Martin Commission rushes to confusion, chaos

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The Martin County Commission will meet in joint session with the City of Stuart Commission and Martin County School Board at the Blake Library starting at 9:00 a.m.Tuesday.  The regular BCC meeting will begin in Commission Chambers after the County-City-School Board meeting, which generally lasts about 90 minutes.
 
Tuesday’s BCC agenda contains several items that suggest the new majority’s desire to rush through pet projects and important decisions without adequate research is creating confusion and chaos for staff and the public.
 
Agenda item 8C4 regarding construction of a new community center for the Banner Lake Club contains an apology for a staff misstatement at the January 10 meeting regarding zoning and land use changes required to rebuild the VFW hall in Indiantown and the Banner Lake Club center.  Staff was rushed into coming up with a proposal to allow Commissioners Smith and Jenkins to move specific projects forward without adequate time to devise a plan that will benefit the organizations, their neighbors, and the public.  In Tuesday’s agenda summary, staff reports a change in its recommendation “after further review . . .”  
 
The Banner Lake Club matter was added to the agenda at the request of Commissioner Jenkins during the last meeting, while repeated requests by Commissioners Fielding and Heard to add agenda items to give updates about the Langford Landing development and the Sharon Street mega-garage have been consistently ignored.
 
The search for a new County Attorney has devolved into a hot mess based on the commission majority’s theory that speed is more important than quality when it comes to finding an appropriate candidate.  As with the Banner Lake Club-VFW Hall matter, staff made mistakes in rushing to provide information about previously announced candidates, requiring a correction to be included in agenda item 10A with a revised matrix of candidate qualifications.  There are 16 disclosed candidates (although the Stuart News reported that 24 candidates applied), with staff reporting that no applications were submitted during the extended filing period authorized at the last BCC meeting (although the Stuart News reported that a Fort Lauderdale attorney who is not included in the new agenda summary met the extended application deadline).  Only two candidates – Robert Eschenfelder and John S. Turner – meet all four minimum qualifications for appointment.  Most candidates – Jeff Clyman, Jack Cox, Hector Montalvo, James Moran, Maria Patullo, Jason Tracy and Tyson Waters – meet only the single minimum qualification of holding a license to practice law in Florida and having practiced for at least 10 years.  Five candidates meet two minimum qualifications – Steve Davis, Christopher Delorenzo, Jean Laws, Albert Moore and Tom Sawyer – and two candidates – Assistant County Attorney David D’Agata and Lynn Whitfield – meet three of the four minimum qualifications.  NOTE: Assistant County Attorney Elizabeth Lenihan’s name does not appear on the revised and corrected matrix, but the supplemental memo fails to state whether she has withdrawn her name from consideration or whether this is another staff mistake.
 
The BCC will decide Tuesday how to proceed with the selection process.
 
Agenda item 8C2 seeks approval of a settlement agreement and site plan amendment for the Pitchford’s Landing project.  The staff report recommends denial of the site plan amendment, which must be approved by the BCC in order for the settlement agreement to be approved.  But, staff says, new materials may be submitted by Reily Enterprises (the Pitchford Landing developer that filed a SLAPP suit against more than a dozen Jensen Beach citizens who objected to the project a decade ago) that could result in a change in the staff recommendation.  Staff says it may recommend approval of the project on the condition that it meets all County regulations and Comprehensive Plan requirements. This recommendation will likely become the new staff mantra: Recommend approval on condition that the project follows the law.  Duh.  
 
(Staff found four areas of non-compliance in the proposed site plan amendment, including lack of adequate buffering between building sites and the Florida East Coast Railway tracks that bisect the Pitchford’s Landing property and may produce dozens of trains zipping through the property on a daily basis if the All Aboard Florida project moves forward.)
 
Two very important presentations of considerable public interest are on the agenda but are relegated to only 10 minutes each: A proposed anti-fracking ordinance and a report on regulation of sober homes.
 
The anti-fracking ordinance, agenda item 6B, would prohibit “oil and gas related high pressure well stimulation” in Martin County.
 
The sober homes presentation, agenda item 7A which is pre-set for 2:30 p.m., will be given by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who will discuss the ability of local governments to regulate the location and operation of addiction treatment facilities in existing neighborhoods.  Several sober home projects are on deck for Martin County BCC consideration.   
 
Item 6A is a proposed ordinance to ensure that the way building height is measured is uniform throughout the County.  Different methods for measuring building height are now used in the Jensen Beach Overlay District, on Hutchinson Island, and in structures located in zoning categories “A” and “B” as opposed to structures located in zoning category “C”.  The Land Development Regulation must be revised to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, which requires that building height be measured in the same manner throughout the County.  The proposed LDR does not affect the four-story height limit but requires parking or storage areas constructed beneath the first floor of a building to be counted when calculating building height.  Currently, ground floor parking garages or storage areas are not counted in measuring the overall height of a building.
 
A report on the Growth Management Department’s pending work load is scheduled as agenda item 8C3, detailing a staggering number of pending proposals to be drafted or reviewed by the Department, including proposed amendments to every Comprehensive Plan chapter except for the cultural arts and historic preservation element.
 
The Commission will go into executive session to privately discuss agenda item 8E1, the status of the Lake Point rockpit lawsuit against the County and South Florida Water Management District, which includes a SLAPP suit against Maggy Hurchalla.  Two counts of the complaint allege Public Records Act violations against the County.  Circuit Court Judge William Roby referred those counts to non-binding arbitration, which will be conducted on February 8-9, 2017, in County Commission Chambers beginning at 8:30 a.m. each day.  The hearing will be open to the public.  Arbitrator Howard E. (Buddy) Googe, a Stuart attorney, will issue a ruling after the two-day hearing.  If either the County or Lake Point objects to the arbitrator’s decision, a trial will be conducted by Judge Roby beginning February 21, 2017. 
 
Item 8D1 is a status report on the Septic to Sewer Program update, including priorities for $50 million in public expenditures to provide public services to the  North River Shores, Golden Gate, Old Palm City, Beau Rivage, Gaines Avenue, and Hibiscus Park communities.
 
The agenda for the joint meeting of the County, City and School Board includes a discussion of impact fees which has been the subject of a dispute with dueling consultants retained by the City and the County. Assistant County Administrator Roger Baltz’s agenda item summary suggests that the County consultant found all of the City consultant’s conclusions to be inaccurate; however, the two consultants agreed on a number of important points, most notably that more study needs to be done (translation: more consultant fees need to be paid).  
 
Impact fees are charged to help defray costs for increased public services and increased use of public infrastructure resulting from new construction. The City collects impact fees for the County on projects constructed within City limits.  The City says the fees are based on inaccurate data and are higher than they should be for projects that rely on City, rather than County, services and infrastructure.  The City also says it does not receive any benefit from impact fees collected by the County. The County says its fees are appropriate and the City receives adequate benefits.
 
Other items on the joint meeting agenda include a hard-to-follow presentation on controlled open enrollment and school choice by the School Board and reports on pending County Capital Improvement Program projects and large-scale developments.
 
As always, please let your commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by attending the joint meeting at 9:00 a.m. in the Blake Library auditorium and the BCC meeting afterwards in Commission Chambers or by e-mailing commissioners at sheard@martin.fl.usefieldin@martin.fl.ushjenkins@martin.fl.useciampi@martin.fl.us, and dsmith@martin.fl.us, with copies to the County Administrator and the Interim County Attorney at tkryzda@martin.fl.us and swoods@martin.fl.us.

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