Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Editorial: Lake Worth goes low in delaying height-limit vote

I thought that a fresh breeze might be blowing through the ivory towered, corner offices of the Palm Beach Post, but it seems as though they are still breathing the same stale air they have been for years.  Mr. Marra, who supposedly lives in Lake Worth insists that "residents demanded" to vote on the height issue.  Mr. Marra makes it seem that there was this great "welling up" of sentiment, as common residents put down their knitting, exited their front doors and searched out petitions to sign since they were so threatened by the prospect of a small area of the downtown, that is already home to many tall buildings, would become home to two or three taller buildings - up to 65 feet.  In reality, this "redevelopment" process would occur over 10 to 15 to 20 years.

That didn't happen Mr. Marra.  What the residents faced was a small army of hysterical people with professionally prepared petitions.  Each made it seem like the wolf was at the door and that current Commission, by adopting a Comprehensive Plan that would limit heights to 65 east of Federal (what is allowed now) and lowering them in the central part of downtown to 45 feet, was going to physically destroy the "Old Florida" small town character of Lake Worth.  Surely, the truth was not represented as the eager "workers" gathered the signatures in a frenzied canvass of the entire city to meet an impossible deadline that was only possible if the City Commission bent the rules.

What was also not presented at the door was that way back in 2004 - that's 56 dog years - the City began a Master Planning process that was supposed to determine what residents wanted Lake Worth to look like when redevelopment happened.  Over $1.5 million was spent, with much of the effort being directed toward total public involvement, multitudes of meetings were held and immediate changes were made in the form of a zoning-in-progress (that everyone seems to forget) that put an end to what most people thought was wrong with the existing zoning code - much of that targeted at ending what was seen as a proliferation of townhouses.  

Over this immense amount of time, people in power made sure that the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulation creation process proceeded at a snail's pace, if it proceeded at all.  During this span, people in power took advantage of re-interpreting the data that came from maybe 300 attendees at these previously held meetings to determine the "vision" of our city.  Suddenly, we learn from the Grand Interpreters (Jennings and Golden chief among them) that the residents overwhelmingly wanted a two story city.  An unworkable height restriction table was put into the revised Comprehensive Plan that did just that.

This petition drive came at a time when the city is nearly ready to adopt a newly minted Comprehensive Plan, through the efforts of a competent planning staff, that reflects public opinion and is a result of years of discussion and compromise.  I continue to find it amazing that many people that were part of and promoted the petition drive refer to the "Tri" meeting - this was a meeting between the City Commission, the Planning and Zoning Board and the Historic Resource Preservation Board - that a grand consensus was reached on heights throughout the city - including this area east of Federal Hwy.  Strange thing is - even though the equipment to record the meeting at the Golf Course Clubhouse was there - none of the meeting ended up being recorded.   There is NO AUDIO RECORD of that meeting.  Things that make you go hmmmmm....

So, Mr. Marra, this was no groundswell of residents clamoring together to lower heights in Lake Worth.  This petition drive was directed, aided and abetted by the same people that have been involved in this unbelievably drawn out process and have an interest in causing confusion and drawing out the process even more.  The City Commission's action on Saturday at least put a hold on this foolishness.  It may now be possible to actually have a coherent  Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulation pair by the time that this item gets to the ballot.  Then people might actually understand the facts of the matter and we can actually get on with the business of making the city a more economically sustainable place.

If you want to read more drivel, click title for link to the editorial.