Friday, May 19, 2006

Received from Annabeth Karson:

I, along with all but one of the Commissioners, Mayor, Paul Boyer and the Community Development staff received this e-mail from Annabeth Karson on Thursday afternoon, May 18th. Annabeth's message is first, in italics, and my response follows. My response went out to the same group, with the addition of Commissioner Lowe:

To all City officials who may be accountable for public notice of meeting agenda items:

The 5/17/06 P&Z meeting agenda did not include an explanation of the following item under Planning Issues. This may appear as a lack of transparency on the part of our government.
"3. proposed residential project generally located at Palmway and 3rd avenue S."
Additionally, the item includes elements of importance to historic preservation yet was not listed under the Historic Preservation section of the agenda, with no notice that an historic preservation aspect of the discussion was to be expected.

It appears that this project includes potential demolition of historic structures in one of the oldest, most carefully preserved neighborhoods of LW. I did not know about the potential impact of the item until this morning when I was informed by some who attended the meeting. I have already heard from other residents who say that they would have attended the meeting had the item been more clearly stated.

As we know, there is a great concern among our residents that the historic character of our City be preserved. This was reflected during the Playhouse candidates' debate, when the commission candidates unanimously pledged to create a separate HRPB. This item demonstrates the clear conflict of interest between P&Z and HRPB and provides one more example of why we need a separate HRPB in order to effectively protect the valuable assets of our historic city.
Please be sure that future agendas are clearly written so as to properly inform interested residents on the nature of the items.

I thank everyone for their attention to this matter.

Annabeth Karson

Sent 5/18 in response:


Sorry to hear that you missed out on our discussion of a “potential” project at S. Palmway and 3rd Avenue South. And, I agree that the item as listed in the agenda was vague and left a lot to the imagination. Items that we address under Planning Issues generally involve owners of property or potential developers that want to use the opportunity to identify issues and potential problems before proceeding through the development review process. This input comes from both the board and the general public. I think that you know the importance that the board places on public input and it distresses me to think that people who could have provided valuable input were not present.

We took no action last night on the matter, but managed to expose a lot of the potential conflicts between the existing zoning classification (MF 30) and the historic district regulations that exist. Much of our conversation concerned the importance of contextual development. Unfortunately, we do not have a set of design guidelines, as we do for the downtown and major thoroughfares, for this particular district. The challenges identified included the existing zoning and its allowance for a maximum height of 60 feet, provision of parking for 27 residential units and the design problems associated with that provision, pedestrian sensitive development, potential loss of “rhythm” of the street front (setbacks, scale and spacing of existing structures), permitted height and the contrast with other structures in the area, etc. Those present expressed both support and concern regarding the project. One of those speaking in support was rightly exposed as being financially involved in the underlying transaction.
It should also be noted that we did not receive any back-up material in our packets. The drawings, including the site plan and elevation, were done by the applicant “the night before” the meeting – with no input from our staff and our generally uncomplimentary comments reflected the lack of staff’s input.

The board also identified this area and its contradictory dynamics in a previous meeting and discussed this under Planning Issues on April 19, 2006. The item was listed as “Southeast MF-20, MF-30 and MF-40 Zoning Districts”. We have directed our staff, limited in number and over-booked with demands, to work on a set of design guidelines so that we can successfully address the challenges and opportunities this area holds for the City.

We also discussed the implications of a City budget that is projected to be in at least a $5 million deficit position and how the board and the City’s land development regulations have a direct impact, in both positive and negative ways, upon the ultimate resolution of the deficit issue. We discussed how other areas are gong to be essentially “down zoned” through the Master Plan process and that leaves fewer areas available for redevelopment that will have a substantial budgetary impact. This particular area represents some of the highest value of land within the City and the existing and long-standing zoning classification reflects this. However, I believe that everyone also recognizes the historical sensitivity of the area and the need to preserve the character of Lake Worth.

Thus, we weren’t able to give much direction. We only served to identify the above contradictions, challenges and opportunities.

Later on in the meeting, we discussed the notion of separating the functions of the Planning and Zoning Board and the Historic Resources Preservation Board. In fact, the board directed me to draft a letter to the City Commission regarding this. They asked that I share a draft with them before sending it, but I feel it important to include some of their concerns in this response. So, please realize that the following is done without my fellow board member’s review, other than being representative of what we discussed last night at our meeting. I am sure they would be happy to give their individual responses to the issue if asked.

We identified the following issues related to separation of the function of the board. These are not in defense of keeping the board “as is”, but offered as important points to consider before making such a decision:

1. The board is currently is comprised of residents who live east of Dixie Hwy. While this provides a strong representation for people living in the City’s historic districts (since all of the City’s existing historic districts are east of Dixie Hwy.), it does not represent the geographic and social diversity of the City. We are in dire need of representation from the western areas of the City and I would encourage all of us to emphasize the importance of that in the coming round of board appointments. If we have this problem now, there is a potential to compound the problem with the establishment of a separate board. We also do not currently have a practicing architect on the board and one is needed on a historic preservation board in order to maintain the City’s certified local government status. Formation of another board would double the need for architectural expertise that is traditionally difficult to find.

2. Rather than a “conflict” between the functions of a Planning and Zoning Board and a Historic Resources Preservation Board, I think we saw the benefits of having expertise, knowledge and abilities in both areas at our meeting last night. Instead of having a “stand-off” of two opposing sides, a board with combined functions is likely better able to strike a compromise and offer innovative alternatives in a collaborative environment. Although we didn’t “decide” anything last night, we were able to see all sides of the issue due to the board’s experience in dealing with various competing interests. Is it easy? No! But it is necessary to have this kind of dialog for the City to progress.

3. Staffing needs for an additional board should be considered, especially given the budgetary and physical plant constraints that the City faces. Also to be considered, but lesser of importance, would be the time required for a new board to get up to speed.

4. We should also remember that when the functions of the Planning and Zoning Board were consolidated, and the Historic Resource Preservation Board was established, it was done so that all issues could be heard at one time. This reduced the possibility of a long string of individual meetings with the potential for a “back-and-forth” between various boards as changes are made to a particular project. This was also done at a time when the City was trying to attract developer interest and make the process as expeditious as possible, but still remaining comprehensive in scope.

5. The Historic Resources Preservation Board also has the power to grant variances to historic structures/properties so that they remain functional in the present day and can change to reflect the prevailing historic fabric of the various historic districts. This can be done without the finding of a “hardship” as the issuance of a traditional variance requires.

There are other considerations, but these seem to be the most important points to remember at this time. I would encourage you and all others who are in receipt of this to contact me, or any other member of the board, to discuss this important matter further.

Thanks. And I do hope that in the future the board’s agendas give the detail necessary to know better the general focus of the discussion.

Wes Blackman

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"