Sunday, May 3, 2009

Myths, misinformation, selective memory, hysteria, bungling bureaucracy...who benefits?

Part of the reason that I devote time to this blog is to make up for the poor job that the city does in getting out basic information to people that live here, invest here, play here and work here.  The city's website - a self-proclaimed "continuous work-in-progress" - amounts to a labyrinth of confusing links, directories, quirky search functions, out-dated information and the list goes on. It's basic format hasn't changed for at least ten years which, in the arc of technological evolution, is an eternity.  Surf other websites for other communities in Palm Beach County and you will see glaring differences in the functionality and ease of information retrieval provided by other municipalities.  Recently, the city's website has become a place that can't be relied upon to have agendas available for meetings that are taking place on the same day.  

We live in an information age and there are issues related to computer availability and skills that need to be addressed so that all populations can benefit from what this technology offers.  To overcome those obstacles, outreach and training is needed.  But just because that's so should not prevent a municipality from making the most of available technology to distribute information and to increase the availability of services through electronic means.

Custody of the validity of historical information (that could mean last week or 25 + years ago) is a sacred trust.  Many political leaders have used the manipulation of information to further their own goals based upon the reality they want to portray.  Stalin was famous for making "historians" erase images of political foes from text books, propaganda sheets, and public places after they were hauled off to labor camps in Siberia or a fate even worse.

Given the political environment of the city of Lake Worth, one has to wonder if this making information difficult to access is a means to an end.  For example, there are groups in the city that do not want the public to remember that the city of Lake Worth had a referendum on allowable height of buildings in 1996.  The referendum passed which calls for buildings no more than 100 ft. tall west of Dixie Hwy and no more than 65 ft. east of Dixie Hwy.  They would rather have you believe that the "people" want only 2 and 3 story buildings - period. Likewise, there are people here in Lake Worth that would like you to not believe that the Sunset property could be developed under Palm Beach County regulations at 36 multi-family units.  See below analysis from the Palm Beach County zoning director:

These same people would not like you to know the amount of public input and protections put into the regulatory actions as it relates to this property. They point to the zoning allowing 80 units - when the project would be restricted to 40 units through an annexation agreement designed to protect surrounding residents. They would also like you to ignore the fact that the property is surrounded on three sides by one of the more dense residential developments in the city of Lake Worth - Murry Hills.

By not dealing with the realities (i.e., the truth), we are being led down a path that would have you believe that down-zoning this property to SF-7 is somehow a reasonable alternative for the property owner and the city.  Here is a section from the city's Zoning Code related to lot and building height regulations for the SF-7 district:

In truth, the maximum allowable density in SF-7 zoning does not equate to 7 units to an acre.  An acre has 43,560 square feet.  The minimum size lot in the SF-7 district is 7,500 square feet.  Dividing that into the number of square feet in an acre equals 5.8 units per acre.  Then, you add the requirement of a 75 foot wide lot which is accessed by a dedicated road 50 to 60 ft. wide to access the newly platted single family lots, you probably get down to 15 or 16 single family buildable single family lots - around 4 units to the acre.  In more than one meeting, one vocal proponent of misinformation offered that at 7 units to an acre - including the "historic building" on the property - would give the property owner 29 single family units.  This is nothing but WRONG information being dispensed as fact at a public meeting.

And, it's worth noting, that the long-existing height limitation in SF-7 zoning is 35 feet - or two stories.  So, some could build the equivalent of a three story structure in height, as long as it didn't have more than two floors.

In retrospect, it would have been better to create a new low density multi-family future land use designation and related zoning district that would be limited to 10 units to an acre, with use and setback and height protections built into it.  There are other appropriate applications of this sort of zoning district throughout the city.  This would have eliminated the need for an annexation agreement.  (Another thing certain people avoid talking about is that the whole project would have gone through a whole other review for special use and site plan approval.)

As it turns out, that would have been the easier path than the now four years of legal battles that now may go on longer.  On this coming agenda, the city attorney's office is asking whether or not to attend a State administrative hearing - since the battle that the city and others fought for four years ($$$) is now against the desires of the current city commission.

Why aren't we getting down to the real solutions?  Because certain groups gain politically by protracting this controversy through a smog of misinformation.

I've also thought that the lack of response by the Commission and city administration in addressing deficiencies in the building department may likely be more of a means to an end.  If you don't want anything to be built in Lake Worth (i.e. a moratorium on development), why don't you just make sure that it is as difficult as possible to do business here?  Why would you want to address the city's image as it relates to the efficient processing of permits and inspections if you didn't want any physical change at all?  

How is not addressing this issue different from laying down in the middle of a street to block access to a driveway?

Next time you hear something being promoted as fact, it would be advisable to do a little research and ask about the ultimate motivations of the people that speak what passes for "truth."  Isn't motive one of the most important aspects of criminal investigations?