Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Eight years equals 416 weeks or 2,290 days or 70,080 hours or 4,204,800 minutes

That is the time that the city of Lake Worth has taken to reformulate its Comprehensive Plan and its Land Development Regulations (LDRs) and we still are not finished. According to William Waters, the city's Director of the Department of Community Sustainability, last night we are five weeks away from having a completed set of LDRs. First reading at the City Commission is scheduled for July 16th and, if all goes well at the first reading, second reading will be August 6th. The new LDRs would then go into effect 10 days later.

We are that close to ending a process that, conservatively speaking, has taken eight years and directly cost the city $1.5 million. The indirect costs are incalculable. What is the dollar value of the projects, investors, businesses, goods and service providers and jobs that the city has missed out on over that period of time - just short of a decade? What services has the city not been able to provide due to dwindling revenue from ad valorem taxes - revenue derived from our millage rate being applied to the value of property within the city? How much would our utility rates have been able to be lowered since they wouldn't have to compensate for the anemic condition of the city's general fund? How has this contributed negatively to the quality of life we attempt to enjoy in Lake Worth? How has it created a situation where we find ourselves awash in foreclosed and vacant properties that are proving to be a breeding ground for desperation - the breeding ground for criminal activity? Why were we one of the thirty-eight Palm Beach County municipalities that lost the most property value over the past eight years?

We will never have definitive answers to those questions. But, the fact that we have had no significant commercial development over the past two full calendar years should be worth a few canaries in the coal mine. It also indicates that the uncertainty in the city's regulatory environment has not attracted investment activity. If anything, it has alienated it.

We also find out that HB 357 outlawed referenda that result in changes to communities' comprehensive plans. Last night's City Commission agenda item 10 A would have changed our comprehensive plan as a result of the referendum on height. Had the item been approved, our entire comprehensive plan would have been in jeopardy of being challenged, resulting in more uncertainty and creating a disincentive to investment in Lake Worth.

We need to straighten out a few facts from the discussion last night. Ample evidence of what went on is provided in the selection of videos on this blog, so that if you have any question of what I correct here, you can refer to them.

The Mayor said nothing, as reported by the Palm Beach Post this morning, that indicated she felt the city's charm would not be affected by taller buildings. In attending the meeting, watching and re-watching these videos, she did say that she "didn't have a dog in the fight" and could come down of "either side of fence" as it relates to this issue. She said that the "city has measures to prevent big, tall buildings." She identified the area in contention as being east of Federal, between 2nd Avenue North and 1st Avenue South and west of Dixie Hwy. This was corroborated by Mr. Waters - the west of Dixie Hwy. area was more specifically in the area of the proposed transit oriented development (TOD) area. She said that this doesn't close the door on discussion of future changes and that we need to maintain our charm in the process. We must also be honest about who we are and attack those situations where the city is weak.

Ms. Anderson pointed out that the will of the people is supreme and the people voted to charge the charter - the city's Bible - not the comprehensive plan. The changes contemplated by the City Commission in item 10 A would have changed the comprehensive plan based upon the referendum. What doesn't she get about this? In order to do it right or correctly and legally now, we were told that it would be an eighteen month process, that would include hiring of a consultant (more money, which we would have to find), public hearings, findings of fact, submittal of the large scale change of the comprehensive plan to the Department of Economic Opportunity with other review of the changes by the appropriate agencies. If everything indicated, in a procedurally sound fashion, then we could lower permitted building heights in these areas and have an unassailable comprehensive plan.

Ms. Golden had trouble with math last night. She pointed out that this has been eight months since the election and the city attorney just now is telling us that we can't go forward. Actually, Ms. Golden, the election was held on March 12th. Today is July 3rd. April, May, June and part of July have passed - that is almost four months, not eight. In the interim we had the passage of HB 357 which required some legal analysis - which was done by more than one attorney. I understand how someone could be loose with the counting of passing months given the delay of adopting coherent comprehensive plan and land development regulations during her time on the dais. She also pointed out that the City Commission brought up "out of no where" that they wanted "tall buildings below Federal." Ms. Golden, the City Commission did nothing to raise heights in this area, as later pointed out by Commissioner Maxwell. 65 feet was the allowable height in this area for as long as anyone can remember. The Commission lowered allowable heights between Dixie Hwy. and Federal. And, what is a tall building, anyway? Is it six stories or 65 feet, is it four stories or 45 feet or is it ten stories or 100 feet as defined by this Vancouver architect in a recent post about how a wooden 30 story building would be the most eco-friendly building around? 

Ms. Decker should also check her knowledge of local zoning codes. In today's Palm Beach Post article, she cites Delray Beach as an example of balancing building height and community character. Let it be known to all that Delray Beach's Central Business District zoning district allows up to 48 feet "by right," but can allow buildings of up to 60 feet in height if the project meets certain standards. This is not unlike how Lake Worth's coming LDRs are structured, the major difference being that ours would be more restrictive in what is permitted "by right" to two stories. But that doesn't help the Respectful Planning PAC's argument so you will not hear about that.

Commissioner Szerdi said that the referendum in March provided a "clear answer to an unclear question." He pointed out that we are in a position of agreement on 99% of what the comprehensive plan and the LDRs would allow. In my opinion, that 1% of disagreement shouldn't hold the rest of Lake Worth hostage. He suggested a survey as a way of eliminating confusion on the issue and quell the fear of those that do not understand what height limits are allowed where.

Commissioner Maxwell asserted his support for municipal "home rule" and that cities should not be subject to such state and federal mandates. He emphatically said that he does not like misrepresentations of fact that for the "five-hundredth" time, this Commission "did not raise heights in the downtown, we lowered them." Saying and suggesting that this Commission raised heights is just plain wrong. They did what they did to protect the charm and character of the city.

Ms. Sharpe reminded everyone that the current limit in the charter of a maximum of 65 feet east of Dixie Hwy. and 100 feet west of Dixie Hwy is still there and was voted on through a referendum. She agreed with Mr. Szerdi that the whole notion of height throughout the city should be clarified.

So, I ask you, is it really worth extending this debate one more second over the "possibility" of the redevelopment of four or so parcels which "could" contain a hotel that would offer a place for people to stay and spend money in our downtown that "might" have a total of six stories? I say no.

If you say "yes." Then you probably are a lot like the princess in this fairy tale.