BCC asked to give a wink and a nod to four-fold increase in density: But first, the good news…

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: First the good news: Land Planner Don Cuozzo has withdrawn his proposal to change the Martin County Comprehensive Plan to allow developers to pave over small urban wetlands. Residents attended meetings, sent hundreds of e-mails to County Commissioners, signed petitions, and spoke loudly and decisively against the plan to allow destruction of small wetlands that provide flood protection, clean drinking water, and habitat for birds and wildlife. Cuozzo said “politics” caused him to withdraw his proposal. Residents said common sense and dedication to the special quality of life we enjoy here in Martin County made the proposal untenable.

On Tuesday, the Board of County Commissioners will consider seven other proposed Comp Plan amendments which would, in the aggregate, increase the number of homes that can be built on the affected parcels from about 200 units to more than 800 units.

The increase does not reflect a shortage of housing in Martin County. In fact, just this week we learned that the long-dormant Banyan Bay project may be revived after more than a dozen years of inactivity, with yet another timetable extension delaying completion of the eyesore on South Kanner Highway until at least 2024.

Other unbuilt or unfinished developments can be found throughout the County. Nonetheless, Commissioners will be asked on Tuesday to authorize still more projects by changing our Comprehensive Plan to accommodate four times as many units as the Plan now allows.

The Visiting Nurse Association, Cove/Salerno Partners, Bridgewater Preserve, Cove Royal and Fernlea amendments (Agenda Items 6E-K) received mixed reviews from the Local Planning Agency. Staff has recommended approval of all but one of the amendments to allow higher density.

Curiously, staff recommends denial of another amendment that seems the most reasonable, the Circle K proposal to change the land use from Commercial Limited to Commercial General on a small parcel at the intersection of Cove Road and US #1.

Despite increasing traffic congestion and lack of funding for repair or replacement of failing infrastructure throughout the County, the Engineering Department has developed a formula for approving new projects that will “negatively impact the level of service” on existing inadequate roads. Engineering staff “can provide a ‘positive evaluation’” of virtually every proposed project because long-term transportation plans provide for eventual roadway improvements.

In other words, although a project will likely cause serious traffic congestion and burden existing roads that are already operating at capacity, staff recommends approval of new projects that will increase traffic because roadway improvements are planned during the next 10 or 25 years. The staff approval contains a caveat advising the applicant that the County is not legally required to approve development orders without a determination of adequate roadway capacity at the time of approval.

Wink. Wink.

Staff cites a Comp Plan policy which contains the caveat as justification for recommending approval of land use changes that negatively impact existing roadways but fails to cite Comp Plan policies and objectives that require the County to “ensure roadway capacity is available to accommodate the impacts of new development” (Policy 5.2A.2.) and to “ensure that no roadways in Martin County operate at a level of service lower” than the established standard (Objective 5.2A.)

In an item related to ensuring compliance with County rules and regulations, the Growth Management and Engineering Departments are requesting that the Commission approve four new staff positions to provide increased “customer service” for permit applicants. Agenda Item 8B2 includes the “Hudson report” prepared in December of 2016 by former assistant County Administrator Dan Hudson that analyzes the County’s system for achieving compliance with building and development rules and regulations through permitting and code enforcement processes. The report is thorough, well-written and interesting – but not surprising – in its conclusions that while the rules that protect Martin County from poor development are not objectionable, there are problems with compliance from the perspective of both developers and residents. Land owners complain that compliance requirements are too complicated and in some cases unreasonable, while some residents complain that compliance is not being required by staff in many cases (for instance, the Langford Landing project that has provoked much public outrage).

Agenda item 8A2 seeks approval of a contract with the Martin County Firefighters union, which has been without a contract since September 2014. The County and the union have followed the terms of the expired contract by default, resulting in significant overtime costs. If the contract presented on Tuesday is approved by the Commission, it will be effective only through September of 2017, so negotiations will have to commence immediately on yet another contract, making firefighter union negotiations a year-round activity.

Finally, Agenda Item 8A1 proposes moving the Martin County Fairgrounds to a 107-acre County-owned parcel in Indiantown. The current Fairgrounds property (on South Dixie Highway near Indian Street in Stuart) is owned by the County and leased to the non-profit Martin County Fairgrounds Association for $10.00 a year. The Association wants more room to expand the annual County Fair but does not have money to purchase or renovate new property. County taxpayers are being asked to pick up the tab for property renovations and extending water and sewer services to the new property, which is outside the Urban Services District. A comprehensive study of County properties last year came up with several suggestions for properties that could be used for an expanded Fairgrounds within the USD, but the property that is being proposed on Tuesday was not among the suggested parcels. Before making any decisions increasing taxpayer costs related to the Fairgrounds, the County should insist on an audit of Fairground Association finances for the past few years.

In other matters on Tuesday’s BCC agenda:

– Two proposed ordinances that were withdrawn from the last meeting agenda due to an advertising error will be considered on Tuesday: Agenda Item 6B establishing Roadway Design standards for traditional neighborhood streets and Item 6C amending the Parking and Loading Ordinance to allow back-out parking on traditional neighborhood streets with a posted speed limit of 30mph or less.

– The Consent Agenda contains the usual barrage of open-ended contracts giving departments authority to spend $4 million as they choose and two low-bid contracts for improvements to SW Farm Road and Seabranch Boulevard for about $2.5 million and $875,000, respectively.

Agenda Item 8B1 requests approval of an agreement for the County to co-lease submerged lands with a private property owner in Port Salerno. The agreement makes sense, but only if the private owners do not block off the public boardwalk constructed on the submerged lands that are adjacent to the private properties. The public has in the past been prevented from using the boardwalk by private business owners who blocked the boardwalk with outdoor seating or posted signs suggesting that only patrons who pay an entry charge have access to the public boardwalk.

As always, let commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by attending the meeting at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday in Commission Chambers or by e-mailing commissioners at sheard@martin.fl.us, efieldin@martin.fl.us, hjenkins@martin.fl.us, eciampi@martin.fl.us, and dsmith@martin.fl.us, with copies to the County Administrator and the County Attorney at tkryzda@martin.fl.us and swoods@martin.fl.us.

Related posts:

Comments are closed.