Tuesday’s BOCC: It’s all about the money


From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting is packed with costly requests buried in a 2,648-page agenda packet.


The Parks Department wants to raid  parks impact fees and “re-allocate” funds from Phipps Park shoreline stabilization and septic-to-sewer conversion to add new water slides to Sailfish Splash Waterpark, which is facing declining attendance after three years of operation. Engineering wants approval for a $2.5 million contract to begin a $3.4 million surfacing project for Citrus Boulevard.  And requests for “miscellaneous” funding include $10,000 in matching funds from taxpayers for a whopping two private business contributions ($5,000 from Martin Health Systems and $5,000 from Triumph-Vought) to the Business Development Board as well as a variety of grants that require at least $400,000 in local funding matches.


Commissioners are also being asked to abandon two road rights-of-way in Rio to allow the Stuart Harbor (Rio Town Center) development project to move forward, with an application for master site plan approval also on Tuesday’s agenda.


There are a number of pre-sets, including a private attorney-client session regarding litigation commenced by Avalon Ventures, which was denied a re-zoning request for property near Seabranch Boulevard.  (Agenda Item 8F1 pre-set at 9:30 a.m.)  It appears that settlement proposals may include revising the project from a too-dense residential development to one that features an assisted living facility. 


Agenda Item 8B1, pre-set at 10:30 a.m., is a request involving a dispute between Trailside Subdivision property owners and an adjacent property owner who constructed a residence without obtaining building permits.  That item, which promises to be a very lengthy quasi-judicial hearing, should be continued to the August 18 agenda.


An All Aboard Florida update and proposed resolution to transmit some interesting reports compiled by experts on various aspects of the project will be heard at 2:00 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. (Agenda Items 8A2 and 8F2)


The Rio Town Center items are pre-set at 3:15 p.m. for the rights-of-way abandonment and 3:30 p.m. for master site plan approval (Agenda Items 6A and 6B).  The road abandonment would allow the property to be incorporated in the proposed development that was initially called Stuart Harbor but has been re-named Rio Town Center to generate support from Rio CRA boosters.  It’s not clear why the road abandonment is being considered before the master site plan is approved.  It’s also not clear whether the developer is going to pay the County the appraised value for the County’s rights-of-way ($29,000).  Stuart Harbor/Rio Town Center is an ambitious mixed use project similar to the Harbourside Place in Jupiter that has produced disputes with neighboring residential property owners over noise, parking, and other issues.  The Local Planning Agency recommended approval of the project, noting that it is in a mixed use overlay area which eliminates tiering and buffering policies designed to protect neighboring residences.  At least one property owner will see a multi-story building erected just 12 feet from her single-family home if the project is approved.  The project planner told the LPA he could not change the design to reduce the impact on the neighboring homeowner.  A staggered, disorganized and unenforceable phasing schedule would allow the project to be developed in sections that could leave a strange mix of developed and undeveloped non-contiguous property if the developer runs out of money, fails to sell out each segment or simply changes the plan once development commences.  The developer, iStar Development, has been unabashed in threatening to seek annexation of the property into the City of Stuart if Martin County turns down the plan.


Item 8E1 is a request from the Parks Department for an injection of $1.3 million into Sailfish Splash Waterpark to bolster declining attendance and to attract teenagers with new rides/slides. The agenda item features lots of facts and figures designed to impress Commissioners with the successes of the $10 million waterpark – 15,000 cheeseburgers sold and more than $100,000 in gift shop revenue generated – while down-playing the drop in attendance and failure to appeal to older kids and teenagers since the waterpark opened for business in March 2012.  Commissioners are being asked to take funds from general parks impact fees and regional park impact fees to pay for design and construction of a 40-foot tower with new “rides” to be available for waterpark attendees beginning next summer.  All revenues generated by the waterpark are supposed to be devoted to running, maintaining and improving the facility.  Revenues are not added to the general fund or revenues generated by other parks throughout the County.  But the Parks Department is proposing to take funds from park impact fees – $718,000 in “active parkland” impact fees and $120,000 in “regional park” impact fees – to bolster waterpark reserves of $462,000 to pay for the Sailfish Splash improvements. 


The BOCC is being asked to “re-allocate” funds to Sailfish Splash that were previously allocated to Phipps Park campground improvements, leaving a $1.18 million shortfall in the Phipps Park project – including shoreline stabilization and septic-to-sewer conversion for the RV park and restroom/shower buildings.  The BOCC is being asked to simply come up with some other way to pay for the Phipps Park projects.


Staff suggests that impact fees can be used only to “increase capacity”, making the Phipps Park improvements ineligible for impact fees.  But the Phipps Park improvements include adding cabins, tent rentals, shower/restroom capacity, Wi-Fi and other amenities to attract increased attendance.  How does adding new water slides to attract teenagers to the waterpark qualify for impact fees while septic-to-sewer conversion and adding cabins and tent rentals and other amenities to attract campers does not?


Once again, staff and the BOCC must examine and establish priorities for spending.


In other matters on Tuesday’s agenda:


A request to approve the low bid ($2.5 million) for the Citrus Boulevard resurfacing follows earlier approval of the project by the Commission despite questions about prioritization of Citrus Boulevard for resurfacing while many other roadways in the County with more long-standing and more serious deficiencies are unfunded.  The overall project total appears to be decreased by $100,000 because the low bid was less than projected.  The tabulation shows the reduction; however the narrative set out on the proposed revised CIP sheet contains the higher total cost.  It’s not clear whether the tabulation or the narrative will be controlling if there are cost overruns.


Airport staff seeks direction on “Airport Land Strategy” in a virtually incomprehensible agenda item (8D1) that appears to be a request to decide what to do with 11 acres of property at Witham Field which is part of nearly 18 acres formerly leased to Triumph Aerostructures.  The property was released by Triumph in a lease renewal.  Two acres are designated for road and utility infrastructure and four acres are allocated for non-aeronautical use on the Airport Master Plan.  The BOCC is being asked in a 2:30 pre-set to decide what to do with the rest of the property.


To other airport-related items appear on the Agenda, including Item 4B4 congratulating Witham Field on being named General Aviation Airport of the Year by the Florida Department of Transportation, and Item 8C1 seeking approval of a revised final site plan for a Stuart Jet Center hangar.


The new owner of property where the Venetian Acres/Polo Club development was proposed in Palm City does not intend to develop the project as approved back in 2010 and is seeking rescission of all development orders for the 662-acre parcel in Agenda Item 8C2.


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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