Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sunset Lawsuit Ruling and 11/6 Commission Item re Appeal

(Note: This was originally posted on 11/16 but I am bumping it up so that it appears at the top of the blog. I noticed some heavier than usual activity on this post today. Just a few minutes ago, someone posted regarding a similar situation in Boca Raton.
So, here is the entire post with the new comment, along with my response)

Judge Fine of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit issued his final ruling on October 26th. This ruling was received by the City on October 29th in the City Attorney's office. There is a request on this coming agenda (New Business - Item E) for the City Commission to authorize and appeal of the Circuit Court's final judgment. Furthermore, the City Attorney recommends that the City retain the law firm Casey, Ciklin, Lubitz, Martens and O'Connell to represent the City and requests that the Commission authorize the Mayor to request support from the Palm Beach County League of Cities in pursuit of this appeal.

This is far from a victory for either the Save our Neighborhood, Inc PAC or the City. Judge fine, in his ruling, makes some fine (eh hem) distinctions regarding the various issues involved and I think that it is important to highlight those here. So, I will go page by page of the ruling in order to give my assessment and perspective on the issue. It is important to note that the writ of mandamus - an action that would require the City to act to put the items to a referendum - was denied. The order essentially sends back the matter to the City Commission for a determination of the number of parcels affected by the land use plan change. Below is a highlighted version of the City Attorney's memorandum. That pretty much speaks for itself, so we will move on to the actual ruling. Remember to click on the images for greater detail.

Well, let's start at the beginning, a very good place to start. First of all, remember that I am not an attorney and do not pretend to be one. What follows are only my opinions on what was actually determined here.

In the above, note that the court "partially grants" the petition regarding the two ordinances related to the Future Land Use Plan (FLUP) change. Furthermore, the court DENIED the similar petition regarding the rezoning ordinance (which will be explained later) and DENIED the Writ of Mandamus related to the City submitting the petitions to the Supervisor of Elections. This is no where near total victory for the Save Our Neighborhood (SON) PAC. As we will see, the major issue framed by this ruling is the determination of the number of parcels affected by the FLUP change ordinances by the City Commission - which I believe to be a meaningless distinction.
There were two ordinances related to the FLUP change - 2005-54 and 2006-04. These ordinances changed the land use designation to low-density multifamily residential. The reason for the two ordinances is that the first one in 2005 dealt with the prospect of this being considered a "small scale" amendment by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). Traditionally, this organ of the State considered FLUP changes to a parcel of less than ten acres and less than 100 potential residential units as small scale amendments. These could be batched individually and the changes incorporated on the FLUP map without specific State of Florida review. However, DCA, in reaction to political pressures (some applied locally, I am sure) and in response to the boom residential market at the time, chose to consider this a large scale amendment. On this page the court is basically reviewing the history of the process here and saying that the change was incidental and these are essentially the same ordinance. The distinction is made here since the petitioner (SON) did not include the later ordinance in the lawsuit - but the judge is saying that didn't matter.

It's also interesting to note that the court is saying that state law is indeed superior to provisions in the city charter. As such, it is the city's position that the state statute bars a referendum attempt due to it's prohibition of the same in reference to comprehensive plan amendments that affect fewer than 5 parcels. Somehow, the state legislature included this language in the statute, but really didn't offer an explanation on the difference in impact to FLUP changes that affect five or fewer parcels and six or more parcels. This is what I believe to be a totally arbitrary decision made by the legislature. The court agreed that this language is ambiguous and therefore is playing it proper role in interpreting legislation.

The court determined that the rezoning ordinance (2005-53) is considered a development order, since it actually is the order granting a development permit. According to the court, Florida Statutes define "development permit" as any rezoning permitting the development of land. I think this is given too much weight to the rezoning ordinance as permitting development, especially in this case. The property owner/agent still has to submit a Special Use Permit application if they plan on constructing townhouses on the property (which has consistently been their intent). But, the court says that the rezoning is a development order. Due to the way the statutory language is split up, it is saying that the five or fewer parcel provision does not apply and, in the court's opinion, a development order/permit cannot be subject to a referendum. However, the changes to the comprehensive plan can be subject to a referendum - as long as the affect of the change is to six or more parcels.

The court did not agree that a writ of mandamus could be issued compelling the City to submit the referendum petitions to the Supervisor of Elections since there was not an "unequivocal right" regarding the duty in question. Writs of mandamus are typically used to force governments to do something that is permitted, according to policy and would be issued for any other reason but for subject matter or political sensitivities.

A good example of where a court could issue a writ of mandamus would be the granting of a driveway permit. Let's say everything in the permit application was complete and the design of the driveway met all the standards set by the local government. The local government must issue the permit if it meets all the standards. But let's assume that a neighbor has a problem with the issuance of the permit and for that reason the local government is hesitant to issue it - even though all is in order. Granting the writ of mandamus here would compel the local government to issue the driveway permit.
This is where things go "whacko" in my opinion. What the judge is saying here is that, as part of its being a fact-finding body, the City Commission needs to determine the affect of this FLUP and whether or not it affects five or fewer parcels of land. He is saying that this wasn't done initially, so he is asking that it go back to the City Commission so that they can determine that "fact". Well, I beg to differ with the Judge that the affect of a FLUP change really cannot be measured accurately, scientifically or otherwise. To ask the City Commission (or all local governing bodies) to determine that when considering FLUP requests is pure folly.

So the judge is saying that statutory language can be construed strictly or liberally. The City wanted a liberal interpretation - but the court determined that "parcels" mean more than just the number of parcels that are subject to the FLUP and the City can consider "affect" beyond the parcels (the 4 acre subject parcel) that is the subject of the matter.

The court is also saying that the City didn't do its job by only considering the parcels subject to the change. Practically speaking, this interpretation would require all local governing bodies to make a preemptive strike at a referendum on passage of a FLUP change by determining the number of affected parcels. Five or less could not be the subject of a referendum; six or more could be. Again, this "fine" distinction would amount to "hair-splitting" determinations that are really meaningless, upon examination.

Since, in the court's opinion, the City hasn't repealed the land use plan change ordinances, those are "suspended from taking affect" until the City determines the impact.

All in all, the court here didn't do anyone any favors and, in my opinion, attempted to "split the baby" to settle the dispute. It is an unworkable ruling since whether one parcel is affected or sixteen parcels are affected cannot be "factually" determined. The "affect" can be, and will be, politically determined - to the detriment of all local governments.

Thus, the City Commission, on a 3-2 decision, voted to appeal the ruling.

Legislative Breakfast 1/31/08

This is always an informative event. Just an FYI - let me know if you are interested in attending and we can share a ride. This year might be particularly engaging as it will be two days after the January 29th election re the property tax reform measure.

I happen to be back on the board of the Palm Beach County Planning Congress, this time as Treasurer. I'll let you know of other events as they are scheduled throughout the coming year. This group was one of the sponsors of the ethics seminar held in November.

Population Growth

There has been a lot of speculation about the rate of Florida's population change. Some have guessed, mainly through anecdotal evidence, that population statewide - and locally here in Palm Beach County - might have actually declined over the past two or so years. I personally know many people that cashed out of their property at the height of the real estate boom. This also coincided with the period right after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane barrage. Many left for other areas of the country where housing prices were lower (North Carolina was a popular choice) and where there was less of a chance of some catastrophic natural phenomena happening.

When I start talking about the need to direct population growth to already urbanized metropolitan areas, some people immediately say "What growth? Our population is declining, not increasing." Well, ladies and gentlemen, that is not the case. According to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida's population is still increasing, albeit at a slower rate than recent history.

It is dangerous to think that we are somehow "out of the woods" when it comes to population increases and the concept of growth management for environmental and social reasons. Unfortunately, the current housing "glut" helps mask the fact that population is still increasing. Let's be thankful for the addition of new people as that will eventually resolve the current over-supply of residential units, as prices adjust and units are absorbed.
The map above is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it shows the percent change in metropolitan and micropolitan (smaller statistical areas) from April 2000 to July 2006 in the Unites States. The darker purple shaded areas show places that experienced the higher rates of growth for that period. Second, it reflects Palm Beach County being part of the Broward and Dade county area for statistical purposes. Lake Worth is part of that Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) of over 5,000,000 people. Lastly, it shows that smaller geographic areas can have higher or lower rates of growth than the state as a whole. This is important when we look at what has happened to the overall State of Florida growth rate as reported below.
The chart above (remember you can click on these images for greater detail) shows the cumulative estimates of population change from 2000 to 2007. Overall, the United States has experienced 7.2 percent growth over that period and the South (of which Florida is a part) has grown by 10.2 percent. The State of Florida has added an additional 2.2 million people over that time - which relates to an increase of 14.2 percent. That ranks as seventh fastest growing state in the nation. Florida is the fourth largest state in population, as compared to the other 49 states. The chart below shows the same information for states coming later in the alphabet.
The chart above shows similar information and rankings, but does it for just the 12 month period from July 2006 to July 2007. Here we see evidence that Florida's rate of growth has slowed and is actually growing less quickly than the entire southern region. In fact, according to this data, it is now the nineteenth fastest growing state in the nation. But, it is still growing! If we refer back to the map above, we see that our region is still one of the faster growing regions of that state - with the exception of the Orlando, Treasure Coast and other areas. Remember too that our region has a larger population to begin with so an increase of say 1 percent amounts to many more actual people that a 1 percent increase in lesser populated areas.

So the point here is that population is still increasing in our state and region. We have a choice. Do we want to channel that growth into already developed areas where the infrastructure exists and the ecological damage has already been done? Or do we want to direct that growth to areas that are either productive farmland or environmentally sensitive areas that lack the transportation and utility infrastructure necessary to support that growth? Development in those sensitive, non-developed areas would be primarily lower density "sprawl" patterns that are dependent on fossil fuel burning single passenger vehicles - hastening the global problems of climate change and the rest.

The next time you think about the redevelopment pattern we have in Lake Worth - think about this. Also think about how careful we have been in relation to our nearby coastal municipal neighbors - West Palm Beach, Lantana, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. If you would like to take a safari with me to those cities and compare their redevelopment to what we have experienced here in Lake Worth, I'd be happy to do so.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Joyous Holiday

It's my sincere hope that you had a wonderful day spent among family and friends. I actually planned to be here at home with my dogs for most of the day. Last night I happened to bump into a friend and he invited me over for some Christmas ham and to be part of their festivities, which was very nice. Thank you Mark and John.

Also to let you all know that I will be hosting Karaoke at Club A.J.'s tomorrow night (Wednesday) from 9 p.m to 12 a.m. If you have a light work schedule this week or have chosen to take this time off, this might be a good opportunity to come out and see what happens. Singing is not required, but it adds to the enjoyment. Last week Maura Hennesey dropped by (her office is right next door on J Street) and sang "Dirty White Boy" - I kid you not! Fun! So, see if you can make it.

I hope you enjoyed the videos on the Queen and the Corgis - thought it would be a nice holiday treat.

Final thought for now. I don't know if you saw this article or not, but there was a carjacking at gun point at 13th Avenue North and Dixie Hwy. at 1 a.m. Sunday morning. You can read about the details by clicking here. Notice that this out-of-town Illinois couple were staying at one of our hotels along Dixie Hwy.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tropical Moons

For a while now, I 've wanted to take pictures of the full moon through the palm trees in my front yard. Tonight was the first opportunity when I was at home, the moon was full and in the right position. These are a couple of different views taken with my better digital camera. The effects are courtesy of Photoshop and an ounce or two of my own creativity. The orange light under the moon is the local street lamp filtered through the palm frond- it gives the images a bit of a surreal quality. That one at the top is especially freaky - I've saved it as my desktop wallpaper. The camera I used has a lot of resolution so it's a big image - see what happens when you click on it.

Summary Paper - Lake Worth Station Area "Charrette"

You might remember many posts about the Transit Oriented Development charrette that was held in Lake Worth as part of the Rail-Volution Conference. A team of experts attending this national conference made their way to Lake Worth and focused on the area around our existing Tri-Rail station. The final report has been issued now. I have posted it on a companion website that you can reach by clicking here. Like this blog, you can click on the images and make them larger for easier reading. Since these are jpeg files, you might have to click on them once more when they appear in the new window. I also have a copy of the "Summary Paper" in pdf format, which would be easy to save on your own hard drive and likely be easier to read. If you would like your own copy, I can e-mail one to you. Just let me know through an e-mail to

As I have said before, we were very fortunate to have a group of highly talented and trained professionals in the field of mass transit visit and study a portion of our City. This work ties in nicely with the Master Plan that is in the final stages of completion. It is also consistent with our City's focus on smart growth and green building techniques.