergovernmental panels and providing advice as influencing strategies are much more effective than disruption.

Interesting graphic showing relative transportation energy use vs. density of world cities...

Tyranny – Alive and Well in Lake Worth? By Wes Blackman, AICP

In the United States of America, we enjoy many freedoms made possible by our form of government. These freedoms spring from our Constitution. Being part of this representative democracy, we have the freedom to chose the degree to which we participate and engage in the process of governing ourselves. There are many that are so involved in the day-to-day activities of life, raising a family, pursuing a career or just getting by that choose not to involve themselves in the on-going affairs of civic life. This freedom allows those that chose not to engage the ability to let others take on the responsibilities of self-government.

It is therefore the rare individual that chooses to emerge from a group of people being governed and desires to take a role in creating an environment of how we will be governed. When this happens, it is something to be celebrated and encouraged.

Recently in Lake Worth...

For more of this article, pick up today's Lake Worth Herald - available at newsstands in Lake Worth.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Last night's CRA meeting (7/28)...

What a surreal experience!

Here we were reviewing and commenting on next year's budget - of which the CRA has been accused of spending "like a runaway train" - and six of the seven board positions are open due to the snafu in eliminating staggered terms years ago. So we are reviewing this budget and the priorities it represents knowing that some or most of us may not be on the CRA board during the next fiscal year. With the Commission interviewing the 29 applicants for the open positions on August 31st, it is entirely possible that the first act of the new board - at its first meeting - would be the adoption of the budget. How crazy is that? I made a point that, for the sake of communication and some possible form of continuity, we make an extra effort to inform the group of applicants that were turned away at the door on the day of their scheduled interviews of the possible three meetings the CRA may have in August. Suggestion was even made of a joint City Commission/CRA meeting during the month to review the budget - we had one like that last year. I see the likelihood of that being low.

To their credit, at least three applicants who do not sit on the board presently were in attendance on their own accord. No one from the City Commission was present - so much for concern over our budget and encouraging communication.

I thought we came up with some good ideas to trim another $500,000 from the proposed budget - which assumes that the Commission will not make a contribution to the CRA in that amount to make up for the fact that the CRA cannot capture the MSTU millage (County fire department tax) next year. One of the groups of items staff will be looking at is money approved but not spent by the city or grant recipients, another is scaling back the time frame on the 800 block N. Dixie parking lot and reducing the amount of money allocated to workshops and entrepreneur training.

We did get an update from Vince Burkhardt of Burkhardt Construction on the status of 10th Avenue North. Here are the highlights.

Work Completed:
  • Underground utilities complete.
  • Gutter and sidewalks 95% complete except for areas where utility poles remain, balance complete when poles removed, Comcast the only utility left on poles at this time, about a week to finish.
  • Streetlights, except for two, are installed and working.
  • Powerlines are off utility poles west of tracks, east of tracks in the next two weeks.
  • Signal poles in.
  • Third week of August planting live oaks.
Work Not Completed
  • Uplighting for landscaping
  • Installation of four medians
  • Final asphalt
  • Pavers at intersections
Eventhough March is the official end of contract, work expected to be complete in December of 2009.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lake Worth votes for lower preliminary tax rate, but residents' tax bills will probably rise

The complexity of it is enormous. Click title for link to PB Post article. More on the CRA budget later.

Advertisement Language for the Beach Charter Amendments


The above is part of the advertisement that went into today's Palm Beach Post for first reading at the City Commission meeting of August 4, 2009. This is not the actual ballot language, that apparently is being crafted now by outside council at the request of Commissioner Jennings. That is next Tuesday's regular Commission meeting.

One question: Look at the aerial photo - courtesy of Google Earth - of the beach property. What is the primary use of the Lake Worth Public Beach?

Is it recreation, is it building or is it parking? My vote is that the primary use of the beach property is parking - around 500 spaces worth of it. Even with a total building square footage of +64,000 square feet, that is a small part of the total 19 acre site. If the entire building area were on one floor, the total building coverage of the 19 acres would be 7.7 percent. If part of it is a second story, the ground coverage created by building would be even less. So, if you want to get technical, it is not the "primary" use of the beach property. Is recreation the primary use, really?

This ballot initiative is an apparent backlash to the Beach and Casino zoning district which calls the casino building and activities therein a principle use on the beach property. This does not set well with Commissioner Jennings and Vice Mayor Golden's ardent supporters. The wording of the ballot measure will have to be very exact or we could end up with a beach that doesn't provide parking spaces. Which, in my mind, wouldn't be that bad as it would set us firmly in place as a community that is not going to encourage travel to our most desirable public space by private automobile. Think of a large, centralized parking facility in the downtown that would house the steel carriages for beach visitors while they come and go - walking in front and into our downtown shops.

However, I don't think many agree with me on this issue. I also don't think the proponents of this approach and ballot measure realize that the principle use of the beach is a parking lot.

Below is the associated language related to blocking access to dredging and the actual act of dredging to and from our beach:


Safeguarding the Smart Grid: Cyber-terrorism Implications

Interesting article by Garry Brown, Chairman, New York State Public Service Commission. He talks about the potential pitfalls of the "smart grid" being talked about - this would allow real time monitoring of your energy use but would also open up potential windows into the electric grid for more malicious security breaches.

By the way, the City has applied for CDBG money for "pay as you go" metering and the ability for homeowners to access their usage data. This will be for a small pilot project within the city - clearly the way the industry is headed.

Click title for link to article.

Updated Calendar for August City meetings...

Note that interviews for potential CRA board members to fill six open positions is scheduled for August 31. That means that the first meeting of the new board will be adoption of the 2009/2010 budget. Not the best idea, in my opinion.

CRA Workshop Meeting - Tonight - 7/28 - 6 p.m.

Click title for back-up.

One local blogger doesn't this think that the highest joint priority of the City Commission and the CRA, as determined at the joint February and April meetings, addresses the key reason for the CRA's existence - addressing slum and blight conditions. The Cultural Redevelopment Program is part of the leverage provided for in the CRA's 23.2 million dollar application for Federal Neighborhood Stabilization funds - and includes much more than just soft costs related to the promotion of Lake Worth as a cultural and artist destination. This is called making a small amount of local money do much more, especially in the grant's target area. Let's hope it's successful.

Also on the agenda is the review of a reuse of a building at in the 200 block of S. Dixie. This is one of the city's more attractive examples of Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture. Originally built as a motel, as seen in the post card below, it has been under-utilized as an office building in recent years.

This is the first redevelopment project I will have reviewed in the year since I've been on the CRA board. This was a process that I helped establish when I was chair of the Planning and Zoning Board in order to encourage communication between the CRA and P&Z. The fact that we have had nothing to review for a year speaks volumes about the state of our local and national economies. Not only is Lake Worth fighting the economic tide, we are still competing for redevelopment and investment dollars with other local communities. No physical changes to the building are forecast for this project, but it will propose a re-use of the building as a school. Since it is being leased, it will remain on the tax role. The CRA will not be voting on it tonight, just offering comments and suggestions that will eventually be incorporated into the the P&Z's review of the project.

This is the site plan that is part of the back-up material.

It's important to point out that this existing building, built sometime in the 40s + or - exceeds the currently required front setback by 2 feet. Not that it matters much, but it's an example of the built pattern already established here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Downtown Hollywood, Florida on a Saturday afternoon

The "Blog Jam" that I went to was held at a restaurant in downtown Hollywood, one of our sister beach cities on the east coast of Florida. You can tell that there weren't too many people around. We didn't stray too far from our location, but it looked like we were pretty much in the center of it. Most of the spaces were either restaurants or marginal small retail shops - but as many or more vacancies as we have in our city. I wish someone could have taken pictures around the same in our downtown Lake Worth - I am sure there would have been more of a pedestrian presence here.

Anyway, FYI. If you have any other pictures of downtown environments, send them to me and we can start a collection.

Click here for a link to Hollywood CRA's website.

Amtrak may return passenger service to South Florida's most eastern tracks

Click title for link.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

How our municipal neighbor to the north is celebrating its centennial...

Click title for link.

How will we recognize our centennial?

What do we have to celebrate?

Will we recognize it at all?

IMPORTANCE OF PLACE: Note to Environmentalists: Become New Urbanists

IMPORTANCE OF PLACE: Note to Environmentalists: Become New Urbanists

Posted using ShareThis

Bridge Homeless Shelter Cuts Neighborhood Crime by 18%

Click title for link - silver LEED certification building in the middle of a Dallas brownfield.

"Blog Jam"

Jim Stafford and I were invited to take part in "Blog Jam" yesterday. The Society of of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and were the sponsors - treating the group to a nice lunch at Sage Cafe in Hollywood, Florida. The SPJ is full of dyed-the-wool print journalist types. Apparently this "blogging" thing has raised their curiosity to such a high level that they issued a grant to host a group of blogger types to chat about it. This was by invitation only - which I consider an honor. Most likely, I appeared on their radar screen due to this blog garnering the award of Best Blog of 2009 by New Times magazine.

Besides lunch, we enjoyed a round table discussion with about twenty other bloggers - independents along with those employed by newspapers, large and small. We shared information on how to boost traffic to our blogs, common problems and technical issues. A good group of people and one that I think will meet again to exchange information. I found it very informative and am anxious to realize the results of some powerful recommendations.

One thing that I received universal confirmation of is that politics and planning at the local level do not get the coverage that they deserve due to traditional print and broadcast media biases and priorities.

Meeting with City Manager Susan Stanton Rescheduled

Some of you may know through my FaceBook status that the appointment to meet with City Manager Susan Stanton was postponed. Apparently there were multiple crises going on at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon and she was in a closed door session to address them. I've provided a link to her city manager's report by clicking on the title. In it you will read the following:

So this sounds like the city will take action to revert back to the Palm Beach County previous zoning designation - and not a "SF" land use designation and a "SF-7" zoning district - which are city designations. This puts the property in sort of a regulatory purgatory, which I have yet to completely decipher. I'm guessing that it will allow the city to go ahead and get the Comp Plan to be found in compliance by the DCA - subject to the other information and submittals identified above. What will likely happen is that the city will come back with a subsequent amendment to assign a Lake Worth designation for both land use and zoning - albeit at SF. Which, as I have discussed here is not a 7 units to the acre - it's more like in the 4 to 5 units per acre range.

It also looks like the Comp Plan will appear on the August 19th Commission agenda, with or without Commissioner Jennings' amendments and changes? More investigation is necessary.

Report from the Small World Department:

Long time readers of this blog might recall the days of the "Truth Matters" streaming Internet show. Many of those shows included my friend Greg Vannier. It turns out that I bumped into Greg last night and hadn't seen him for what seemed to be a long time. We chatted and he related a story you might find interesting.

He, along with many other people including yours truly, have discovered the power of FaceBook and its ability to reacquaint you with long lost friends, especially from your high, junior and elementary schools. Well, it turns out he connected with one of his first "girl friends" from the 7th and 8th grade. As they started communication, they found out that they live three blocks away from each other, right in our beautiful city of Lake Worth! They had no idea and apparently this has been an undiscovered fact for many years. As they got to talking, Greg's friend asked if he knew Wes Blackman -it turns out she is a devoted reader of this blog!

So, a big huge shout out to "N" - hope to meet you sometime soon!

By the way, if you're on FaceBook, shoot me a friend request. From my "Blog Jam" experience yesterday, I am going to delve into Twitter more too. I put a button for that on the lower part of the right hand column. Clicking on that will take you to my Twitter profile and you can begin following me. My Twitter address is WesBlackman.

Better living through technology!