BOCC Jan 6 meeting ‘not as mundane as the agenda might lead residents to believe…’

 

 

Local attorney and civic activist Virginia Sherlock comments on the first Board of County Commissioners meeting of the new year, which is not as mundane as the agenda might lead residents to believe.

For the final agenda, click this link:

2015-01-06 Final Agenda
There are several interesting items buried among numerous code enforcement fine reduction proposals and requests for approval of millions of dollars in grants with matching local funding.
Of special note is the second request in Agenda Item 8A1 — which seeks Commission approval to accept a Florida Department of Transportation grant for widening South Kanner Highway from four to six lanes — at a cost of more than $6.2 million (with half to be paid by the County).
 
This project generated a lot of opposition last summer, but residents were assured there were no immediate plans to widen Kanner Highway.
 
Despite these assurances, Commissioners are being asked on Tuesday to approve an FDOT “incentive program grant agreement” for Kanner Highway to “convert the existing four lane rural facility into a six lane urban facility from east of Florida’s Turnpike to east of SW Lost River Road and modifications to the north and southbound off ramps.”  The modifications include widening parts of SW Jack James Drive and SW Lost River Road.
 

It’s not clear from the agenda item whether this grant was requested by the County Engineering Department or the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the agency that apparently decided to prioritize the Kanner Highway widening project over more urgently needed infrastructure improvements.  It’s also not clear whether this agreement is for the first segment of the Kanner Highway widening project or whether it covers the entire project that includes installation of noise barriers along either side of the roadway.  Also unclear is whether the County or the State is going to supervise the construction project.

Commissioners should be asking lots of questions and be prepared to explain to residents where the $3.1 million in County funds will come from to finance this project when residents have been told there’s no funding to fix crumbling bridges or to re-pave critically damaged roadways throughout the County.  Commissioners are being asked to approve a resolution to appropriate “unanticipated funds” for the project and to revise the FY2015 Capital Improvements Plan to justify FY15 expenditures for the project.There are two items on the agenda that involve conveyance of real property to the County without regard for potential liabilities related to acquisition of the properties.Agenda Item 8C1 asks Commissioners to accept a deed from Stuart and Jane Greenberg for property in Hobe Sound where a modular home was installed that did not comply with CRA design guidelines that site-built homes throughout historic Zeus Park were required to follow.While acquisition of the property by the County is a good resolution to the dispute over the Greenbergs’ mobile-home-like structure, the agenda item does not indicate that the County will acquire the property with full seller warranties and unencumbered by third-party liens.  The Resolution the Commission is being asked to approve recites that the “Martin County Board of County Commissioners hereby accepts and approves a Deed from Stuart and Jane Greenberg for the above-described real property.”The deed is not part of the agenda item.  Is it a Special Warranty Deed? A Warranty Deed? A Quit Claim Deed?  There are huge differences in the types of deeds that may be executed.  Is the property being conveyed to the County (at a cost of $200,000.00, by the way) free and clear of all encumbrances, or is the County buying a property encumbered with liens and financial obligations incurred by the prior owners (who acquired the property through foreclosure which may have left unextinguished claims against the property)? NOTE TO COMMISSIONERS:  Please do not agree to accept “a deed” without knowing what the deed conveys.  The County should require a Warranty Deed conveying good title to the property free and clear of any encumbrances (excluding the code enforcement lien which will be released as part of the settlement of litigation between the Greenbergs and the County).  

The same issues apply to Agenda Item 8B2, which asks the BOCC (sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency) to accept a “donation” of a parcel of property on Flounder Avenue in Port Salerno to the CRA.

The property has amassed more than $380,000 in code enforcement liens which the owner proposes to eliminate by transferring the property to the CRA.  While this could be a good resolution (even though the property is worth only about $7,500 according to the County Property Appraiser), the County must be assured that the property is not encumbered.

Commissioners should be given some of the history of this particular parcel, which was previously owned by the County.  It appears that the County conveyed the property in 2001 to the owner who now wants to give it back to the County.  This is not included in the agenda item summary.  It’s unclear why the County gave the parcel to the current owner in the first place and why the current owner has been unable to sell it on the open market and now wants to return it to the County.  What investigation has been undertaken to ensure that the property is marketable? 

At the very least the County should require the owner — rather than the CRA — to pay the $575 in code enforcement costs to take the property off his hands.

Finally, two identical items — 8B1 before the Community Redevelopment Agency and 8B3 before the BOCC — seek approval of a Resolution to allow installation of “pole banners” in the CRAs.  There is no depiction of what the pole banners will look like because the Resolution gives each Neighborhood Advisory Committee sole authority to determine the design, location, and duration of the display of signs within each CRA.

The staff summary says the pole banners — banners attached to street lights in public rights of way — will “create a sense of place and foster pride in the community” as well as “enhance and beautify town centers and main commercial areas by adding life and color to the streetscape.”

Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. 

But even if you see beauty in brightly colored plastic banners attached to light poles along the main thoroughfares of the community redevelopment areas, it does not seem like a great idea to leave the decision of what the signs will look like and how long they will remain in place to Neighborhood Advisory Committee members who are not accountable to the public.  Will the pole banners be used only to promote community events and attractions or will private businesses be allowed to advertise using pole banners on public property?

Most citizens would probably feel better if, at least initially, elected CRA (BOCC) members approve the design, use, and duration of any signage that will be attached to public property.  If the signs look great and truly serve the community, Commissioners (sitting as the CRA) can accept residents’ accolades.  If the signs look awful and are used to advertise commercial activities, residents can communicate their concerns to accountable elected officials rather than unelected committee members whose role is supposed to be “advisory.”

Please let your commissioners know how you feel about these and any other items on Tuesday’s agenda — or even items that aren’t on the agenda (can you spell P-I-T-C-H-F-O-R-D-S L-A-N-D-I-N-G?)

E-mail your comments and concerns to commish@martin.fl.us or to individual commissioners

efieldin@martin.fl.us, ascott@martin.fl.us, sheard@martin.fl.us, jhaddox@martin.fl.us, dsmith@martin.fl.us

Copy the County Admininistrator tkryzda@martin.fl.us and County Attorney mdurham@martin.fl.us.

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