Saturday, May 2, 2009

Happy Derby Day!

A hopeful sign...

Our new city manager Susan Stanton has put together a written city manager report for the first week of her tenure. Some interesting items - some things that I hadn't heard about and there are other items where I wondered about their status.  

I don't think she actually got to the City Hall annex and met with our customer service personnel.  See below:

Let's hope she gets to spend some time there in the coming week and not have information filtered to her from Mr. Bates or others.

For the Children - Fundraising Event - 5/13

Friday, May 1, 2009

Relay for Life - Today at John Prince Park - 6 p.m. - Lake Worth Kiwanis Team

A team from Lake Worth Kiwanis will be doing the Relay for Life at John Prince Park. I was hoping to join them, but was called out of town. Click title for link for more information and a way to donate to our hometown team! Good luck!

Today! May 1st Sneak Peak Reception!!! CLAY GLASS METAL STONE

Dear Friends:  Our non-profit artist co-operative has been given the gift of a free building in Lake Worth (until the building is rented or sold.)  21 Artists, of which I am one, have joined together to create a wonderful gallery experience.  Several of us will be using the space as a studio as well. 
Today we are having a sample opening.  On the 15th we will be having our "Grand Opening."  Please come out, visit the space and celebrate with us. 
Every first and third Friday starting next month we will have openings featuring two different artists involved in the co-op. 
Please pass this invitation along to all of your friends who might enjoy celebrating the arts with us.

Instead of Swine Flu, how about...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pictures from the Hillwood Museum in Washington, D.C.

This are pictures taken at the place where I gave my talk on 1920s Palm Beach society earlier this month.  It is Marjorie Merriweather Post's former DC residence which now houses her many collections - including Russian artifacts she retrieved while stationed in the Soviet Union and married to Joseph Davies.  It is a private museum, but open to the public on a reservation basis

There is currently an exhibition of costume ball gowns Marjorie wore in Palm Beach during the 20s - thus the reason for my talk.

They have a wonderful greenhouse on the property and it is said that Mrs. Post grew orchids here and shipped them to Palm Beach.  That sounds like carrying coals to Newcastle, but you never know.

The property is in the northwest part of DC, around Rock Creek Park.  If you are ever in the DC area drop and tell them "Wes" sent you!

And, while we're at it, some other thoughts about Monday's meeting...

The other item on the agenda was the separation of the Planning and Zoning Board (PZB) and the Historic Resource Preservation Board (HRPB).  Currently, they meet at the same time and are made up of the same board members - with the exception that the two (PZB) alternates are full voting members for the HRPB.  

The current thought is that the two boards can be at competing purposes at times - there might be a certificate of appropriateness request for a demolition of a contributing structure and a special use permit for a new building or other use of the property.  I agree, it's a balancing act at times, but I still stand on the board's record of weighing all matters and handing down a decision that was sensitive to all considerations.  It is also designed this way so that an applicant (and staff) doesn't have to prepare for two separate meetings and can get all the decisions/reviews done at the same time.

If the boards are separated, my concern is the extra burden of a staff that has to get another packet out to another board in another week.  It has always been my opinion, and is still my opinion, that the city is drastically understaffed in the Planning and Zoning Department.  For a city the size of Lake Worth (around 40,000 and 5 square miles), we really need a director and four planning and zoning professionals on staff.  Two would concentrate on intake of applications and review of current zoning matters and two would deal with the Comprehensive Plan, maintenance of the Zoning Code and Historic Preservation/Design issues.  There is no way this is going to happen in this budgetary environment, but that would be the ideal situation.  If that were the case, I would have no problem separating the boards.

The next consideration is getting qualified membership to serve on both boards.  Lake Worth is a state of Florida Certified Local Government - click title for link to listing of CLGs in Florida.  In order to maintain that status, the HRPB has to be represented by certain professions and should be made up of people who live or own property in the areas of the city covered by historic districts.  The trick has always been coming up with membership on the Planning and Zoning Board that represents the geographic and human diversity of Lake Worth - not having most or all members coming from east of Dixie.  Only now does the city have one member that lives west of Dixie Hwy.  The creation of a new board - with the same professional and interest requirements will make this task more difficult.  The make up of the board is so important that the lack of geographic diversity, in my opinion, greatly contributed to the difficulty surrounding the Sunset property decision - as I have said many times before.

This was left for staff to bring back the necessary changes to separate the boards in five months and then a decision will be made based upon staffing/funding.

For those who thrive on details and process, here is a Comp Plan amendment flowchart...

Commissioner Lowe's Comments from Monday's meeting...

More thoughts on Monday's meeting...

When you deal with restricting height and density below what it is now, then you also have to deal with issues related to grandfathering (what can be built if a building is substantially destroyed.)  These actions then have related impacts on the ability of the property owner to insure the property and may prevent a lender (especially in a tight credit market) to issue mortgages and financing for projects.  It also reinforces the message that Lake Worth is not a place to invest in relation to the communities that surround us.  In many ways, these "solutions" are answers to problems that we don't have.

And, besides, there are other places that you can put limitations on height - like the land development regulations - that are locally administered and approved.

And this little gem is never mentioned when the "people" are quoted as wanting these limitations.  In 1996, there was an item on THE BALLOT concerning building height.  It was approved by the "people."  It is part of the City Charter and reads as follows - this never made it into the Zoning Code:
Sec. 11.  Building height limitation.
East of Dixie Highway within the city no building or part thereof shall be constructed which exceeds a vertical height of sixty-five (65) feet above grade. West of Dixie Highway within the city no building or part thereof shall be constructed which exceeds a vertical height of one hundred (100) feet above grade.
(Ord. No. 96-32, § 1, 12-5-96)

I suggest that if we are going to have these limitations as proposed by Commissioner Jennings et al, then we include it in the form of a referendum.  Then the "people" will indeed be heard. Again. Some more.
The 65 ft. height limitation has been on the books since 1976.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We're in deep kimchi...

The city of Lake Worth, that is.  I've finally cooled down enough to share some words about the meeting on Monday held at 3 p.m. with the City Commission and the Planning Board.  This relates to the Master Plan process.  I expect this will be a rather long post on the topic.

Way back in 2003, the City Commission was convinced of the Master Plan idea from aone parrticular resident at the time who liked to burn up the phone lines.  That resident no longer lives in the city.  The basic premise was that the city needed to re-vamp it's Comprehensive Plan anyway and everyone had trouble with the zoning code or land development regulations (LDRs). It was thought that both had been amended time after time and really didn't reflect the "vision" of the residents as to what Lake Worth should look like.   To accomplish the process, a massive never before seen effort to solicit public input was taken on by a group of consultants.  The total cost for this process - up to and including the delivery of the final documents - was to cost the city almost $1 million.  It was seen as a two to maybe three year process.  At the end, the city would have two solid contemporary planning and zoning documents that would reflect the residents' vision, eliminate many controversies and confusions and be easier to use than the existing documents.

Personally, I remember talking to the consultants - some before they were hired - that one of the biggest issues we would have to deal with is allowable height and transitions from commercial to residential properties.  

The project got underway with multiple visioning sessions, the creation of the Stakeholders Advisory Committee - which I sat on as then-Chair of the Planning and Zoning Board.  Cara Jennings was also on that Committee, along with Jo Ann Golden and Dave Vespo - all before they were elected as Commissioners.  The Committee consisted of many others representative of various groups within the city.  This process wrapped up in the middle of 2006 with the following report issued by the consultants:

E-mail me if you want a copy of the report.  It summarizes the visioning process and identifies specific areas of the city that served as the basic study areas.

Key dates:  Commissioner Jennings was elected in March 2006. I resigned from the Planning and Zoning Board in December of 2006.  At the time, P & Z was meeting every week - pretty much the last half of 2006 working on the Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR) - which is part of the requirements on the way to updating the Comprehensive Plan.  It takes a look at the existing Comp Plan and makes recommendations based on changed conditions.  A lot of Lake Worth's changed conditions related to the findings of the master plan and the visioning sessions.

The EAR went through the Planning Board and City Commission in 2007, with some hiccups, but it did eventually  make it to the Department of Community Affairs - DCA.  From then on, it was on to creating a new Comp Plan.  All along there were opportunities for changes and refinements to the findings of the master plan.  

The Planning and Zoning Board continued to have meetings reviewing the changes and revising the Comp Plan through 2007 and 2008.  In September 2008, our Comp Plan went "out of compliance" with the Department of Community Affairs.  This was due to the fact that the city hadn't adopted a new one by DCA's long established statewide deadline.  First reading on the new Comp Plan was held in October and was sent up.  Here is an excerpt from the City Commission meeting of October 7, 2008 - note Commissioner Jennings' limited comments:

This first reading is many times called the "transmittal hearing."  After voting to "transmit" - including Commissioner Jennings, DCA reviews the Comp Plan - and ships it out to other agencies that do the same - and then issues an "Objections, Recommendations and Comments" (ORC) report.  Usually, this letter asks the city for additional back-up material in the form of data and analysis that arrive at the various conclusions included in the Comp Plan.

Right now, staff has responded to this ORC report and is ready for the Comp Plan to have it's second reading.  DCA would then receive the Comp Plan and response to the ORC report and likely find our Comp Plan in compliance.

Right now, as I said, our Comp Plan is "not" in compliance.  Among many at the meeting on Monday, this was waved off as an unimportant matter.  These are some of the consequences of not having a Comp Plan in compliance with the Department of Community Affairs:
  • No processing of any land use plan changes.  For example, if a good project that everyone wants is looking at a Lake Worth location and the current future land use designation doesn't allow it - the project must wait until the plan is found to be "in" compliance.
  • Questionable eligibility for grant monies.  With federal stimulus money programs and non-profit grant program applications, one of the first requirements is submitting or certifying that your Comp Plan is "in" compliance.
  • Questionable legal authority.  The changes that are in the new version of the Comp Plan can't go into effect until it is adopted.  You can encourage people to follow the new plan - but in reality, you are left with the regulations in the old version until the new is adopted.  If any legal claim arises during this period, it could prove difficult to enforce Comp Plan provisions in either plan.
So, Monday, staff had everything prepared to address issues raised at the last joint City Commission/ Planning and Zoning Board workshop and all the ORC responses.  They were ready for the adoption hearing (second reading) to take place on May 5th.

But NO!  What we heard from Commissioner Jennings - who has been involved in this Master Plan process from the beginning, who has been an elected representative of the city for three years, who approved the Comp Plan on first reading with little comment and when the issue of height was addressed, who talks about the importance of public involvement in the process - uses a workshop meeting scheduled at 3 p.m. to announce reductions in allowable height - pretty much across the board and that these limitations should be included in the Comp Plan.  She didn't care if it meant longer being "out" of compliance, she wanted it "right" saying that it's what the people wanted from the workshops.

How many meetings has Commissioner Jennings been involved with related to the Master Plan, Comp Plan and Land Development Regulations?  You would think that she would have injected these thoughts into the process at some point over the six year history of the process.  Rachel Bach rightly pointed out that if there are significant changes between first and second readings, DCA may issue another ORC report asking for supporting data and analysis for such changes - thus re-setting the approval time clock all over again.  This is where Susan Stanton, our new city manager, stepped in and suggested a meeting with her, Rachel Bach and Commissioner Jennings in an effort to itemize the number of later changes.  Oh, and these last minute changes supposedly came after an eight hour marathon review of the Comp Plan by Commission Jennings over the weekend.  How long has this been going on?

So, that's the first negative consequence - that this delay prevents being "in" compliance with the State of Florida.  There are other consequences related to the expectations of property owners - some who have owned property for a long time - who will now have limited redevelopment potential.  If you're going to do this, why this late in the game and why do it the wrong way?  There could be severe ramifications in terms of taxable value of property in the city and individual legal claims on the part of property owners that feel that this amounts to a "taking."

Monday we heard that a building of over 45 ft. is "over" development.  Has anyone looked at West Palm Beach or Boynton Beach recently? Why have we spent six years and one million dollars or more to get to a point where the initial goal of doing the Master Plan is still at issue - right before adoption of a completed document?

This is nothing but shameful - and the nightmare continues.

Lake Worth Business Development Workshop - 5/15

Statement by Tom Pelham, Secretary, Department of Community Affairs re Growth Management Legislation

"Last week, the House voted in favor of HB/CS/CS/SB360, which substantially revised SB360.  This week, the Senate is reported to be moving forward with Senate Bill 362 which closely mirrors HB/CS/CS/SB360.   
"SB362 and HB/CS/CS/SB360 contain numerous provisions which will substantially undermine Florida’s growth management laws.  Among other things, these provisions open up the state’s major rural areas to unchecked development, and eliminate transportation concurrency and the DRI review process in major portions of the state without providing any alternative means of addressing transportation and other extrajurisdictional impacts.   
"After careful evaluation of SB362 and HB/CS/CS/SB360 and the many concerns raised about these bills, the Department has concluded that the bills do not constitute good public policy and will seriously undermine Florida’s growth management laws.  Therefore, the Department opposes SB362 and HB/CS/CS/SB360."

Click title for link for more information on status and content of bill.

10th Avenue Construction Up-date

Construction on north half of the road (continued from last week):

·         Installation of street light poles

·         Signal pole foundation continues

·         Corner feature installation


Construction on  south half of the road (continued from last week):

·         Installation of conduits to the concrete poles in the alleys

·         Installation of concrete curbs


Ongoing – installation of concrete curb, asphalt patchwork, utility installation


Electric cables are being shipped in 5/1/09


Also continual:

Negotiations with Comcast regarding upgrades and costs

Redesign of handicapped ramp at “B” and 10th and discussions with property owner

Discussions with FDOT regarding requirements for pavers vs. concrete at 10th and Dixie

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

CRA Executive Director's Progress Report - FYI

Note the Business Workshop scheduled for May 15th.

Exhibit # 592 - Lake Worth Utilities Customer Service

This is an e-mail that was forwarded to me by someone who just bought a house in Lake Worth. He may be about to sell his house in Lake Worth due to the treatment he received at the Utility Customer Service office and general cluelessness at City Hall. Here it is, without address or identity:

Title: welcome to lake worth ( I DON'T THINK SO !!!)

As for the goverment here I am really turned off by the attitude of the
employees I have had to deal with since buying my house at XXXX Some Street.

My first water bill came 3 weeks after I purchased the house and as you know
I had not even moved in as I had a lot of painting and cleaning to do yet my
water bill came in charging me for 5000 gallons. I called the utilities dept
and explained that the house has been unoccupied the whole time and I was
only one using water for cleaning and rinsing paint brushes there must be a
problem with the meter, as we had already tested for leaks.They sent a man
out from the meter dept. I met him there he had me turn on the hose for less
than a minute and said "The meter is fine maybe I should watch that my
neighbors weren't stealing it."I TOLD HIM THAT I DOUBT THE POLICE DISPATCHER
SCRUB-UP UNDER MY HOSE.Then I said that looking at the meter for less than a
minute is in no way a test and it needs to be removed and calibrated
because its obviously malfunctioning he then said he has worked at this
over 20 years and NEVER seen a meter overcharge only
undercharge.AMAZING!!!Anyway he said he would stop by daily for the next
week and see what it is registering and let me know I said again it needs to
be replaced.Well I never heard from or saw him again.Now I move in a month
ago yet out of this month here I was out of town for one week out of four.

New bill arrives they are charging me 12000 gallons(TWELVE THOUSAND). I call
meter dept and I am told the man that came out said its fine I explained how
he tested it was a joke.Now I am told by (THE ONLY REASONABLE GUY I HAVE
DEALT WITH YET) Jesse, to go to the annex and see if they will send out a
work order to his dept and he will replace the meter.

Now hold on it gets even worse.I go to the annex and try explaining to a
clerk named Ladai( I hope that's the spelling since she told me she didn't
have to give me her full name).I explain the whole story and she says". It
says 12000 gallons you have to pay it." I ask that my meter be
removed/calibrated and replaced and am told "They are not gonna do that". I
ask to speak to her supervisor, as I was doing what Jesse in meter dept had
told me to do. She goes back talks to someone and says they will send work
order for replacement I ask when, "Don't KNOW", I ask for a correction on
bill as I live alone was only there three weeks and don't even have
sprinklers that work In my 25 years in broward I average 2000-2200 gallons a
month. Ask that when the meter is replaced test the old one and credit me
for the fault she says. "they won't". I tell her I am not going to continue
to pay on a bad meter she walks back to her superviser comes back and says
says, "we will see what happens." I ask again will you then credit
me....answer 'DON'T KNOW'. I ask for the name of the lady she keeps talking
to she says Brenda I ask for Brenda's last name, she states, "I DON'T HAVE

At this point I have had enough. Even people in the lobby that overheard me
are saying how I am being ripped off.I tell Ladai I am new here, could she
tell me who the city manager is, she says "I DON'T KNOW." So now I am off to
city hall. Upon arrival I see the information desk so I tell the lady
sitting there I just purchased a home here and would like to speak with the
commissioner for my district, I live at XXXX Some Street, her exact
words "I HAVE NO IDEA AND DON'T KNOW HOW TO FIND OUT"...(welcome to where
the tropics begin ). They need to update their slogan to: WELCOME TO YOUR
WORST NIGHTMARE! I told my friends in Lauderdale who were looking up here to
buy a house and also my brother to stay clear of Lake Worth.

Again thanks for your welcome but I could never stay in a city with such a
lack of respect for the citizens and staff, who aren't even sure who they
work for. Many of my neighbors have complemented me on the way I have
improved my house, well that is over, I am putting it up for sale.

Our Mayor's response - the one that made the campaign promise to have his cell phone number by every customer service point in the city.

Obviously, we have customer service issues in our city that need to be fixed. I apologize to your friend for the poor treatment he received.

Regarding our front desk at City Hall, due to many factors, we have eliminated the City Manager's assistant and moved Valerie to the Clerk's office. Our new receptionist obviously has a lot to learn about the city, but should have taken the time to get a number and call back the resident with the correct information.

As for the water meter, it is almost physically impossible for a water meter to run fast. When they begin to fail or get old, they actually run slowly. Most Lake Worth residents are probably being undercharged.

Thank you for bringing these customer service issues to my attention. I will work with our new city manager (who starts today) to be sure they are addressed.


Exhibit #284 - Lake Worth Building Department

This is part a the back-up for an item on the CRA agenda tonight. It's for a grant increase and extension request from the tenant improvement program run by the Lake Worth CRA. Reading this, you can see what a property owner, tenant, contractor, architect have to contend with related to conflicting interpretations of building code issues. One has to ask, to what end? The result is a requirement to build a pergola structure which costs more time and money for the tenant - in this case. Again, this is just one small example involving the Soma Center.

Appraiser: Plunging tax rolls in Palm Beach County rival Great Depression

Lake Worth valuation down by around 14%

Mr. Bates - roughly three months ago - expected the decline in valuation to be around 3%.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Neat interactive map showing the electric grid, sources of power in US

The Tom G Smith power plant shows up here. Fun to play around with too. Click title for link.

Another sneaky mid afternoon meeting today...

The City Commission and Planning and Zoning Board will be meeting at 3 p.m. at Compass - supposedly a continuation of the 4/14 meeting. No agenda on the city's website, although there is a mention on the meetings and events calendar - which is one of the harder things to find on the site.

This might be a temporary issue, I hope, but meetings are not streamed via the Internet from Compass. Can someone make it a policy to not have public meetings before 5 p.m. - especially when there is no other way to hear what is going on?

What's being discussed? No official word of this, but the focus of the conversation will be "down-zoning" and including such in the city's Comprehensive Plan. Talk is of going with a maximum 35 ft. height limit throughout the city. You would think if you're restricting people's property rights it would be a good idea to let people know you are talking about it. Another cowardly act...

We need to get to a point where, regardless of the issue, the same process and notification is used for all meetings. Whether you're for or against something should not dictate the time the meeting is held or how much notice the meeting receives. To not do so is corruption of process, thus corrupting the result.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Samples from Commissioner Jennings' PowerPoint on the Beach and Casino zoning district...

I thought it would be interesting to compare the Singer Plan to the Commissioner Jennings' famous PowerPoint presentation from July 2007. This is where she laid out the dangers of having or maintaining a building 75 feet from the seawall. Below is the current Michael Singer plan - showing no alternative option for building placement.
This shows the relationship of the current building to the existing seawall - no change.
Title slide from Commissioner Jennings' PowerPoint:

This is generally how the Beach and Casino zoning district passed and here she points out the required setbacks that she thought were too close to the seawall. The existing building is about 75 feet from the seawall.
Here she proposed a larger setback - more than double the existing setback. How is this accommodated on the new plan which leaves the existing building intact?
One of a number of dramatic images used by Commissioner Jennings to convey the message that the existing building and what would be allowed through the rezoning is too close to the seawall.
The Commissioner then went on to introduce the concept of managed retreat - regulating bodies taking the initiative when they have the chance to move buildings out of harm's way and further inland.
One of the key ways this "managed retreat" is accomplished is through establishing appropriate setbacks.
Look at the position of the existing building and the number of improvements proposed by the Singer Group that are seaward of the Coastal Construction Control line. Is this still a concern? Why hasn't this come up again in the discussion of a new building and the 160 foot setback? What has changed to not make this an issue?

Beach "Conceptual Plan" on City website...

Click title for link. Interesting that the most recent update to the city's website is a "conceptual rendering" for the beach, courtesy of Michael Singer Group. If you go to the referring page, there is no additional information in terms of what is happening with the process - just two links that lead you to a series of 5 .pdfs of the product from Michael Singer. These were apparently posted on 4/22. On the first page of what is called "Site Vision Plan V08" - the one that I posted previously on here was "V06" - there is a statement that reads as follows:


When will this version be presented to the public? Checking the website, there is a joint City Commission/P&Z meeting on 4/27 (tomorrow) at 3 p.m., by the way. But there is no other meeting scheduled for the City Commission to receive this report. I guess that this will be what the Mayor takes to the County in an attempt to keep the $5 million in place.

Back at the meeting that the Singer Group made their presentation to the Commission, everyone that spoke was celebrating the fact that this is the first time the city has had a site plan for redevelopment of the beach. See copy of Greater Bay conceptual site plan below, date June 2007:
Here's another site plan dated March 2000 from Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council:

Without parking garage -

With parking garage -

The site plan associated with the Greater Bay plan was always termed "conceptual" and is referred to that in the agreement. This means that it was always subject to revisions and discussions. The Singer plan assumes that the building will remain in the same place and have not seen an alternative site plan which shows this as an option.

Has this decision already been made?

I will monitor the city's website this week regarding publication of the "final" plan.