The Martin County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) has an over-stuffed agenda for Tuesday’s meeting that features proposed ordinances to establish an FPL franchise fee and to regulate unattended animals, requests to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on beach improvements, proposals to change land use designations and zoning from residential to commercial for two Palm City properties, and revisions to ordinances supposedly designed to increase transparency in development applications.
As usual, the Consent Agenda contains items that should be publicly discussed and voted upon, such as Item 4C, which is a curious request for an amendment to a contract to relieve a vendor from its obligation under a 2011 contract to pay the County for failing to meet a specified financial savings goal.
Items 6E and 6F propose revisions to Article 10 of the Land Development Regulations and Chapter 1 of the County Code to, among other things, increase transparency in development and real property transactions by requiring disclosure of parties with ownership interests who will benefit from the action requested. Staff was directed several years ago to develop disclosure rules similar to requirements that other local governments throughout the state have adopted. Despite the inordinate amount of time it has taken to bring this matter back to the Commission, however, the proposed revisions fall woefully short and actually limit rather than increase transparency.
Instead of using language employed by many local governments which requires identification of “all natural persons” with an interest in a development application or real estate transaction, staff has proposed disclosure of interested persons as defined in Sec. 1.01(3), Florida Statutes (the ordinances misidentify the statute as F.S. 1.07(3)), which defines “persons” as corporations, firms, associations, joint adventures, partnerships, estates, trusts, business trusts, syndicates, fiduciaries, and all other groups or combinations. By using the statutory definition of “persons” who must be disclosed as owners or interested parties, the proposed ordinance completely defeats the purpose of disclosure by allowing project owners to continue to hide behind corporations or LLCs or partnerships as they seek to change the Comp Plan, zoning code, or land development rules for their financial benefit.
Item 8A2 is an 11:00 a.m. pre-set discussion of a resolution establishing the Martin County Agriculture and Natural Resources Advisory Committee consisting of representatives from nine organizations, including some with tenuous connections to Martin County, such as Localecopia (a non-profit organization of farming and hospitality businesses that operate primarily in Palm Beach County).
At 2:00 p.m., the Commission will decide whether to adopt an FPL franchise fee to raise money to be used to “plan, maintain, repair and reconstruct existing roads, drainage and bridges” as contained in the Capital Improvements Plan (Agenda Item 6H). A super majority vote of four Commissioners would be required to change the manner in which franchise fee revenues can be expended. The fee will equal half-a-percent to 6 percent of the monthly FPL bill for residents outside the County’s municipalities (which already have FPL franchise fee agreements). FPL will collect the fee on rate-payers’ bills and pay the County on a monthly basis. The franchise fee is expected to raise about $9 million a year in revenue to pay for a backlog of bridge, road, and drainage system repair work throughout the County. In exchange for the franchise fee, the County agrees not to establish a system that might compete with FPL in providing electric utility service to County residents for the 30-year term of the franchise fee agreement.
Item 7A is a 2:30 p.m. pre-set presentation about a biosolids compost facility that is proposed for Becker Farms land in St. Lucie County which threatens to increase pollution of the St. Lucie River and estuary. The facility will accept sludge from human waste treatment plants that will be mixed with vegetative waste and composted into fertilizer on property within a half-mile of the C-24 Canal that drains into the St. Lucie River. St. Lucie County staff has recommended that the compost facility application be denied, and residents in the PGA Village and Tradition communities strongly object to the proposal. Martin County Commissioners are being asked to support residents’ concerns about odors, pollution, and other risks posed by the facility that is proposed to be built near the St. Lucie County Fairgrounds, an elementary school, several farming operations, and thousands of homes.
Item 8A contains the usual parade of spending requests that include Capital Improvements Plan amendments seeking increased expenditures with little or no discussion. Tuesday’s requests include several beach projects – $70,000 for a study of expanding parking, lifeguard equipment storage and other improvements at Stuart Beach; $133,000 to add an awning to the Sand Dune Café, $60,000 to renovate an adjacent restroom, and $160,000 to replace the deck and railings at Jensen Beach; $250,000 to design and construct a new restroom at Bathtub Beach. Additionally, the Business Development Board is seeking a $5,000 match for a contribution from ITS Fiber in Indiantown, and the County Attorney’s Office is asking for an additional $113,092.21 for opposing All Aboard Florida.
In other matters on Tuesday’s Agenda:
– Items 6A, 6B, 6C and 6D seek approval for new land use designations and zoning changes for property along Martin Highway near Berry Road in Palm City. The Berry Retail and Berry Retail-Gallery developments seek a change from low density residential to COR (commercial-office-residential)
– An ordinance establishing regulations for tethering animals outside, prohibiting crating domestic animals outside and prohibiting leaving animals unattended in a vehicle in a manner that threatens the health, welfare or safety of the animal (Item 6G).
– Item 8C1 is an 11:30 a.m. pre-set attorney-client shade session to discuss several pending legal actions related to the County’s battle against All Aboard Florida.
– Item 8B2 seeks approval of a three-year lease extension for space in the East Ocean Mall that is currently occupied by the Utilities Department. The agenda summary repeatedly threatens the County with the prospect of being charged double rent as a “holdover tenant” if the lease extension is not approved. However, the law allows holdover rent to be charged only when a tenancy has been terminated and the tenant refuses to move out – which is not the case with the East Ocean Mall tenancy. In any event, it would be cheaper to pay double rent for a few months at $18,000-a-month than to enter into a three-year lease extension that will cost the County $350,000. As with other property management issues, it is premature to make this costly decision without the benefit of the CBRE study that is due by the end of the year.
Let your elected representatives 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org, with copies to the County Administrator and County Attorney at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
LITTMAN, SHERLOCK & HEIMS, P.A.
P.O. Box 1197
Stuart, FL 34995
Phone: (772) 287-0200
Fax: (772) 872-5152