Thursday, June 21, 2012

My response to a kind reader's questions regarding the relationship between the City Charter, Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations...

The Charter and the Comp Plan are two different things.  The Charter is sort of the bedrock Constitution of the city.  It establishes the right of the city to function, what its basic powers are and it is subject to state and federal law.  It contains things that SHOULD be requirements - like the employment of an internal auditor for example.  That was a "should" that wasn't and still isn't being done.  But what is the recourse if the city doesn't live up to the "shoulds" in the Charter?  Really, nothing other than running the risk of being sued by citizens for not following it or by not re-electing Commissioners that don't follow it.  In many ways, it can be the fox watching the hen house.

The Comp Plan is required by state law of all local governments in Florida.  It is the general policy document as it relates to a community's entire land development regulation system.  It includes goals, objectives and policies that are implemented through the zoning code - or land development regulations.  The legislation that changed last year did nothing to alter this requirement, other than to lessen state regulation of what a local community can do.  It also removed requirements that capital facilities, infrastructure, be in place at the time of a development's impact.  That was probably the biggest change, without much effect on what we do in Lake Worth, along with less oversight.  To get a sense of the change, and considering Governor Scott's "jobs" focus, the former agency was named the Department of Community Affairs and now is changed to the Department of Economic Opportunity.

The Charter is a place to wave a flag and highlight a divisive political issue - it sounds important to the public, but in reality it has little authority over land use, technically.  For example, in 1996 when the electorate said that buildings could be built up to 65 feet east of Dixie and up to 100 feet west of Dixie - the Comp Plan and land development regulations (where the real rubber hits the road) were never changed to reflect the "voice of the people."

Also, there is no requirement that height limitations be placed in the Comp Plan.  By putting them there, you are just making it more difficult to change them in the future.  This was more the case before than now given the loosened regulations.  In the end, the Comp Plan and Zoning Code are fluid documents that can be changed with varying degrees of difficulty.  And in an ideal world, the Charter should be silent to land use issues, but if it isn't - all three documents should be parallel.

I hope this helps clear things up and doesn't create more confusion.  It can be frustrating since these things create so much talk about very little.  We are talking about allowable height for buildings that might and could be built - theoretically.  We are living in an abstraction when we talk about these things.

To do things according to Hoyle, if the Charter is changed so that it regulates height in some way, the Comp Plan should be changed to reflect that.  Otherwise the change is meaningless.  And as it stands now, the proposed Charter change language and the Comp Plan language that was passed last Tuesday are not consistent at all - not in terms of dimension or location.  The Charter change would be for 45 and 35 height limits, with the dividing line being "F" Street - the Comp Plan language would be for 45 and 65 foot height limits, with the dividing line being Federal Hwy.

By the way, I don't think Mr. Hoyle ever has worked for the city of Lake Worth in any capacity.

The Comp Plan and Land Development Regulations are what matter.  The Charter would just indicate the intent - that the city thinks something is important enough to put in the Charter - but it would not trump what actually regulates the use of land in the city.

By the way, the Charter can be changed by a majority vote of the City Commission - you do not need a referendum. (editor note:  Upon writing this, there seems to be a difference of opinion on whether this is the case or not.  The City Clerk says it has to be changed by referendum - I remember our esteemed City Attorney saying that it could be by vote of the City Commission.  More confusion...)

And if there are things in the Charter related to land use, then all three should be parallel - or that sends an uncertain message to those who would invest in building something new here.  Frankly, amending the Charter for an issue like this just serves as a big rallying cry for an election - but has little practical impact if it stands alone.