From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The Martin County Board of County Commissioners will convene to consider the future of two local institutions – the Martin County Fair and the Business Development Board – and the on-going destruction of a slice of the past – the beloved Langford estate – on Tuesday following a joint session with the Martin County School Board and the City of Stuart Commission.
Residents who want to share their views on non-agenda items can address all three boards at the Blake Library beginning at 9:00 a.m. Comments from the public will be heard immediately after opening formalities and introductory remarks. The joint meeting is expected to last about an hour and a half, with presentations scheduled on the County’s Capital Improvement Program, County and City Large-Scale Development Projects, and a proposed new administrative complex for the School District. The Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council will also make a brief presentation on the federal brownfields program overseen by the US Department of Environmental Protection.
The BCC will re-convene in Commission chambers for a pre-set agenda item at 10:30 a.m. on the Langford Landing development, which has drawn outrage from local residents who believe the project on the old Frances Langford estate in Jensen Beach has violated Comprehensive Plan requirements and Land Development Regulations. After months of pleas from residents who are shocked by a once-verdant site that now resembles a sand mine, the BCC finally ordered staff to make a presentation, Agenda Item 8C2, on Tuesday. The project has leveled the contours of a famous bluff and stripped the land of virtually all trees, shrubs and vegetation, leaving the river unprotected from wind and rain erosion of exposed sand and soil. Thousands of cubic yards of fill have been excavated and hauled to a building site in St. Lucie County without a Martin County permit or payment of hauling fees to offset damage to County roads. Staff appears unpersuaded by photographs, personal observations, and citations to Comp Plan and LDRs, presenting recommendations for new regulations rather than requiring compliance with existing rules on the Langford Landing site.
Another pre-set, Agenda Item 8A2 set for 1:30 p.m., asks Commissioners to establish a task force to recommend “whether and to what extent Martin County should participate in a County Fair and Expositions.” The real question Commissioners are being asked to decide is “how much should taxpayers pay to fulfill the desire of the non-profit Martin County Fair Association to expand at public expense.” The Association currently pays a nominal $20 a year to rent the County-owned fairgrounds where the annual fair and other events are held. All proceeds of the events are retained by the Association. There are legitimate questions about whether the current Fairgrounds location is appropriate, whether the property should be sold or leased to a private entity to generate revenue for the County, and whether a new location for the Fairgrounds should be provided by the County to allow the Association to continue to operate the fair and provide a venue for community activities and events without requiring private funding. Staff recommends a five-member task force, with each Commissioner naming one member. There is no deadline for the task force to complete its task. The Fair Association has nine years remaining on its lease with the County for the Fairgrounds property.
The final pre-set on Tuesday’s agenda is Item 8D1, scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m., for the Commission to consider a draft agreement and “Action Plan” for the Business Development Board to continue to serve as the County’s economic development agency. The current BDB contract expires September 30, 2016. The BDB underwent a massive reorganization three years ago after the Commission decided taxpayers weren’t getting their money’s worth out of an organization that was operated with minimal transparency and maximum public funding (in excess of $600,000 a year, most of which, like the current BDB budget, goes to overhead). The new contract reduced taxpayer handouts to the BDB during the three-year term and sought accountability in the form of audits and a specific scope of services. The proposed new three-year contract starts with factual misstatements regarding the origin of the BDB and seeks to maintain a board comprised mostly of Chamber of Commerce and Economic Council representatives. The last two BDB meetings have failed to attract a quorum, making it impossible to transact business. Nonetheless, members have been urged to show up in force at Tuesday’s BCC meeting to encourage Commissioners to support renewal of a bloated contract that requires no buy-in from the business community and serves only limited segments of the population.
Agenda Item 8C1 is a presentation examining the amount and availability of commercial and industrial land uses in the County with an analysis of the needs of existing and new residents and businesses projected over the next 15 years.
In other matters on Tuesday’s BCC agenda:
– Item 8B2 seeks approval of two new full-time-equivalent positions for the Engineering Department to implement the “infrastructure reinvestment program” which imposes an increased workload on staff caused by a large number of road and neighborhood improvement projects.
– Item 8A1 contains a request (OMB Item #9) to approve the hiring of Capital City Consulting, LLC, to engage in lobbying and public relations services related to the County’s battle against All Aboard Florida. The law firm of Gray Robinson declined to move forward on a proposed $12,000-a-month contract that was previously approved by the BCC, citing an unidentified conflict of interest within the firm, leaving Capital City Consulting as the only firm in the running to provide the services.
– Item 8B1 seeks approval of a 4th amendment to the funding agreement between the County and the South Florida Water Management District to allow the County to accept ownership and maintenance responsibility for a new bridge and box culvert on SW Citrus Boulevard.
– And, last but not least, Commissioner Anne Scott has been approached by a representative of Ted Hamm seeking to re-open negotiations for purchase of the so-called Hamm Parcel, an environmentally sensitive property that was ranked No. 1 by the County’s Land Acquisition Committee years ago. The County and the land owner never managed to reach agreement on the terms of the purchase. According to Agenda Item 10A, funds are currently available in the County’s conservation lands account, and it appears the time may finally have come to take steps toward concluding this long-awaited transaction.
Please let Commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by attending the joint meeting starting at 9:00 a.m. in the Blake Library on Tuesday or by e-mailing commissioners at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org, with copies to the County Administrator and County Attorney at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.