City of Stuart
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THE TWO FACES OF COVID
I took my first airline flight in a year. It was a masked affaire and everyone on the JetBlue flight from West Palm to Westchester complied with the requirement.
Before Covid hit last year, I would make the flight to the New York area about twice a month usually to JFK. I would then end up on the subway to Manhattan and off to business. The pandemic happened and I stopped. Subsequently, in the past year I have retired and the days of 60 or more flights per year are no longer part of my life with or without Covid.
Once we deplaned; New York National Guard troops greeted us wanting our papers. Which meant proof that we filled out a form with all vital information including our intention of quarantining if we were remaining in the Empire State. Since we were staying in Connecticut rather than New York state, that factor became moot. Connecticut where we were heading also requires quarantining but that is another story.
The fact that we had received our second vaccine dose more than two weeks earlier did not matter and the question of vaccination was not even asked. Presently, vaccination status does not matter for we are Floridians. That is all that is needed to be considered unclean…much like being from a leper colony. The Northeast is still pretty much shutdown. The hotel we stayed at had no maid service, all the restaurants were closed, and all your needs were handled by a protected front desk.
We could not stay at our daughter’s because then our granddaughter’s preschool would not allow her to return for 10 days. And you cannot tell a three-year-old to keep a secret.
The first night there, my son and his fiancé took us to a much-reduced occupancy Capital Grill. The food was good, and this was their first time eating at a restaurant in a year. They were a little nervous even though she had had Covid. My son was even double masked.
The second night was take-out with one daughter and her husband. The third was a drive over the state border to Brooklyn where we had dinner at home that another daughter actually cooked.
This was our weekend seeing our masked progeny. My wife and I just kept thinking that being a Floridian does have its advantages. Reasonableness being one of them.
THE TWO FACES OF COVID 2
Many readers think that I have been a stickler for masks and wearing them. When in a store I continue to think it is a good idea to wear them. While I now feel safe because I have been vaccinated, I understand that to others about me, masks can bring a level of comfort.
We now eat in restaurants and did so even before being vaccinated but with care and usually outdoors. Everyday life here is not as painful as it has been in other states. Our positivity rate is higher but now that we know most deaths that occur are age related, we can take proper precautions depending on circumstances.
Overall, I think our governor has done a good job without the state being intrusive. Our schools are open. Vaccine supplies and the rate of vaccinations seem to be greatly improved over the early days of the roll out. Are we perfect? Of course, we are not, but there has been appreciable progress.
If this has taught us anything, it is that a little common sense goes a long way. The CDC cannot be all gloom and doom. It needs to give us straight information. For instance, as a fully vaccinated person, I can now hug my kids and granddaughter. Yet they say I cannot travel to visit them. Many of us do not live close to our relatives which would preclude that hug.
I was on a flight this weekend and it was packed. Everyone wore masks and at no time did I feel unsafe. It was an acceptable risk. I am still waiting to find out how much of a Covid carrier am I. If I do come down with it, I am now told that I will not die and not end up in the hospital.
It is progress…but I want more. I want a return to normality.
WHO IS THE RAT?
I received a warning ticket for parking in the wrong direction on my right-a-way while in front of my house. The street is a quiet one. No one uses it except people in the neighborhood. Who ratted me out for this egregious crime? And is the best use of Stuart’s limited resources to send an enforcer out.
If you want to follow code, then there is plenty for the code enforcement folks to do. I see boats and campers in front yards. Little sheds in back yards even some chicken coops. There are cars and pickups parked in yards on grass.
Perhaps I offended a neighbor by parking on my strip in the wrong direction. I know I am not going to call the authorities on my neighbors’ transgressions. That is why I chose to live in a neighborhood instead of a gated community. If it was just an enforcement agent riding around looking for parking infractions in residential neighborhoods, then I am going to say something is wrong at City Hall.
By Carol Howaart-Diez
United Way of Martin County President-CEO
Last month I promised to focus on one of the most significant pandemic issues we’ll face for the foreseeable future – mental health.
Experts in this field across the nation and in Martin County agree that the pandemic has taken a severe toll on mental health as people cope with increased stress, anxiety, and depression. According to experts, these pandemic impacts are unlikely to be resolved even when restrictions on daily life are lifted.
Mental health is one of the areas of need that does not discriminate based on race, income level or age. The widespread impact of this has created a crisis in our community.
COVID-19’s most severe physical impacts have been felt by the elderly, but some of its worst mental health effects have emerged in our youth. The demand for mental health support from one of our youth-serving agencies increased by 100% when comparing data from 2019 to 2020.
This stark increase is attributed to isolation from friends and extended family, missing out on educational and social opportunities, loss of loved ones, stress from economic uncertainty resulting from job loss and possible evictions, reduction in supportive caregivers in school settings and anxiety about contracting COVID-19.
To address this growing issue, United Way partnered with the Martin County Board of County Commissioners and local mental health providers to offer free counseling and therapy to those who need it regardless of their ability to pay.
The partnership lasted through the last quarter of 2020. In that time, we served 100 children who were on a waitlist for services, supported over 600 therapy sessions for both youth and adults and helped cover therapy and assessment for 14 at-risk youth. Despite these gains, we continue to see a growing waitlist for mental health services for both adults and children. We anticipate forging a partnership to expand services once again upon approval of the next COVID-19 relief bill.
As we wait for details on the next round of federal funding for COVID relief, we are actively seeking local programs to help fill the growing mental health needs. No matter what side of the aisle you are on, the support needed for these critical programs isn’t a political issue; it is a pandemic issue.
Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, substance abuse and overdoses are skyrocketing across our country and here in Martin County. We need to provide no-cost access to mental health services and remove the stigma of seeking help. It is no different than visiting the doctor when we aren’t feeling well or the mechanic when our car is not running well. We should be supportive and encourage others to seek help when they are struggling.
In the coming weeks, we hope to announce expanded mental health services that will be offered for free to our community. As always, if you need help or assistance, you can call the United Way office or visit HERE to find the services that you need by county or location.
By Tom Pine
On May 14, 2020 I made a request for information to Code Enforcement regarding the use of the public sidewalks on Jensen Beach Blvd in the downtown area by two restaurants that take 70% to 80% of the public sidewalk for their own personal gain.
My request was forwarded to Growth Management as they handle all site plan issues.
Their determination was that there was no violation. The businesses are in the Jensen Beach Community Redevelopment Area which allows outdoor seating.
This not an agreement between the county and the restaurants. These are Community Land Development Regulations for the Jensen Beach area that were adopted by the county commission on September 24, 2019. The vote was four to one, with Commission Heard voting with the taxpayers as usual. There were also the usual cheerleaders there supporting the motion.
Those in support are the people who either work or own a business or have rentals in the area. They are often there cheering on any changes to the comp plan, relaxing setbacks or relaxing any of the water mitigation efforts just to name a few.
Then on January 27, 2021 I emailed the Property Appraiser’s office and asked if these two restaurants pay property taxes for the use of these sidewalks.
The answer was the restaurant on the north side of the street is being taxed for 1.12 acres which does appear to include some of the sidewalk. The restaurant on the south side of the street does not appear to include any of the sidewalk and is being taxed on 1.31 acres.
Once again, the majority of commissioners give the Good Ole Boys a free ride on the taxpayers back, I guess we should be thankful that we are able to walk single file past their businesses.
This is also a teaching experience for those running for a commission seat or for re-election. The two groups of people that are very important to cater to are the firefighters and the Good Ole Boys. Money and labor are both very important to have when running for public office.
Tom Pine’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
By Michael Syrkus
In the classic battle of states’ rights vs. home rule, where does the citizen’s liberty stand?
It’s an age-old question, debated many times over yet never clearly addressed. The right of counties and municipalities to establish ordinances for its citizens has long been an integral part of how we organize our local government. The ability to decide what kind of development will be allowed, the rate and use of local tax dollars as well as a comprehensive plan of what services the county shall provide are all incredibly important decisions to be kept at the local level.
Simultaneously, the ability of the state to enforce its constitution in protection of the citizen is equally important. This is most evident with the 1986 decision to pre-empt local governments from establishing firearm ordinances beyond that which the state establishes.
Today, the battle continues, and I wonder where the citizen falls in the matter? Currently, in the state house and senate, there are bills that would remove the state’s preemption on tobacco usage laws as well as make it illegal to smoke tobacco or utilize vaping devices on state owned lands.
The war against tobacco is not new, but these measures desire to allow counties and cities to decide what and where people can smoke is a big change. The state already mandates that there be no smoking in any establishment that derives 10% or more of their revenue from food service.
Additionally, the state makes it illegal to smoke within the indoor areas of all state-owned locations (and counties as well). With all these prohibitions already in place, one must wonder if allowing local rule over tobacco use is an affront to the rights of citizens to smoke on land they own, and more importantly, the rights of business owners to allow smoking in their already existing smoking lounges.
Smokers, though a small segment of our population, have every right as non-smokers to enjoy public lands. Tobacco retailers have the right to allow smoking in their shops. Stand up for your rights.
Michael Syrkus’ opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
HERBIE’S HOBE SOUND
By Herbert Howard
I have often walked past the Apollo School on Apollo Street in Hobe Sound and wondered about it. Now I’ve met one of its former students.
Kathy Spurgeon was kind enough to give me a little tour of the school. She spoke affectionately about her attendance there and her passion for its preservation. Of her memories she offered the disclaimer that they “are like DNA, unique to the person”.
The school opened in 1924. It has been known informally over the years as the Hobe Sound White School and the Picture City School (fodder for more articles.) Kathy’s attendance began with the first grade in 1951. The 2-room schoolhouse served grades 1 – 5 educating about 26 students at a time.
Kathy and another student were able to skip the 2nd grade because they were the only two enrolled. A resourceful principal decided that they be bounced up to 3rd grade. Makes sense. Lunch was served in a Chickee hut out back near the “teacherage” where some of the teachers were housed.
Hobe Sound’s population “blew up” in the ‘60’s with the arrival of Pratt Whitney. The little schoolhouse couldn’t accommodate so many new students and so it ceased operating.
It did continue to serve many purposes including as a thrift store warehouse for the “ambulance squad”. Eventually it fell into disrepair and was a dilapidated eyesore in the neighborhood by the time Kathy and friends determined to save it. That was 22 years ago.
She explained the preservation project has taken a long time because the board insisted on raising the money before spending it. A novel idea for many. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the Reed family, former Sen. Joe Negron and many others, money was raised. The beehives were removed from the roof, the trees removed from the walls and the water damage repaired. The original wooden floors were restored, and ghosts of a time gone by were welcomed home.
The little schoolhouse is now recognized on the National Registry of Historic Places. A landmark goal has been achieved but there is still work ahead. As Kathy explained such a task is never ending. Although it is not obvious, there is still some water damage to be repaired and original doors to be restored. Of course, annual maintenance requires funds. Another $150,000 is sought.
Thinking of entrance fees, I asked why this local historical gem was not open to the public. But as Kathy explained they are extremely sensitive that the Apollo School sits right in the heart of the Zeus Park neighborhood. To be considerate they hold private fundraisers.
There are select tours, lectures and historic dinners which are open to the public. The dinners feature dishes diners would have eaten 100 years ago! They have a book club… The Picture City Culture Club and even a Christmas Tree lighting every year. Much does go on there and I encourage everyone to check out the website HERE and their Facebook page.
Kathy always loved school and her mom was a schoolteacher. These things motivated her to save the school. More importantly, she explained that for every $1 spent on renovation, it is estimated that $8 is gained by the community. Inarguably, the renovation of the Apollo school has helped raise property values in the neighborhood. But, so much more than that, the sense of history, place and community is priceless.
I cannot wait to attend one of those dinners.
Herbert Howard’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint
By Frank McChrystal
I miss the long-time activists that were once the greenie mainstays at the county commission meetings.
It seems the Covid virus has them silenced. They are huddled at home despite the survival rate numbers of 99.5% for those aged 50-69 and 94.6% for those aged 70 and over.
I don’t understand being over 50 and still fearing death. I guess it’s a secular issue. I don’t recall the exact day I quit fearing death, but it was life changing and still feels great.
I miss watching the greenies at the microphone with their valiant effort to at least make the gang of four “developer puppets” squirm a little. Now it’s just the greenie leader, Sarah Heard, alone like Moses in the desert, taking on the gang of four. She steadily fights on with no one on deck, and not even any voices coming from the cheap seats.
The virus has put the muzzle on my left leaning greenie activist friends, and this is quite the paradox. The same virus that got rid of the evil orange man and put the lefty presidential candidate in office has effectively silenced the greenie activists at the local level.
Sarah Heard and the greenie leaders continue the “stay home, stay safe” mantra with no end in sight. And the gang of four plays along with the virus “safety” measures while silently thinking, “Right On.”
Stay home, stay safe, stay silent. Or…FREEDOM!!
Frank McChrystal’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
By Keith Fletcher CEO & President of
Boys & Girls Clubs of Martin County
While sobering, solemn numbers have consumed us for the last 12 months, one set of statistics is only starting to come into focus: the “Covid slide.”
Named after the “summer slide,” when students returning to school demonstrate significant learning gaps due to the time off, “Covid slide” as a title is almost too euphemistic. The pandemic-induced academic gaps are steep declines if not outright drop-offs. National studies show students incurring more than 100 days of learning loss in reading and more than 200 days in math.
Now imagine the impacts on students already struggling with unstable home environments, food insecurity and tough neighborhoods. A great many such kids make up the membership of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Martin County (BGCMC). Of our more than 2,500 members at four clubs, 85 percent qualify for Martin County School District’s free/reduced meals program— more than twice the countywide rate.
Generally, Boys & Girls Clubs are considered safe havens for kids to avoid trouble. But in today’s complex environment, we’re much, much more, emphasizing core services such as academic intervention, nutrition and healthy lifestyles and good character and citizenship.
Prior to the pandemic, we teamed with the school district to help kids in jeopardy of being left behind. We forged a landmark data-sharing agreement that provided real-time insights into our members’ school-day performances. Then when they arrived at the clubs ‘afterschool, our certified teachers applied customized learning plans to help them with homework, literacy and preparation for standardized testing.
Each year, we serve nearly 100,000 free meals (snack afterschool and two meals and snack daily during summer).
When the pandemic forced us to close our doors, we organized food relief effort for months, sourcing ready-to-eat meals from local restaurants, operating from numerous community locations, and serving almost 100,000 meals to any in need.
These moments let us see our members, speak to them, hear their voices, and keep the connection strong.
We even created Club Connect, a virtual lifeline to students struggling with online learning and isolation. Just like our bricks-and-mortar venues, Club Connect was free to every member.
As stresses related to the pandemic continue, so do our mental-health initiatives. Calls, conversations, parent support networks and a partnership with Coral Shores Behavioral Health Center enable us to assist children and families contending with the lingering effects of the crisis.
At the start of school year, our AmeriCorps members deployed in elementary- and middle-schools, providing mentorship and help with reading and math. It’s a proven formula. In 2019-2020, nearly 85 percent of more than 750 mentored middle-schoolers improved in reading and math. As high as 96 percent of 545 mentored elementary students improved in literacy.
This summer, our certified teachers will provide three hours daily of academic support, helping participants in our enrichment program gain confidence to overcome scholastic stumbling blocks.
Many were born in circumstances littered with stumbling blocks that threaten to trip them up their entire lives. So, we’ve developed robust and diverse workforce training programs to offer both soft skills and certifications that ready them for the local workforce.
Thankfully, the support of a generous community, funding partners such as Children’s Services Council of Martin County, United Way of Martin County and others make it possible. As does our commitment to the conviction that when children feel safe and cared for, then nourished, validated, and encouraged, they can learn, excel, grow, contribute and one day—give back.
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The first letter is from Ali Denman from Stuart regarding the Jensen Beach Causeway:
Interesting, controversy – Jensen Causeway issues. Many “regulars” on the Veterans Bridge must carry our own bags to dispose of trash along both spans of the bridge, (much of which blows out of truck beds), because our request for a “permanent” trash can on the Stuart end of the bridge has been denied. We use the bridge for exercise, not to gather/dispose of the trash that dishonors those the bridge name represents.
The next is from Audrey Capozzi re vaccine distribution:
Why not try New York’s system if you think Florida is lacking in its distribution of shots. Most folks I know, who want t the shot, already have both.
People under 60 are getting them, even teens with mitigating diseases are on the list.
Teachers of all ages are getting them>
What is your complaint? Can you be more specific?
Would you like a lockdown? Would you approve a mask mandate? Close the schools, restaurants?
And my answer:
You apparently are selectively reading what I write.
No one can say the roll out of vaccine distribution was not chaotic. As to lockdowns, masks and all the rest, they had a place at specific times during the pandemic. The only one I do think that is still appropriate is the wearing of masks and social distancing to protect the 90% of the population still unvaccinated. I never held out New York as the paradigm nor would I.
Circumstances change and temporary rules need to adapt to the changing circumstances. I think for the most part Governor DeSantis has been quite effective. I do think he could be less confrontational and would have more people agreeing with him.
There was another section but just more of the same.
The next is from Bonnie Hannon that included me in her email to the county commissioners and administrator:
Hey Martin County Commissioners before you approve another huge, massive, project, that doesn’t appear to go with our current sleepy, quiet and quaint community, please remember Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” song:
I get that landowners have the right to use their land under its intended zoning usage. But I also know that county’s can put building ordinances, zoning restrictions in place to maintain a certain look.
Do we have language in our current zoning requirements that define that it should be moderately dense limited commercial mixed-use, maybe with a “village-style development” and that is should preserve or enhance its views from the roadways, protecting the character of environment, preserving or enhancing landscaping, minimizing visibility of parked autos and avoiding creation of hazards or congestion?
Everywhere you go up and down US1, and all other commercial areas, everything is being cleared. I fear that these new developments are going to contribute to the flooding issues that we are seeing. And I hope that you guys are staying on top of the new Publix at US1 and Osprey Street. The property height has been built up so much that it, without doubt, will be contributing to more flooding in that flood prone area.
Please stop the madness before charming Martin County is lost forever!
Please contact me if you should have any questions or should require any additional information.
And from Bruce Tyrrell regarding voting:
Tom, I read your news letter from time to time and for the most part you do a good job. I have been involved in politics for over 40 years. I am a member of the republic party here in Martin and I find it to be a very poorly managed group. I am hoping to help improve this group during the coming year.
Now to get to your past letter regarding the voting. The Governor has not suggested making voting harder, only safer and logical. If someone wants to vote by mail just request it and show that you are a registered voter. What is wrong with that and the rest go to the poling place listed on your voters card. If you can’t understand these simple rules you shouldn’t even vote as you most likely have no idea who you are voting for. Why do we even need voting drop boxes. Fill out your mail in ballot and put it in your mail box and the postman or woman will gladly pick it up and deliver it for you. The cost of the stamp if needed, is less than your cost of time and gas to drive to a drop box. So please do not go their our state is blessed to have common sense governing. We are doing better than most States and it is evident by the number of northerners that are moving to our state.
My worry regarding our new residents is that they will bring their political views to the state. I don’t care that they are registered Democrats, I just want them to remember why they moved to Florida, less taxes, fewer laws to hold you back, less crime, and last but not least more freedom to do what you want. So I could care less as to their party affiliation just remember why you moved here and understand that if you bring your old home ideas here pretty soon you will be looking for a new place to move to.
And from Darlene VanRiper, the Executive Director, of the Martin County Taxpayers Association in response to an email written last week:
In response to Mr. RJ Pozzi’s criticism of the Martin County Taxpayers Association. If you paid attention to the words said by Mr. Campenni upon awarding the tribute to our tax collector, you would understand that she has turned back much in the way of fees to the county (and therefore to the taxpayer) every single year she has served. Ms. Pietruszewski has striven to serve her constituents faithfully and judiciously over the years. All while increasing services and making a trip to the tax office convenient and customer friendly. The MCTA does not deny that there must be taxation. Our mission is to be sure the government is transparent and avoids wasting the taxpayer’s dollars. Being adversarial can be counterproductive and frankly sophomoric. After all, Mr. Pozzi, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, as my grandmother used to say. Since you were interested enough to comment, perhaps you would like to become more involved in our group. Please feel free to call so we can discuss volunteer opportunities. Darlene VanRiper, Executive Director 772-285-7447
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Next from Mozella Williams on technical education:
To Whom this may concern if you will please clarify. What is CTE and what the $4,000,000 will be specifically used for?
We have many homeless people here n Martin County. This is a Crisis. This Pandemic has produced many changes in our neighbors lives
What are we doing to eliminate this problem? Many people here would like to know about how you are helping out where there is a need. Thank you for allowing me to share.
And my answer:
CTE stands for career and technical education. The $4,000,000 plus will be used for the purchase and then to rehabilitate the Gary Plaza. The grant is for a specific purpose and there is no match.
The problems you mention are in my opinion much larger than anything Stuart or Martin County can really tackle. The state and feds must make the commitment for housing dollars in my opinion through vouchers.
Robert Edgeberg writes about Brightline and Stuart:
I am new to your site and I wondered if you have addressed the BriteLine, All Aboard FL, or whatever they are calling it now . I have not heard much about it recently and that makes me think it has quietly snuck in. All the work on the tracks also seems like a good indicator that it is inevitable. Between that and all the apartment buildings going up it certainly looks like Stuart will no longer be the nice quiet town it has been for so long. I understand growth is normal and necessary but between the growth and the extra trains I believe Stuart residents will suffer.
Thanks for your work.
And my answer:
We have a tendency to think of the tracks and Brightline as one entity. They are not one but two. The tracks are owned by one company for freight and the passenger rail another. With Covid, the West Palm to Orlando leg of the trip has taken a back seat.
Brightline signed a deal with Disney to run the train to Disney Springs. It also is expanding its service in Broward and especially Dade to be more of a commuter presence. Will it eventually be in our area, only time will tell.
The biggest problem is the bridge over the St. Lucie for us in Stuart. There were funds available to have a new bridge from Washington but there is local political opposition. With a new bridge, there would be no breakdowns and boat traffic would not suffer.
Stuart is a small town. It has not grown very much. This may contribute to the small town flavor but it does not economically bode well for a continuation of city services from police, fire, or public works in the future. At some point you will not have the tax dollars needed for them.
Even if all 2000 apartments are built (which is very unlikely) our population would be less than 25,000 people, probably less than 20,000. That is not a metropolis.
Thanks for writing.
Stephen Ward writes about Jensen Beach:
I see Ocean Breeze on the list of areas covered. Do you exclude Jensen Beach?
Jensen is in unincorporated Martin County. It does not have its own government. When there is something like a new development, the county commission decides.
I report something there as it happens.
And his response:
My wife says : wow.
We did not know that.
And Lastly from Paul Vallier:
Nice news summary…..appalled at $37K for a restaurant counter top pushed by D. Smith. (Must be big supporter $ )
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COMMISSION MEETING MARCH 7, 2021
You can look at the ascension of Chad Michael Cianciulli as the new Martin County Fire/Rescue Chief in a couple of ways.
He is a 25-year veteran of the department where he started as an EMT. For five of those years (2013-2018), he was president of the union that negotiated some generous contracts with the county. Cianciulli certainly knows the ways of the department and the rank and file he now leads.
The rank and file have been instrumental in the elections of Commissioners Smith and Ciampi and to a lesser extent Hetherington and Jenkins. Is this appointment a payback for that political help and campaign funds? Another question to ask is whether a union leader can now negotiate from the other side?
I have been a union member and even an organizer earlier in my life. I have been in management and have owned businesses that were unionized. Whatever position I was in, I tried to do a good job wearing the hat assigned. I think we need to assume that Cianciulli will do the same thing.
That does not mean that citizens and taxpayers will not be keeping a keen eye on this arrangement especially around contract negotiations. I also think we need to keep that keen eye on the four commissioners who rely on the rank and file for money and campaign workers during elections.
You cannot blame the union for doing everything legal to gain a good contract for its members. That is the union’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of Cianciulli and his boss, Administrator Taryn Kryzda, to be fair to the membership but to watch our side of the equation. Most of all, it is the job of the county commissioners to make sure that happens and not put their political fortunes ahead of our pocketbooks.
HOW DID THAT HAPPEN
The Guardians of Martin County and the Treasured Lands Foundation made a presentation to the commission like the one that had been made earlier to the Jupiter Island Commission. The Loxa-Lucie Headwater’s Project is seeking to buy lands from Bridge Road south to preserve the headwaters of both the Loxahatchee and St Lucie basin. The Conservation Fund is the lead non-profit.
They were seeking a letter of support from the BOCC. Instead, they got a whole lot more. Every commissioner jumped on the band wagon. Ciampi started it off with a motion to give $1 million a year for 10 years. And it grew from there.
For the most part, no one thought that would be enough…so the organizations would not be able to acquire the lands needed in Martin County to make the dream come true. Smith began with intimating a sales tax. Heard thought the number was $75 million. I later heard numbers from experts of $100 million to $250 million.
Can little old Martin County accomplish something like this? If a sales tax were proposed and it was narrowed specifically for this purpose, I think I could support it. If it were the commission Christmas tree that the last sales tax referendum looked like, then I would find it difficult to support it. I remember Sail Fish Splash Park and do not wish to repeat it.
As to those who say it would take land off the tax rolls, that notion is sort of ingenious. It is producing no taxes now and never will because it is a wetland and cannot be built upon. It would be good to have the lands under conservation for all of us.
Yet those commissioners have a way to go before I would trust them with a pot money. Their history has been that the voters think the pot was for a specific purpose, and suddenly, the tax appropriated is for everything else.
To see the presentation, go here
How do you get a density bonus? You put in affordable housing. 30% of this project will be workforce housing. Of the 177 units, 49 will be “affordable.”
So, it looks like a good thing and the applications for those units will be submitted to the county along with a yearly report. The units will not be identified (a good idea), and how many must be three-bedrooms or other specific sizes will be left to the market. The developer will make the determination how he meets his obligation of having 49 “affordable” units.
It looks to me like the development, located in Hobe Sound bordered on Federal Highway and Dixie Highway fronting Eagle Street, will be simply fine with the present owner and developer. I think they probably would comply. A new owner…maybe not so much.
After a few years if compliance falls by the wayside, it will be a code violation. The legal department may seek a court remedy. It all hinges on county staff remembering the intricacies of the agreement. A daunting prospect in perpetuity.
I guess this is one way to have denser projects. To me, it is a good thing since we do not have enough apartments in the county. And the 177 units will hardly be dense at 13 units to the acre.
Heard does have a point about tracking the affordability apartments. While Stuart has a formula baked into their approvals, such as 80% of the AMI, it seems the county’s standard is based on how the state defines affordability and not spelled out in the developer’s agreement.
And 49 apartments are a drop in the bucket in the scheme of things. We shouldn’t expect the county and private developers to do this. This is really a federal and state responsibility. A better way to accomplish the same thing is through vouchers but not with a program that overregulates the owners. It is just the best way to do this.
To see the presentation, go here
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COMMISSION MEETING MARCH 8, 2021
There were two development proposals on the agenda this week.
The first was “Four Winds at St. Lucie.” You would think with a moniker like that it would be some large and elegant development. It was simply a zoning change for five 50-foot lots on the corner of St Lucie Blvd and Four Winds Drive. Currently, it is occupied by two 65-year-old dilapidated homes.
The applicant wanted to change the zoning to R2 from R1 which would allow him to have duplexes. Most of the surrounding area are zoned R3. It seemed to be a no brainer. Except neighbors being neighbors, they were, of course, against it. One even took the position of an intervenor.
An intervenor pays a fee and then becomes a party to the quasi-judicial proceeding. The applicant gave a superb outline and really delved into why the change he asked for was reasonable. In fact, it was oversell. The intervenor put on his case and it was what you would expect from a non-attorney. I didn’t see any of the commissioners being swayed by his arguments.
The applicant then has a chance to rebut the intervenor’s case. As I said, there was not much of a case to begin with. If I were the applicant, I would have said no rebuttal. Instead, he began to impugn the intervenor’s reasons. It seemed petty and made the intervenor sympathetic, but not enough to make the commissioners deny the rezoning. It passed 5-0.
Meier said afterwards that there was too much bad information going around. This was not a site plan hearing. There are more than enough safeguards in the LDRs to protect the integrity of the process. He said it was all in the code that could be read. “I am heartbroken” he said.
The mayor tried valiantly to keep it moving. Clarke does tend to sometimes be too solicitous. She repeats herself and that does add to the length of the meeting. Monday’s meeting was 6 hours long.
There are not enough rules in place to make hearings be coherent and cogent instead of rambling and unfocused. The city should write time limits into presentations. This item took way too long. The intervenor part of the hearing should be run by the city attorney. He can keep the two sides on point and not allow unrelated testimony to become part of the record. Remember the commissioners are not only the deciders, but they are also a party to the hearing.
Public comment time limits at BOCC meetings are enforced by the county administrator. She is good at cutting people off after three minutes. Politicians are not so good at it. At the city, the manager should assume that role. Boards are there to listen to everyone, but some commonsense rules need to be written and then enforced.
You can find the presentations here
CENTRAL PARKWAY LOFTS
Have you ever noticed that sometimes things do not fit? This may be one of those projects.
It is proposed to be a 196-unit project on both sides of Central Parkway. The developer was offering 20 apartments at rents of 80% of the AMI for 10 years. There will be a bike sharing program and a pool and clubhouse. The buildings are mostly 4 story with two that will be three story.
I usually like density in the City. Here, there may be too much for the allotted space. They are asking for 29 units per acre. It cannot meet parking requirements so they will create parking along the street. The setbacks are less than the code. And they have agreed to make provisions for safely crossing the road since the pool and clubhouse are only on one side.
While many of the speakers and the commissioners were concerned with the crossing, I did not think that was much of a problem. None of this would have mattered if the developer had come in as two different projects with one having a pool and clubhouse. After it was built, they could have had an agreement to allow for use by everyone. It never would have been part of the development order.
Even the setback requirements do not bother me. At some point, the proposed Willoughby Extension will be built. When that happens, the roadway will impact the buildings. If the developer feels setbacks are not a problem, I wouldn’t use that to deny the application.
The project is too intense for the allocated space. I usually don’t care about parking, though in this case I do. The dog park next door already has the overflow parking from Villa Bella Condominiums at night. I think this may add to it.
Meier made a motion to accept on first reading with having the subsidized apartments be in perpetuity and for 8-foot sidewalks. It was seconded by Bruner. It passed 3-2 with Clarke and Matheson voting no. It looked to me that McDonald could easily vote no on final reading. If I were the developer, I would either knock off a building or make it all three floors to allow for less density.
As I mentioned above, providing a lower rent in perpetuity means what? Who is going to monitor that it will happen? Is the city or the county going to create a position to enforce these provisions? No, it will be up to someone to remember what is in the development order. There is a lousy track record of that.
This is a national problem. You are not going to solve affordability this way. It may make a commissioner feel good, but it is PR and not good planning.
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SCHOOL BOARD WORKSHOP MARCH 2, 2021
The board listened to a presentation detailing what each high school is doing for its “prom” this year. It is completely different than what most of us experienced at our senior proms.
The events at each high school are based on responses from what seemed like a distinct minority of seniors who bothered to respond to the survey. In this time of Covid, what can and cannot be done is testing what that special occasion will become. The event has morphed into more of a celebration on a class-wide basis than what many of us remember as an expensive and intimate formal date.
It seems food trucks will dominate, and movies will be shown under the stars. Not bad but hardly anything special. Things have changed and Covid has accelerated the pace of that change. To view the presentation made to the board go here
ARTS COUNCIL’S QUEST CONTINUES
Nancy Turrell, the Arts Council leader, and Jeff Hardin from Straticon Construction gave a short presentation about what is next for the quest of having the old high school building become the new Arts Council.
The Council now needs to get into the building to see the physical condition and what needs to be remediated. One of the things that precipitated the district to buy the old Stuart News Building was the problems this building had with asbestos and other sick building problems and the projected cost to remediate it.
Mr. Hardin renovated the old Rice Hotel on Federal Highway which had gone through several renovations previously, the last being the old Rookies restaurant. While he may have saved the old building from demolition, any resemblance to an historic structure is purely coincidental.
The board gave a consensus for Chair Powers and Dr. Millay to proceed with negotiation. The space cannot exceed the master plan for Stuart Middle which leaves about 2 acres for the Council.
The main building itself served as the original Martin County High School from 1923-1964. If everything goes according to plan the Arts Council will be there in 2025. There are plans to rent to other nonprofits, to have performance space and, of course, expanded gallery space.
Most of the funding for renovations would come from grants. I just cannot help but wonder if trying to save an old building is serving the arts in Martin County, the taxpayers, and the organization well? It is almost a fixation on that goal rather than what might be beneficial to do something else.
Turrell was instrumental in establishing an Arts District downtown. Now she is moving the Arts Council further from the district. There is not a restaurant or store anywhere near the place. Instead of trying to integrate the arts with a vibrant urban scene, we are seeing the worst form of urban planning…almost a kind of sprawl.
There is no synergy with the stores, galleries, or restaurants of downtown and the Creek Arts District. How would you expect that district to flourish if you remove the patron organization?
Instead of people spending an evening of looking at a painting or show and then strolling over to the Gafford to have dinner, they will do one or the other but probably not both. If they do, then it will encompass driving from the one venue to another.
Perhaps the school district should look at obtaining grants to have the high school turned into housing for teachers and other employees instead of grants for paintings. We need to stop doing things with a 1960s perspective rather than the perspective of today and more importantly what is needed tomorrow.
To see the Arts Council presentation, go here
The staff gave an update on the ongoing projects at Stuart Middle, the two new elementary schools, the new boardroom being constructed at headquarters and other construction updates. You can see it here
The board also received an update regarding the health insurance contract for next year.
A final decision will have to be made later this month at the School Board Meeting. Health insurance is an extremely complicated subject but one that is especially important to those covered. Should this plan or that be subsidized and to what extent? Taxpayer dollars are used to keep the premiums manageable but still individual employees contribute a large amount to their plans.
You can find the presentation here
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WORKSHOP MARCH 6, 2021
Bright and early on a Saturday morning, the commission convened to discuss where to go from here. The problem is there is no here…here. In fact, there was a rehash of a rehash of the projects that have been around forever.
It kicked off with Sam Amerson of Martin County Utilities outlining the proposed sewer expansion. Again, nothing new just, the same thing that Joe Capra, the town’s engineer, has been saying for years.
Then Kim Delaney of the Treasure Coast Planning Council gave a presentation that I am not so sure of what. Most of it seemed to be a cut and paste job with the insertion of pretty pictures. She promises to come back in April with some concrete suggestions.
Bonnie Landry is now apparently on board to do the new comp plan at a reduced price. The commission did an interactive exercise that seems like fun but really is meant to solicit opinions from citizens. At some point, there will be outreach and the game will be played once again with the citizens.
The main point of this workshop was to ascertain how to pay for the needed improvements. Manager Berger and Delaney outlined the ways to do so such as an increase in taxes, bonding, Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU) or by fees. Berger also added that the town’s reserves will be below what she believes is an acceptable level to attract a good rating in another year so bonding may not be an available option.
The town have been successful in obtaining grants, but when you build something, you also need to maintain it. Sewall’s Point does not have nearly enough in the budget to do so. The state largess to a community that has an income level substantially above most other communities in Florida is nothing short of miraculous. Yet, how many more millions should they receive over needier communities?
I heard much talk but once again no consensus. I heard several times that the tax rate hasn’t been raised in 5 years. That would be ok if maintenance and needed capital improvements were being done. They are not. The only thing that has happened in the past few years has been from the money received from the state.
Commission, it is time to put the fantasy that your taxpayers can enjoy this bucolic lifestyle and others will continue to pay for it to rest. You need to realistically discuss how your taxpayers are going to kick in. You are beginning to sound like you are completely divorced from the reality of governance.
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COUNCIL MEETING FEBRUARY 25, 2020
Indiantown’s meetings have come a long way.
They used to be form free. That is no longer the case. Perhaps Village Manager Brown has instilled some discipline into the council. Or now in their third year of operation the members have gotten the hang of it. Some of it could be Mayor Hernandez who has kept things on track. It probably is a result of all three. I am glad that the meetings have become very professional.
At some point soon, I would like to see all five members return in person. If there is anything that contributes to the meetings not being as good as they could be, it is that both Guyton Stone and Jackie Clarke are on Zoom. It sometimes seems as they are not as engaged as they should be.
Anyways kudos to all for improving so much.
The village received a $2 million appropriation for a road and drainage project in the Booker Park area. This is something that began in the last legislative session. Again, another good thing. To see the information, go here
SPECIAL MEETING FOR FIRE/EMS MARCH 6, 2021
There is no simple solution regarding the decision about how to provide Fire/EMS services to the village.
Here would be the questions I would ask myself if I were an Indiantown council member to determine whether to move forward or not. First, could I provide a better level of service than what is currently being provided. Second, would I be able to reduce the amount that my residents and businesses pay for the service. Third, would the added burden both financially and administratively be worth it. And last, what would be the worst-case scenario and how would the village deal with it.
Mike Iacona, the consultant for the village, led the discussion. He stated that the MSTU for the village is $5.93 million and that is what was used in his assumptions. However, for this year, it is $5.3 million, and Mr. Iacona acknowledged it. That is because it changes constantly with the amount and the cost of the equipment that FPL keeps at its facility.
FPL pays roughly 85% of the MSTU in the village. According to the consultant, they receive a $500,000 rebate from Martin County as part of an agreement. However, in an email from the county administrator to FPL, the amount quoted (and that I verified) was $789,000. If Indiantown begins providing the service, then the village will rebate that amount to FPL. The county administrator told me that she stated the true amount of the rebate as $789,000 in a letter to Mr. Brown.
In two key assumptions, the actual MSTU being collected and the rebate to FPL, the village is using more favorable numbers that encourage offering its own service. Would you consider that cooking the books to arrive at the desired outcome?
Gibbs-Thomas has spoken to Commissioner Jenkins and according to her, the county would accept a mediator to help in those negotiations. Dowling was skeptical that the county would want to negotiate. I do not see how they could negotiate for a cheaper price with Indiantown since the unincorporated areas pay that MSTU. Why would a resident of the county want to subsidize an Indiantown resident to pay less?
The consultant outlined 4 options for the village. The first was to do nothing and remain with the county service.
The second was to create their own department. If you use the current MSTU amount being collected of $5.3 million, then they project the cost to be $5.1 million per year which does not include inspection services or dispatch. This is true for all other options except remaining in the county. They would have to build a new station which could cost as much as $4 to $5 million according to the consultant. The other start-up projections are described in the different options but not necessarily explained in detail.
Option 3 is to outsource all Fire/Rescue to a private firm. After start-up costs, it would be $5.6 million per year which is either $300,000 more or $300,000 less depending on which number in current collections are used. In all projections, the rebate to FPL is pegged at only $500,000 not the $789,000 that the county is paying. Two companies presented and their presentations can be found here
Option 4 is a hybrid with EMS being handled by an outside firm and the fire component being composed of both volunteer and paid employees. There were discussions on various ways to compensate “volunteers.” There are over 300 departments in Florida, according to Iacona, that use volunteers, so it is a feasible option. After initial costs, it would be $4.8 million per year.
A motion was made by Stone and seconded by Dowling to proceed with Option 4. It projects a start-up date of October 2022. It passed 5-0.
Gibbs-Thomas made a motion to seek mediation with the county. It failed for lack of a second. Stone then made a motion for village staff to contact the county staff to negotiate in parallel with the previous motion with a “time is of the essence phrase” inserted. It was seconded by Clarke and passed 4-1 with Dowling dissenting. A letter was sent to the BOCC chair by the mayor. You can see it here
The county is currently weighing how to respond to the letter.
But there were still no answers regarding the true start-up costs. The ones in the presentation were far from complete. They didn’t consider the cost of a fire station being built.
There were also the numbers regarding what is now being collected and what is the rebate to FPL. If the numbers I received from the county are the true ones (and they are the ones currently collecting and dispensing the dollars), then the assumptions in each of the options are incorrect. So there needs to be agreement on at least basic facts.
Currently, the sheriff takes all 911 calls and then sends them to the county fire/rescue. If the emergency location is in the City of Stuart, the calls go to their emergency center. The county does not dispatch the city’s calls. I would assume that the same would be true for Indiantown. The call into the 911 system must go somewhere in the Village. Operating 24-7 means 5 more people being hired for one person per shift with vacations and days off. That cost was not figured in anywhere either. The cost of having someone to do inspections must also be included.
We didn’t even discuss how much it would cost to contract with the county to respond when Indiantown was busy on other calls.
I began by asking questions that individual council members should answer. The first question was whether the village would be providing a better level of service than existing. I do not see how that is possible given what was presented. No one has claimed that they are receiving inferior service that needs to be better. So, then this cannot be the reason to proceed.
The second question was whether the village can deliver the same service to their residents and businesses for less money. Again, that depends on what numbers are being used. Until that is resolved, it is hard to compare apples to apples.
Next would be the aggravation factor. There is a cost in staff time to run anything especially a fire/rescue department. The village will own any problems if they are providing the service. How much is that worth? It has a price.
Lastly, is the worst-case scenario. In this instance, the entire thing could collapse if FPL decides to leave or reduce their footprint in Indiantown. How do you fund a department if your main customer decides it no longer serves a business purpose to be there? You cannot run the department or for that matter the village without this company.
If FPL decides that the new Indiantown Fire/Rescue adequately meets its needs, then the immediate fear of leaving goes away. The council has decided to go with the hybrid model but is it based on accurate numbers or not? If they are off by a few percent in their projections, then it will be more expensive than service currently being provided.
The consultant said that the council was in the cat bird seat. That is untrue because it is FPL that can make or break Indiantown. The county can easily survive without the company but not the village. And we haven’t even discussed who answers the calls when Indiantown is busy.
The consultants report can be found here
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There will be an election for commission on March 16, 2021 to be conducted at Town Hall. There are two positions for a four-year term and one for a two-year term.
Those running for to be on the commission for four-years are: Michael C. Brooks, Harold D. Heck, Jr. (incumbent), Joseph A. McChristian, Jr. and Emmet C. Smith. For the two-year term, candidates are Whitney D. Pidot (the present mayor and incumbent) and Anne Scott
A biography of each candidate, which was published in the Jupiter Island Residents Associations newsletter, can be found here
The next commission meeting will be on March 17, 2021.
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The last few years have shown that there are reforms needed for the executive and legislative branches of government.
Most of what is wrong can be traced to how political parties have assumed too large a role in governance. Parties are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. George Washington warned against them. The Framers saw political factions as relics of the English system they had broken away from.
Hamilton called political parties the fatal disease of popular government. Madison wrote in Federalist 10 that a “well-constructed Union” should be “its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.” In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned of the divisive influence of factions on the workings of democracy: “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”
We need to restore a semblance of comity to our discourse, especially in Washington DC. I begin to tackle this problem with looking at what should be reformed in the executive branch in an article I recently authored (see below). The presidency is only one part. There also need to be reforms of the Congress and how we conduct elections. Those topics will be discussed in subsequent pieces.
To read more go to my Medium piece here https://thomasfcampenni.medium.com/there-is-much-we-need-to-do-c986ab085671
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GET THE WORD OUT Friends and Neighbors of Martin County are your eyes and ears so that you know what is going on in Martin County’s municipal and county governments. I attempt to be informative and timely so that you may understand how your tax money is being spent. Though I go to the meetings and report back, I am no substitute for your attending meetings. Your elected officials should know what is on your mind.
ARTICLES OF INTEREST
From The New York Times an interesting article on whether you can tell which of these neighborhoods voted for Trump of Biden by looking at them:
Another from The New York Times regarding DeSantis being Trump’s heir or is he just trying:
From the Atlantic stating that luxury housing is good for every type of housing:
Treasure Coast Newspapers asks is exclusionary zoning liberal or conservative:
And Pacific Legal writes why do so many dislike accessory units:
Route-Fifty has an article on the newest congressional caucus made up of former local elected officials:
All from the Visual Capitalist
The first one compares the size of the Titanic to a modern day cruise ship:
The next shows us Biden’s Budget proposal:
And last the ten cities that have the most billionaires:
Annual Medium Income (AMI)
Basin Action Management Plan (BMAP)
Board of County Commissioners (BOCC)
Business Development Board (BDB)
Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)
Career & Technical Education (CTE)
Center For Disease Control (CDC)
Centum Cubic Feet (CCF)
Children’s Services Council (CSS)
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
Community Development District (CDD)
Community Redevelopment Board (CRB)
Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA)
Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR)
Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP)
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
Emergency Operation Center (EOC)
Equivalent Residential Connection (ERC)
Evaluation & Appraisal Report (EAR)
Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA)
Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
Full Time Equivalents (FTE)
Future Land Use Maps (FLUM)
Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)
High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP)
Hobe Sound Local (HSL)
Indian River Lagoon (IRL)
Land Development Code (LDR)
Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS)
Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSUM)
Local Planning Agency (LPA)
Martin County Fire/Rescue (MCFR)
Martin County Taxpayers Association (MCTA)
Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU)
Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU)
Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY)
Organization For Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD)
Planned Unit Development (PUD)
Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)
Preserve Action Management Plan (PAMP)
Project Delivery Team (PDT)
Request for Proposal (RFP)
Residential Planned Unit Development (RPUD)
Right of Way (ROW)
Secondary Urban Services District (SUSD)
South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)
South Martin Regional Utility (SMRU)
State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP)
Storm Water Treatment Areas (STA)
Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
Urban Planned Unit Development (UPUD)
Urban Services Boundary (USB)
World Health Organization (WHO)