‘Proposed incorporation efforts in Hobe Sound demonstrate a lack of understanding and vision’

 

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      From Michael Underwood, Hobe Sound resident for 15 years, with a background in growth management land use and currently a State Certified Building Contractor: Recent comments about incorporating Hobe Sound demonstrate a lack of understanding of what is at stake here, and what little effect incorporation will have from current Martin County land use regulation.

      Much ado is made by incorporation proponents about the quaintness and charm of Hobe Sound and how this is something that is wanted and needs to be preserved. I can’t argue with that. I live here for those reasons as well. Add to the quaintness and charm, the lack of significant retail commerce, franchise business, newspaper, radio station, movie theaters, motels, and tourist traps and what is you have is a peaceful charming place where not much ever happens and conflicts if any, are settled somewhere else. A slice of Heaven in this modern world.

      What makes this a warm community with spirit is the very fact that we are not bound by a municipal government but answer, instead, to a relatively cooperative county government which requires us all to work together to make our voices heard. The argument for incorporation suggests that a legal town is necessary to affect that. Not true! There are other ways citizens can access the attention of the county or state without a government as spokesperson. The proponents of incorporation were able to put the issue to an impending vote by petitioning the state legislature to put a referendum on the ballot. That did not require a government. Apparently, a half dozen took charge and did it. If they had involved more citizenry input rather than using their “town meetings” to sell their program, they might have found alternatives to incorporation or general support for it, making this vote coming up a walk in the park instead of creating a divided community unsure of what the real agenda is for incorporation.

      Most, if not all, the pro-rhetoric I have heard has been along the lines of incorporation as some sort of antidote to development, the solver of all problems. And further, that incorporation won’t cost anymore because of diverted county revenue to Hobe Sound. This is extremely shortsighted. First, incorporated Hobe Sound will have influence over its own bailiwick which is very limited and not geographically where development will go, which is out west. Even within the boundaries of the incorporated township, there is really very little that has not been zoned already. Downzoning is not an option and denials of variance are about the only actions. Both of these invariably involve litigation.

      In addition to not being a “silver bullet” for growth management, there are side effects to incorporation as an antidote. First, we would have an unnecessary additional government big brothering our lives, all the minute aspects. A municipal entity will be the de-facto jurisdiction of resolution for every little issue that the citizenry finds objectionable: parking, noise abatement, barking dogs, dogs at large, fence heights, property disputes, easements, slip and fall claims on municipal property, code enforcement, environmental health complaints, handicap access complaints, curfews, permits for everything, occupational licensing, road maintenance, storm debris removal, homeowner/neighbor complaints, rental restrictions, and land use permits … you get the idea!  All these “services” rendered by the town will be costly, time consuming and have little or nothing to do with the “preservation of the quaint community.”

     Though diverted county revenues, for a time, will pay for the basic services, and entire infrastructure will need to be created involving renting or buying structures to house the municipality; insurance policies and pension contracts to indemnify and compensate personnel; in addition to the skeletal administration, persons will be needed to give legal, accounting, land use advice, attend endless meetings and liaisons with county, state, and neighboring governmental agencies. Most of these may be part-time but still expensive. To engage in any kind of defense against goliath development interests, even without litigation, requires vast resources of real talent (not well-meaning citizenry) and money. This is the other side of incorporation. This is the day to day business that Hobe Sound would not seem to be suited for or want to be involved in. These are the side effects of an antidote for an undiagnosed malady.

      The sky is not falling, and the British are not coming. It is time to take a deep breath and really think about what incorporation means and what it will commit the community to. This is more than who to take to the prom. This is about a lifetime marriage to responsibilities that I don’t believe fit the community character of what people describe they want, and responsibilities that are best handled by Martin County. Think of one incorporated place you would want to trade for Hobe Sound. Jupiter Island and Sewall’s Point are off the table. 

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