Thursday, December 10, 2015

On the Gulf Stream Hotel project rezoning at the Lake Worth City Commission meeting on 12/8

I've been through many quasi-judicial meetings held by local governments. I ran such meetings in my role as chairman of various boards that deal with land use issues. I've also been a part of them in the role as staff, as the applicant, and in my role as an urban planner. The commission meeting on 12/8 was unusual. In order to reach a decision a board, or a commission in this case, is charged with making a decision based on "competent and substantial evidence."

This evidence usually comes in the form of studies, reports or presentations made by land use professionals, and the public can contribute as well. In order to offer testimony you need to be sworn in and give an oath that what you are about to say is true.

The total time given to consideration of this particular item, the Gulf Stream hotel rezoning request, was a little over two and a half hours.

People in attendance at this meeting, the quasi-judicial part who wanted to speak, were given a choice. They could be sworn in and give "testimony" or just offer "public comment." In describing the difference, the city attorney stated that the distinction would mean that those giving "testimony" could be cross-examined. That could include their credentials that allows them to make testimony. That didn't happen.

Those who were against the project pointed to "the vote" on height limitations and that a majority of people approved the restricted height that would not allow any building in Lake Worth, east of I-95, to go higher than 45 feet. They were reminded again that the vote was overturned by state law and made "null and void". This has been explained ad nauseam on this blog and other places. People, many of which in attendance, remain in a delusional state on this.

This distinction, testimony vs. comment, meant that if what you were going to say mattered in the decision, you offered "testimony," instead of "public comment." Many people chose to be sworn in and give testimony. This was new for a lot of people and it was the "thing to do" or "I'll follow the leader." Some thought their "comment" would make a difference in the ultimate vote. That isn't true. The vote was a predictable 3 -2 decision with McVoy and Maier dissenting.

There was no wavering from McVoy and Maier from their position that the "Downtown" re-zoning would go against the "people's" decision in 2013. That is not "law" and both McVoy and Maier know that.

Below is the "public comment" I wrote down that was read into the record by Mayor Triolo:

     "The Gulf Stream Hotel is the tallest building on our waterfront, nestled among other buildings of a similar size, scale and height. You could say the hotel occupies the most prominent location in the city. It is on our main street that leads to our downtown and the city’s beach. For 90 years the building has stood, watching the city and society change around it. We, the residents and our elected and appointed officials, are vested with the responsibility of creating the right environment for his property not only to survive, but thrive. Other residents who have come before us recognized its importance to the community. The hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
     I’ve lived in Lake Worth 23 years. Most of my memories of the Gulf Stream Hotel are of the building being closed. This is not the fault of the current owners of the property. It really is not the fault of previous owners of the property. There are a series of long existing conditions that have contributed to its closure - some going back 30 and 40 years. Dixie Hwy. replaced by 1-95 as the main means of travel through and to south Florida communities is one. Rooms in the building are too small to be attractive in the present tourist marketplace is another. Lack of adequate and convenient parking is another. And the list goes on and on."

We will continue to hear the cries from that small cabal who were plaintiffs in a legal action against the City over the now-recognized "null and void" vote. Commissioner Maier even suggested that the lawsuit that was filed could be renewed since it was dismissed by the judge "without prejudice." This ignores the fact that the request for the withdrawal came from the plaintiff (Laurel Decker). The decision to withdraw the lawsuit, it can be surmised, came after the realizing the considerable amount of resources (both time and money) that would entail and a very uncertain outcome.

Some will continue to live in a fantasy world that somehow, someone will step forward and unring the bell, that the 'heights vote' isn't "null and void". This is the Gulf Stream hotel they may recall or fondly pray for in reverence:
Early Post-WWII picture of the Gulf Stream property.
If some continue to hold onto the orthodoxy that historic preservation is also "no growth" then that dooms all of our history, including structures like the Gulf Stream hotel. Lake Worth is at a crucial point and we don't have time for your fanciful notions when there's so much at risk.