Tuesday’s agenda: Board of County Commissioners faces request to approve spot zoning


From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The BOCC will be asked on Tuesday to establish a precedent for so-called “postage stamp zoning” on a chock-a-block full agenda that includes two workshops and a report on the status of the Treasure Coast’s fight against All Aboard Florida.


Although several items have been pulled from Tuesday’s lineup, a packed agenda remains to be heard.  Major spending decisions and the annual assessment resolution are buried on the Consent Agenda where they are shielded from public discussion.


Three Comprehensive Plan Amendments changing land use designations in Palm City (Berry Retail and Berry Retail and Berry Retail-Galley) and Hobe Sound (Davis) from residential to commercial (Items 6H, 6I and 6J) will be delayed until September 1.  Staff has also postponed a do-over of an application that was previously denied by the Board (Item 8D1) to designate an easement in a rural subdivision an “open road” to bail out a contractor who was fined by code enforcement for building a residential compound without obtaining permits.


The BOCC could set a troubling precedent in considering a proposal to re-zone a small area within a larger parcel in Item 6E (Becker B-14 Grove Rezoning).  The application is similar to one that was met with opposition from neighboring residents when a request was made to re-zone a tiny area within the Sailfish Marina for construction of a telecommunications tower. That request was postponed until fall, but a similar request has been placed on Tuesday’s agenda that could, if approved, set a precedent for the proposed Sailfish Marina re-zoning. Curiously, although two other re-zoning requests to allow for tower construction are pre-set at 9:15 and 9:30 a.m., the Becker B-14 Grove item is not a pre-set.


The Becker B-14 item seeks what staff calls “postage stamp zoning” – and what the rest of us call “spot zoning” – to re-zone an area that isn’t large enough to be a legal lot.  Re-zoning is requested for less than a sixth of an acre within a 100-acre parcel near Bridge Road and I-95.  The current zoning designation is the obsolete A-1. Re-zoning to a current zoning category is required when development is proposed.  The proposed zoning is AG-20, which would make sense if it were sought for a 20-acre parcel but which makes no sense at all for an area that has no legal lot lines and is only .15 of an acre. There is no authority for this type of zoning, which is generally considered “spot zoning” or “contract zoning” that is universally disfavored. 


Approval could open the door to re-zoning half a residential lot for commercial use or assigning two or three different zoning categories to a single parcel without a PUD or other special zoning plan.


Workshops are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on proposed revisions to Article 10 (development review), which is Item 8E1, and 2:30 p.m. on alternative revenue sources, Item 8A1.


The Article 10 workshop features an extremely limited and half-hearted attempt to present the BOCC with proposals related to “transparency” as that term applies to identification of individuals who seek development approvals from the County or changes to our Comprehensive Plan.  The staff report appears designed to discourage transparency and doesn’t address conflict-of-interest, lobbying or pay-to-play restrictions that residents and Commissioners have sought to address for several years.  A more extensive presentation has been prepared for Planned Unit Development provisions of the Comp Plan and LDRs, although the purpose of the presentation is not clear other than to divert attention from transparency-related discussion.  The proposed changes to Article 10 offer little in the way of substantive suggestions.


The alternative revenue sources workshop will present options available to increase County revenues to fund backlogged critical needs – including St. Lucie Inlet management.  Options include a “local government infrastructure surtax” – aka the half-cent (or one-cent) sales tax that Martin County voters previously rejected.  FPL franchise fee, countywide stormwater utility fee, special assessments and municipal service taxing unit (MSTU) levy are among options to be discussed.


An update on the Treasure Coast battle against All Aboard Florida is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. (Item 8C3).


Two items related to a plan to turn the Golden Gate Building over to a private organization (Items 7B1 and 8D2) are confusing and premature.  Although the County is paying a consultant to study how best to use public assets, no input from the consultant has been requested or given regarding the Golden Gate Building.  The County also has failed to adopt a policy for leasing public space to non-profit organizations to ensure that all non-profits who provide valuable services to the community are treated equally.


Nonetheless, the BOCC is now being asked to approve a 15-year lease with House of Hope and an $80,000 gift to the organization from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds for improvements to the Golden Gate Building. The lease provides that House of Hope can use the building for any purpose related to the organization’s mission, but that mission is not identified in either of the agreements the BOCC is being asked to approve.  The 15-year lease provides for $8,000-a-year in rent to be paid; however, House of Hope will receive a credit against rent for funds spent on improvements to the building, making the lease essentially a rent-free arrangement. House of Hope is supposed to pay for all improvements, but the gift agreement says the CRA will pay $80,000 for improvements.  House of Hope can terminate the lease or the gift agreement for any reason with 30 days notice.  The County can terminate only if House of Hope is in default and the default continues for more than 30 days after written notice is given.  


In other words, if House of Hope finds that the project is too expensive or too difficult or too time-consuming, the organization can simply terminate the lease and walk away, leaving the property in whatever state it may be in at the time of the termination. There are other questionable provisions in both the lease agreement and the gift agreement, making it clear that the CBRE consultant should be reviewing this deal before it is finalized.


In other matters on Tuesday’s agenda:


– Items 6C and 6D address revisions to Article 3 of the Land Development Regulations (zoning standards) to include a definition of “permanent foundation” as well as architectural and aesthetic standards for homes with crawl spaces – including modular homes and site-built homes not constructed at ground-level.  A controversy erupted after a mobile home-like modular home was installed in Zeus Park on stacked cinder blocks with steel tie-downs in an area of site-built homes.  Staff has proposed revisions to Article 3 that will impose stricter standards to try to prevent a similar situation from arising in the future. Objections have been raised by the modular home industry.  Staff has proposed extending the current moratorium on siting modular homes in residential districts if the Article 3 revisions are not approved by September 1.


– The final assessment for the Palm Brook Court water main (Item 6K) that will result in a charge of about $7,600 or nearly $1,000 a year for residents of a Palm City neighborhood outside the CRA, where utility hookups may be paid for by taxpayers rather than the property owners the utilities serve.  


– Item 8C2 is an attorney-client session pre-set for noon to discuss the Lake Point litigation against Martin County.  Lake Point is the rockpit in western Martin County owned in part by millionaire George Lindemann, Jr., who served time in federal prison for having his show horse electrocuted in an effort to collect insurance proceeds.  Lake Point sued the County and the South Florida Water Management District, claiming the agencies interfered with the operators’ plans to suck water out of Lake Okeechobee and sell it to municipalities outside Martin County, and SLAPPed Maggy Hurchalla for publicly speaking out against the project.


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


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