City of Stuart
Friends & Neighbors is designed to give you the information that is happening within our County. My goal is to inspire you to get involved and make a change to make Martin County the best it can be.
There is lot’s to do!
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Several months ago, I wrote about Martin County’s growth industries…assisted living facilities and self-storage units. It seems that was all that was being approved at the time. From the moment a project is approved, more than a year can elapse before construction begins if ever.
A project is being constructed right now on the corner of Federal Highway and Palm City Road that some people are criticizing. It was the focus of a recent piece in the Stuart News by Gil Smart. (You can read it here)
We are all adverse to change. Yet of the several projects that could have gone there, this will have the lowest impact on the residential neighborhood behind it. At one time, a gas station was proposed for the spot. When a traffic study done by the City showed that cars would be “stacked” making people cut through the residential neighborhood to avoid the problem, the Commission voted no. It also would have been open 24 hours a day with subsequent disturbance to the neighborhood.
At times, other stores such as a Walgreens-type business were considered. That too would have had a high traffic impact to the residential neighborhood. When this very tall but extremely low impact self-storage was proposed, it seemed to be a good fit for all. Once again, residential homeowners located adjacent to Federal Highway must expect that businesses could locate there.
My preference was to see an office building like the ones across Federal. Yet I am not the owner of the property. It is ownership’s money at risk. The office market is saturated but apparently not the self-storage industry.
Prior to this, there was a big fenced off open lot, and now there will be three story buildings. Yes, it is change. No different than was experienced by the neighborhood across Federal Highway when the office buildings were developed.
During construction, half-finished buildings look ugly. Once finishes are completed, things do appear much better. After a few months, the change is not even noticed any longer. It becomes part of the neighborhood. And neighborhoods are always changing.
Stuart is considering allowing electric scooters that are ubiquitous now in many tourist areas of larger cities. Are scooters something that should be considered in a city the size of Stuart? Visitors are confined to a relatively small area around Osceola Street. Most of those visitors are not millennials but rather boomers and older generations. Will these age cohorts use them?
Scooters raise safety concerns. There were at least 18 shared scooter-related fatalities last year. When I was in San Antonio a year or so ago, discarded scooters were strewn all over sidewalks. There were issues for unaware pedestrians who had scooters speeding up to them unexpectedly. They can pose a public nuisance, as well as a serious obstacle for those with disability issues. Suits have been filed by disability advocates.
Stuart has cut back on its micro transit system. That is a way to move all people around the City. Scooters are a fad that may be cool to some but will not be used by most citizens or visitors. Martin County refused to have street golf carts because they were deemed too dangerous. Stuart has allowed golf carts for years on City streets.
Sometimes Stuart thinks it is more than it is. It is a small town of less than 7 square miles. While we may have tourists downtown, motorized scooters are the wrong thing to do. It is up there with the long-forgotten plastic straw ban as a futile gesture. Perhaps we need to begin calling Stuart Commissioners Beau-Geste.
How about the City Manager and the Commission spend their time on things that will save money and enhance the citizen’s quality of life? Cool does not translate into how we are going to afford to pave streets, fund the police department and pay for the parks. This is an idea that should be shelved without any more time spent.
To read an article on scooters go here
THE PITY OF INDIANTOWN
There are things going on in Indiantown that those who opposed incorporation feared would happen. Dirty politics, politicians mired in innuendo, and a level of distrust have all occurred. However, no one (including those who did not want to incorporate) would believe that Indiantown’s elections would be a scene for what some are calling old-time corruption.
As you can read below in the Indiantown section, there have been rumors circulating for a while about the Council. A story appearing in Knowhere The Treasure Coast Brief on September 1st makes a compelling case for what happened and who the players were. It is a story with many loose ends that need to be addressed. Only the state can sort out the inconsistencies and find the truth.
Outsider agitators, campaign finance violations, and out-and-out falsehoods have been hallmarks of an election where less than a thousand people voted. Some tried to make Barbara Clowdus and her Indiantown Currents the villain. Barbara was the one that was hounded and harassed.
The State of Florida has an obligation to investigate and address any criminal or civil violations including those related to sunshine laws and public records. The people of Indiantown deserve nothing less. Elections do have consequences. Just ask Council Member Susan Gibbs-Thomas who became a casualty of the new gang of three: Hernandez, Stone, and Dowling.
Without a formal written complaint by Guy Parker, Stone’s opponent, any possibility of getting to the truth will not happen. State Representative Fine (joined by his Martin County colleagues) need to do more than just call press conferences and write self-serving letters. They do have the power with the executive branch to make sure things are investigated and if needed prosecuted.
The people of Indiantown deserve to know whether the re-election of Stone and Hernandez was above board. There is just too many questions and accusations for the authorities to do nothing. I urge all of you to read Knowhere’s story here
By Tom Pine
The recent re-election of Commissioner Smith according to the Stuart News was less expensive than past elections.
Smith states he usually spends about $200,000 to run his campaign and this year he only spent about $45,000 so the $50,000 the firefighters’ union spent helping him get elected was a big help. The unions are also his primary source for campaign workers to put up signage throughout the county and wave signs when necessary. It seems the county debt of over a $187,363,352 makes no difference to these individuals.
According to the firefighters they just want someone who will listen to them. Well, Smith has listened loud and clear for years.
The firefighters want to use the counties to the south of us for wage comparison because according to them trained firefighters from Martin County often move south for the higher wages. So, in order to retain personnel, they need the higher wages.
The big problem with that is the wage disparity continues to grow at an alarming rate because the wages for blue collar workers in Martin County are also lower than the counties to the south of us and no one seems to be concerned.
The firefighters also gave a $1,000 donation to both the other commissioners up for re-election even though neither had an opponent, I guess it was a thank you in advance for their yes vote on their new contract.
During my presentation at the last Commission meeting, I was reprimanded by the County Administer for using Commissioner Smith’s name. I was instructed by the Administrator to address the board of County Commissioners and not an individual commissioner. I forgot Commissioner Smith was still in election mode. He has for the third or fourth time used a write-in candidate to suppress the vote. It is a tactic that incumbents often use in Florida to suppress a large slice of the electorate from voting.
Tom Pine’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
By Michael Syrkus
Michael Syrkus is a Palm City Resident that is involved in Palm City and in Martin County. He will be a regular contributor to the newsletter.
On May 1st, 2013, aboard the Abraham Lincoln, then President George W. Bush delivered what would become known as his “mission accomplished” speech. After 6 weeks of intense combat operations in Iraq, all strategic objectives laid out for the Iraq War had been achieved. As I write this (some 17 years later), we are still engaged in combat operations in this region of the world. Like so many political maneuvers over the history of our nation, the objectives changed, and the goal post was moved.
On August 25th, the Martin County Commission voted 3-2, to enforce a new mask mandate…this time with no sunset clause. Instead, this new governmental dictate will last for the duration of the county’s broader declaration of “emergency” order.
On July 7th, a mere 7 weeks easier, the commission voiced their opinion and set their goal post:
- Reduction of overall active COVID-19 cases: What was then stated to be 70 plus active hospitalizations in Martin County has reduced to less than 1/3 that number as I write.
- See hospital capacity at a more sensible level: Today’s hospital occupancy is less than 60%, compared to the 85-90% this time last year.
- Percent of Covid-19 positive rate below the state desired 10% maximum: Check.
- More involvement from the private sector to encourage customers to wear masks: Check again!
As every criterion to rescind a mask mandate has been met, why now the new order? Why the need to move the goal post?
To be clear, I am not “Anti-mask”. I am anti-governmental overreach. The moving of the goal post, just as in the military, leverages unchecked power to those in a position of power, and denies the people their rights to checks and balances.
Now, more than ever, we must insist that logic, fact, and objectivity be the corner stones of our decision making.
Set Goals, Scientifically and statistically based, and stand by those goals.
Michael Syrkus’ opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
MARTIN COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR
Mike Syrkus regularly speaks at County Commission meetings. At the last one, he spoke about the new budget.
Taryn Krzda, the County Administrator, addressed his points in the budget to the Commissioners. The email she sent to them is reproduced below:
On Tuesday, Mr. Syrkus made a few comments relative to the budget. I have been asked to provide information on the comments that he made, since the statements were absent of any specific details. The comments below are not verbatim, I have paraphrased them.
Comment: The County is raising taxes 4.1%.
Response: The 4.1% is a representation in the budget book of the increase that a taxpayer would experience due to the increase in the median home value, it is just a representation. A homesteaded property owner will see an increase of roughly 2.3% (as stated below the chart being referenced by Mr. Syrkus) which is imposed by the Property Appraiser, not the County.
Comment: $56M increase over the past 24 months.
Response: It appears that reference is being made to the budget total. In FY19 the total for the budget was $435.5M for the FY21 tentative budget, the proposed total for the budget is $491.6M, which is a reduction from the FY20 adopted budget of roughly $6.6M. The increase from FY19 to FY20 was $62.7M. The $56M reference I can explain as follows: As previously stated, the budgets from FY19 to FY20 reflected a $62.7M increase. Of that $62.7M $21.8M was for water and sewer projects that would be funded by assessments to the property owners ($9.6M Golden Gate Neighborhood, $5,9M Dixie/Cove Force Main, $3.8M Evergreen/Windstone Neighborhoods, $2.5M Beau Rivage Neighborhood), $21M allocated to fund balance in various funds ($7M to General Fund Reserves (mostly FEMA reimbursements for Mathew & Irma), $6.9M increase in reserves for the Water & Sewer Enterprise funds, $2.1M increase to the Building Department Reserves (Enterprise Fund) and $5.1M of funds carried forward for septic to sewer projects (funded by assessments) that were not fully completed during FY19 and were on-going into FY20. There was also a $5.9M increase due to the change in collection for fire rescue services for Indiantown (not a tax increase to the County), and $4.3M allocated toward the Constitutional Officer’s budget requests. The remaining increases were for approved capital projects and various operational increases that could not be avoided or absorbed into existing budgets.
Comment: The County has a ½ cent sales tax increase slashing $23M.
Response: The only reference the County makes to half-cent sales tax in the FY20 adopted budget, is relative to revenues and debt service, nowhere, at least that I can locate is there a statement made with a correlation to ‘slashing $23M’. The debt-service that has the half-cent sales tax (which is ½ of a Cent that the County receives from the 6 Cents that the State levies) equates to an allocation of $2.8M – this was part of the debt service issued for four fire stations, fire rescue training facility and other County projects. There is no other ½ Cent Sales Tax that the County receives.
Comment: Mention of the failed fire department on Hutchinson Island.
Response: That is not a ‘failed’ facility. It is totally operational. That station is one of the stations that will be completely replaced . We expect to have 100% design completed by 9/15 and will then go out for a bid for construction. In the meantime, and until the new station is finished, there will be no interruption of service nor has that ever been a consideration.
Comment: Increases of $1.6M in salaries, $1.5M in benefits, and $60K in travel and about not travelling anywhere due to COVID.
Response: There are increases in salaries, we have labor contract obligations (Teamsters & IAFF) as well as compensating employees that are not represented by a union. Retaining and recruiting talent that is needed for the County is essential. If we do not have the talent employed, then the County must utilize outside talent, which usually is a more expensive approach. The main increase in salaries is due to additional positions being included in the FY21 proposed budget (2/3 of those positions are funded by enterprise funds not tax monies). The increase in benefits reflects primarily what the state retirement system (FRS) imposes upon an FRS employer (which the County is a member of) and the 10% increase for employees and the employer for health insurance. The $60K increase for ravel, $40K of that was an allocation from a different line item to better represent what the monies are for. Employees are still travelling if a specific training or education relative to their position is not provided locally. Now and for the past several months, travel has been limited due to restrictions from COVID-19. Any monies that are not expended in that line item, as with all others, will revert to reserves at the end of the year when fund balance adjustments are completed and approved.
Should you require any other information, please do not hesitate to ask. Thank you.
Taryn G. Kryzda, MPA, CPM
HERBIE’S HOBE SOUND
By Herbert Howard
Let me introduce Herbie Howard who lives in Hobe Sound. Herbie will be writing on issues affecting that community and all of Martin County.
The proposed Tradewinds development on US 1 in Hobe Sound is 13.5 acres of your son’s and daughter’s ability to be able to afford to live in Martin County.
In 2006, Michael Dooley, owner of Illustrated Properties in Hobe Sound, started a grant “to help housing programs provide assistance to teachers, nurses and others unable to afford a home in Florida.”
The private group has been giving out $10,000 grants to individuals and organizations such as Habitat for Humanity ever since. There is a specialty license plate to help fund the group…Support Homeownership for All here https://www.floridarealtors.org/about/homeownership-for-all-license-plate#:~:text=Since%202006%2C%20more%20than%20%241,unable%20to%20afford%20a%20home.
Mr. Dooley’s dream is to create a model workforce housing community complete with a 5,000 sq. foot clubhouse, a pool and even a dog park. Green energy and bio-swells will be incorporated. They are going to aim for 100% native vegetation. Twenty-five percent of the development will be dedicated preserve. Also, there is a desire to appeal to young people, so technology is kept in mind. In that same vein, let us not forget delivery parking for Door Dash and Amazon.
The timely question is about drainage. Will not building there create more runoff? The civil engineering company, The Milcor Group, has explained that they will be at 100% retention on site. In other words, nothing runs off onto other properties. This is achieved by the high elevation (about 32’ above sea level at the highest point) and strategically located percolation ponds. City sewer and water make drainage and water pollution even less of an issue. This is important to Melissa Corbett owner of the Milcor Group. She lives in Hobe Hills where there was Memorial Day flooding which she experienced first-hand.
Mike Dooley partnered with PRC Group to make his dream come true. They choose a West Indies look keeping in mind that Mr. Dooley has lived in Hobe Sound for 45 years. He wants to create something he can be proud of, Hobe Sound can be proud of, and most importantly the residents who will live at the Tradewinds will be proud of. As Mr. Dooley put it “You have to be proud of where you live”.
Mr. Dooley is an HSL (Hobe Sound Local). And he wants to invite some teachers, nurses, and cops to be HSLs too.
Herbert Howard’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
From The New York Times cities are about to be slammed by the pandemic recession does their political representation in the Senate matter:
The next three are from the Visual Capitalist
The first is the decline of upward mobility in one chart:
The second is what will the world population by country be by 2100:
And last what is the state of democracy in the world:
I urge those who are reading this newsletter to send an email expressing their opinions on subjects. When a reader sends one, it will be included if I find it relevant and I have adequate space. I may edit the letter because of length and clarity. You don’t have to agree with me to have your letter in Friends & Neighbors. All you must do is send it to
Info@friendsandneighborsofmartincounty.com or fill out the form on the website.
The first letter is from Pauline Becker regarding election results:
Tom how come you did not mention the Jenny Fields BIG WIN or are you the group that wasn’t happy with the overwhelming results. Thank you for your efforts. Pauline
If you read election takeaways she is right there.
Tom I apologize. I did read the election results and skipped right over it. Experience does COUNT also personality. Ms. Glass did not conduct herself like a lady. I listened very carefully to the tapes and they told the whole story. Filing those nonsensical complaints did not help either. The best candidate won. We will continue to have good service in our Tax office. Thank you for your continued good information. Pauline
The second letter is from John J Donnelly
As usual your letter is very informative. I do have one issue with your letter in particular:
you spoke about democrats and independents out numbering republicans in Martin County. That sentence is a little misleading; democrats and independents combined outnumber republicans, but republicans are the predominate party in Martin County with 56,503 republicans compared to 29,635 democrats and 28,399 others. You seemed to be lumping others with the democrats and I don’t see others as being affiliated with the democratic party; they would be registered as democrats if they wanted to be recognized as one, don’t you think?
I would also like to comment on Tom Pine’s letter.
I too am having issues with public information being disseminated to me; even upon registering for special access the information being provided is severely restricted and it is public information that should be easily accessible.
I registered as a user to be able to access court records online. Certain records such as certain judges daily dockets are restricted even though I am a registered user; these records should be easily accessible to the public even without registering as a user. Certain attorneys’ records can’t even be accessed.
I know the argument I’ll receive; that certain family and legal documents are sealed, which may be true: but they block those children’s names etc. from the record, the fact that it is a scheduled appearance in front of a publicly paid judge and part of their calendar makes it public record. What is discussed during those proceedings may be confidential and restricted from the public at times, but the fact of who and when they are scheduled in front of a judge is public information that should be readily available and it is not. I should not have to sit in the court house to find this information out nor make a public records request for it, no information I requested is restricted information and is a matter of public record.
Your numbers are absolutely correct. And while Democrats are far behind Republicans. If Democrats and NPAs could vote in elections where they are closed out then outcomes would be different
Don’t have the slightest idea why the courts are as secretive as they are.
The next letter is from Tom Steele:
Since you enjoy writing about the risks of covid, why not write about the risks of diarrhea, because twice as many people die each year from that than do from covid.
Daily Deaths Worldwide
All causes – 150,000 (so in less than a week covid is left in the dust)
Heart Disease – 48,742 (#1)
Diarrhea – 4,300 (nearly 1.6 million annually)
Suicide – 2,175 (tied with covid)
Bottom line is about 56 million people die every year, while to date 800K have died from covid, which represents 1.4% of the annual worldwide death toll, yet 100% of the media and government attention has been on covid. Even if the covid deaths doubled by year end, Diarrhea would be tied with covid, yet covid is an “unprecedented event”. To be socially responsible I’m going to start wearing a diaper and plastic butt shield, since diarrhea is a communicable disease as well.
In the U. S. 8000 people died from diarrhea. Since January 177,000 from COVID. Wash your hands and the likelihood that you will die from either is reduced significantly.
Right and 647,000 die from heart disease, which is totally self-induced, because with being only 4% of the world’s population we consume 60% of its medication, and we’re 1 of only 2 countries in the world allowing direct to consumer marketing. To quote George Carlin, “You’re going to get sick and die and you’re going to deserve it, because you’re f*****g weak and you’ve got a f*****g weak immune system.” His words, not mine. Putting a mask on is the solution our government offers to a population that’s too fat and weak (physically and mentally) to do anything else to improve their health.
I left it there because it would go on forever. I censored the expletives
And from Paul Vallier:
Good reporting. I’m particularly dismayed by the MC Plan to “buy out” 11 homes…especially since they have been there for many years. I agree with getting to the root problem which is correcting a non functioning drainage system that used to work.
I often ask elected officials to write something so that they can have a place to express their goals and aspirations. I offered that opportunity to Indiantown Council Members Hernandez and Stone on their reelection. Stone never answered. Hernandez sent the response printed below.
Thank you Mr. Campenni!
Its really simple. Get everything that our residents want done. Continue to tackle our infrastructure needs. Economic Development for our community And see about helping our community revitalize the aspect of their homes because many are on budgets. Janet Hernández
COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 25, 2020
Most streets in the County have extraordinarily little traffic. They would be ideal for golf cart usage to get around neighborhoods. When it was last brought up in early May, it seemed Ciampi and Jenkins were extremely interested in having an ordinance to safely do just that. Something must have happened in the intervening months to kill that idea.
Stuart has had legal golf carts for the past five years without incident. In many Florida communities, golf carts are used extensively. So why the hesitancy?
All the Commissioners jumped on the part of the staff presentation concerning “unintended consequences.” You know that is the phrase used when people really do not want to do something and need to come up with an excuse. There were plenty of unintended consequences that were enumerated in the presentation.
In fairness, there is something called a Low Speed Vehicle which is essentially a golf cart with features such as a windshield, VIN number, license plates, etc. They do not exceed 25 miles per hour. They cost anywhere from $12,000 up to the mid-$20,000 range. While they might be fun to drive, those vehicles are not an inexpensive substitute for that second car in the driveway.
I guess, once again, Martin County shows how different it is. Something as innocuous as a golf cart being used on secondary streets becomes forbidden because of unintended consequences. In a 5-0 vote, unincorporated Martin County will not have those unintended consequences.
The presentation can be found here
At the last meeting, the Commission asked that staff bring back an ordinance regarding mandating masks. They were to do so with a clause to have some metric as to when it should be in effect and when it should be lifted. According to staff, there were no benchmarks they could use. It will stay until the emergency order is lifted or the Commission decides to suspend the ordinance.
There will be a civil penalty of $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense, and $250 thereafter. It is meant, once again, to educate.
Public comment was varied. If you were in the medical community, you wanted to have mandatory masks. If you were a civilian, your reason for being against masks was everything from infringement on your rights to hypoxia to some emotional trauma. Every court has ruled there is no constitutional right being violated by a mandatory mask ordinance. As to hypoxia, there is no credible medical evidence that wearing a mask, especially a cloth mask leads, to the condition. As to a mask causing emotional trauma, some people have that as a phobia.
Heard believes that, absent a vaccine, a mask is the next best thing. She made the motion with Ciampi seconding. Jenkins does not feel the current situation warrants the mandate. Hetherington is not ready to support the mandate.
Smith said little, but I think a reason he gave supporting masks a few weeks earlier is the reason to vote yes. It relieves the business owners from making masks a rule in their establishments. Now, everyone is to wear masks in public unless you have one of the thousand and one exceptions.
The ordinance passed 3-2 with Jenkins and Hetherington voting no. The entire ordinance can be found here
A new International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Contract was presented to the Board. This is always a contentious subject. I do not mean between the Commissioners and the rank and file but rather between some of the public and the Commission. From a taxpayer’s point of view, how is it justifiable that these guys work 2 twenty-four hour shifts per week with forty- eight hours off between shifts plus a paid Kelley Day (mandatory day off) per 7 shifts.
Such a work schedule leaves plenty of time for a second job or owning a business. Not too many other people in Martin County get that type of deal. These men and women are well trained and expert in what they do. With the step program, the top pay for a paramedic is $85,370.00. The new contract will bring that to $90,595.00.
As a comparison the highest paid private occupation in Martin County is engineering/architecture at a median wage of $90,625.00. Followed by law $73,056 and computer and science at $69,792. The median family income is $55,588.
Management uses the word parity to explain why they need to have that level of pay. In the presentation, Boca, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade were given as examples of those departments with higher pay. That could be a false analogy because the call volume in those three places is much higher than Martin County. Yet, along with the counties to our north that would be where these employees could go for a job in this field.
The Sheriff has a “me too” clause which means his deputies get the same as fire. That is not good news for the taxpayers. When does being protected get to be too much too afford? I do believe Sarah Heard is correct when she says this is unsustainable.
Are the Commissioners making sure that the staff is negotiating the best contract for the residents? It is true that Smith received his reelection funding from this union. And most of his campaign workers are from the rank and file. If Ciampi had been challenged, the IAFF would have done almost the same and to a lesser extent Jenkins would have received their support.
That old rule of following the money is true. And that is too bad for the taxpayers of Martin County. Do the rank and file deserve what they get paid or not? We will never know for sure because huge campaign contributions coming from one source taints the process.
The Commission voted 4-1 with Heard dissenting to approve the new contract. The presentation can be found here
COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 24, 2020
Returning Commissioners Meier, Matheson, Clarke, and newly elected Troy McDonald were sworn into their offices following the August 17th election. Congratulations to all on remaining or becoming City Commissioners.
During the CRA Meeting at 4:30, there was a discussion about one of the programs for which the CRA has funds budgeted called “Brush with Kindness.” That program is not administered by the City but rather by Habitat for Humanity. It is Habitat’s rules and procedures that govern its implementation which is to help rehabilitate owner-occupied housing. For the past two years, the program has dispensed no funds because Habitat has not found anyone who meets their criteria.
I cannot tell you how many hours of discussion have been spent on why this has occurred. It is as if Board Members do not understand that it is not up to the City to pick applicants. If the CRA wishes to continue with a program like “Brush with Kindness,” it needs to develop its own program and allocate the same resources to it.
Mayor Meier questioned the continued subsidy to the Main Street organization at the same level of $70,000. He understood the subsidy was to be less every year going forward. He also wants to have a workshop meeting on September 21, 2020 with Main Street to discuss the ongoing support and how it furthers the City’s interests to continue it.
The Commission meeting started at 5:30. After presentations, proclamations and comments that went astray and veered into discussion of items on the agenda, the first commission action item began at 7:15. People should not have to wait hours for their agenda items to be heard while Commissioners and the public prattle on about little.
There needs to be some revision of the meeting schedule. One alternative might be that once a month the meeting would begin at 4 with all the presentations, employee recognitions, and arts moments then. Secondly, move Commissioner comments to the end of the meeting with discussion and deliberation items. Then if the Commissioners need to speechify, they can do so to the empty chamber. The business that they were elected to do can be done before everyone is asleep. I guess that would be too much to hope.
How many parking spaces is in a lot? That is a difficult question to answer if you ask the owner of 209 S. Albany Avenue, Mark Brechbill. During the 15-minute discussion, I heard 33, 32, 3 and 22. The real number is important in determining what is going to be done.
Mark Brechbill owns the 450 square foot building that once sat where part of Azul is located today. The building was originally constructed to be the office of the man who built the Lyric Theater. It has been the home of several different businesses including a beauty salon. The building was last used for a failed hamburger joint named 33 Degrees.
Some consider it historic, so Mr. Brechbill moved it to a City-owned property several years ago to preserve it. It has sat there for the past several years subject to vandalism and deterioration. Mr. Brechbill’s plan calls for it to be placed on the Albany Avenue parking lot and then operated as a takeout food business.
The reason the number of parking spaces is important is because the lot is tied to the office building across the street. The City Attorney stated if this development order were approved as written, then the office building would not be in compliance with the code. Hence the need for accuracy in the number of spaces and how it is approved.
But there are other problems that need variances such as stated in the agenda item:
- To allow the building to be set back from the front property line to allow for a brick paver
patio with seating,
- For the front building façade to make up less than 80% of the lot width,
- To forego the requirement for the minimum building of two stories, and
- To forego the requirement for arcades or glazed openings and balconies along the street
There is also a requirement in the CRA to have a public art component for a Major Urban Code Exception or to donate 1% of the construction costs to the City’s public art fund. It is estimated that, in this case, the donation would be $300. Brechbill asked that this be waived.
When it came before the CRB (of which I am a member), I was willing to move this project forward and allow variances for the 4 items. I did so mainly because I did not think it would happen given this applicant’s record of following through. My vote became a no when he refused to comply with the public art requirement of $300. While I would not expect him to have much of an art component in a project this size, the $300 could go to help with the next public mural within the CRA. I thought it was petty of him. It was approved by the CRB 3-2.
I was glad to hear that Mayor Meier was unhappy with granting the variances because it did not conform with the Joan Jefferson Gateway Plan that the Commission has enacted. It was decided that before this can go forward, the parking issue must be resolved. It will come back at the next meeting.
There has been an undeveloped piece of property on Palm Beach Road between Martin Luther King and 6th Street forever. It is .72 acres and was originally platted as 50 foot lots for single family homes. The developer, the Hartman Family, are some of the original developers of homes in East Stuart going back over a hundred years. Using the platted lots, there could be 6 single family homes.
Hartman has proposed a UPUD consisting of two duplexes on 75 foot lots on Martin Luther King Blvd. and 3 single family homes on 6th street. The property is within the CRA. Originally, the UPUD was requesting that the zoning used would be Urban Neighborhood. That zoning applies in the Potsdam area a mile away. Some members of the CRB including myself thought using that designation would be spot zoning.
In my opinion, the project is an attractive and needed infill development. It was suggested that the better zoning to use would be the East Stuart zoning overlay which would allow the development as a UPUD. The overlay stops a block from the parcel. It should have logically extended the boundary to Palm Beach Road.
As with almost any new development, the neighbors are against it. The existing dwellings on Martin Luther King in that area are 75-foot lots and single-family homes. The two duplexes will be on 75-foot lots. The City Commission has been encouraging the building of more than one unit per lot to increase housing in the City. The duplexes have one driveway per building and there is an area where the cars do not stack and can easily turn around.
Florida building codes make new construction costly. The available building lots in the City are scarce and expensive. It is not possible to build homes “reasonably” without having some density. Some fear that the duplexes will have irresponsible renters. Yet when the person buying them is paying around $300,000, I just do not think that is going to occur.
The Commission unanimously approved the project.
To see both staff and applicant’s presentations go here
The property on Seminole Street a few steps from the Boathouse has been a vacant lot for a few years now. There was a previous approved plan for condominiums that were never built. This now has new owners who will be building more apartments on less of a building footprint than the failed project. There is also commercial space that has been added.
The units are less expensive and are rentals which, in my opinion, is a much more doable project. It is attractive and more in line with Stuart than the glitzier version before. I hope they are built but I am not so sure that it will happen in this market. It was approved 5-0.
To see the entire presentation including floor and sit plans go here
WORKSHOP SEPTEMBER 1, 2020
The meeting focused on whether to fill vacant positions or not. When it came to most of those on the Organizational Chart, the Board was reluctant to do so. With a new Superintendent being hired, they wanted to hold off as much as possible.
Two things they did do were approve a third payroll specialist position and a Health Services Manager. I was surprised that with the Transportation management team now driving buses because of a shortage of drivers, the Board did not bother to first make sure that an all-out effort be made to find drivers. Secondly, considering that the two-senior people in that department are in the Drop Program, they would not hire a Transportation Manager as requested.
The Drop Program is a commitment a person makes to retire within a defined amount of time. Within the next couple of years, this Department will be without a senior team. It is not good succession planning for sure.
SUPERINTENDENT SELECTION MEETING SEPTEMBER 2, 2020
The Board began by discussing its top candidates and the reasons. Thomas Phelps, currently employed by Osceola County, received 5 votes. Peter Licata, from the Palm Beach County District, received 3 votes. John Millay, the former superintendent from Meade County Kentucky, received 2 votes. Michael Dunsmore, currently teaching at East Carolina University in North Carolina, and Lori Romano, formerly from Martin County now in Pasco County, received 1 vote each.
The Board continued to discuss which candidates to interview for over an hour. Would it only be the top vote getters, or would others be included? It was finally decided that the five would be invited. A question was raised as to whether the candidates with the fewest votes would choose to come to Martin County since they were not high up on the School Board Member’s list. I guess we will see.
The Board also went over the proposed contract language. The new organizational structure will have the Superintendent reporting to the Board. Currently, the elected Superintendent functions as a co-equal. I originally thought that the new person would not be in the District prior to December, but it looks like the hiring procedure will be wrapped up by the time Ms. Gaylord’s term ends in November.
COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 25, 2020
The Town cherishes its trees. Much of what is charming about Sewall’s Point is its bucolic setting. Many people who live in Sewall’s Point are passionate about their trees. The Town has one of the most extensive tree ordinances in the state. It is proud of being designated a Tree City USA.
There are more than 3400 Tree City designations in the country. Florida has 155 municipalities with that designation including Stuart. The Arbor Day Foundation, which came up with this designation to promote itself and trees, is always looking for more places to award the name.
Sewall’s Point though has been a tree-loving place for generations. The tree at 6 Miramar has been designated a Heritage Tree by the Town. The Heritage Tree Committee is part of the Town’s governing structure. If you want to nominate a tree to be in the program, then you fill out a form, drop it at Town Hall, the official committee will evaluate and then make a recommendation to the Commission for action.
On August 20th, a box truck that had ignored the sign warning of low limbs plowed into a limb of the designated Heritage Tree at 6 Miramar which caused significant damage to the trunk and tree limb. The truck attempted to free itself by rocking back and forth which only made matters worse. The entire Town staff sprang into action.
Tree surgeons and arborists were called. Three different arborists gave their opinions. Though it is a private tree over a public street, the homeowner did not appear to want to have anything to do with the tree. The Mayor was on the scene. Townspeople, including former Mayor and current SFWMD Member Thurlow-Lippisch, heatedly expressed their opinions as to what to do. At the meeting, the Commission decided to take a wait and see approach.
The tree limb was 11’8” from the roadway when the measurement was taken on a dry day. It probably is a couple of inches less when wet. According to the Town Manager’s report, the lowest a tree limb should be is 14’ not to impact the roadway and that is with exceptional circumstances. The Commission decided to wait for a further discussion before taking any action.
Manager Berger conducted tests to make sure that the two largest vehicles to use Miramar could pass under the limb. The Waste Management truck and the Fire vehicle both barely passed under the limb while driving exceedingly slowly on a dry day. The City of Stuart Fire/Rescue Department, which provides this service, suffered damage to one of their trucks a few years ago because of another low limb. They gave a list of these problematic spots to the past Town Manager. The Commission will discuss this at another time.
Some residents thought that if a limb from a Heritage Tree was impeding a rescue vehicle, the vehicle could just go around the block to reach the emergency…adding one to three minutes in response time. I guess if it is not you in jeopardy that is an easy thing to say. The Commissioners asked the Town Attorney if there was liability and he said no. I am sure he said no because to say yes would be publicly conceding that there was Town liability. There is plenty of case law to suggest that the Town is liable.
As to who is responsible for tree trimming, if the tree is in the right of way then the government entity is responsible. If the tree is on private property, it is up to the property owner to maintain the tree. If he/she doesn’t and it begins encroaching on either the right of way or a neighbor’s property, the tree can be cut back by the neighbor or the government to the property line even if it causes severe damage to the health of the tree.
The trees of Sewall’s Point are part of its character and charm. I do not think anyone would suggest that they be cut down or every branch be cut back from the roadways. There needs to be balance. It is up to the Commission to come up with a policy that gives the Manager the needed direction to ensure that balanced approach. The entire Town staff cannot be consumed for days with what to do because of an accident caused by something that should have been avoided.
The answer is not to do nothing. Nor is it to tell trucks to drive on the wrong side of the road or to go around the block. That is especially not doable for an emergency vehicle where seconds can mean the difference of life and death. Judicious pruning of even Heritage Trees will prolong their lives. The Commission needs to do something now.
Pictures of the damaged tree and the Manager’s report can be found here
Council Meeting August 27, 2020
At their first meeting after the last election, the Council reorganized. Then current Vice-Mayor Janet Hernandez expectantly became Mayor in a vote of 5-0 on a motion made by Clarke and seconded by Dowling. The surprise came when a motion was made by Dowling and seconded by Stone to nominate Clarke for Vice-Mayor.
From the first day that the Council met, Dowling was disliked by the others. It was blatant and several times the public spoke at meetings telling especially Stone and Dowling to politely knock it off. Dowling clearly wanted to be Mayor for the past two years, why now the acquiescence?
The real surprise was the reorganization of committee assignments. A slate was presented by Dowling that was seconded by Stone of the following:
Treasure Coast Regional League of Cities: Hernandez with Clarke as the alternate
MPO: Dowling with Gibbs-Thomas as the alternate (there are no alternate members)
Council of Treasure Coast Governments: Clarke with Stone as the Alternate
Indiantown Community Trust: Dowling with Clarke as the alternate
Indiantown Chamber: Gibbs-Thomas with Stone as the alternate
Business Development Board: Stone with Clarke as the alternate
Except for the Treasure Coast Regional League of Cities, there was consensus for the appointments.
Gibbs-Thomas was surprised by her removal from the Treasure Coast Regional League. In the past two years, she had become 2nd VP of the Regional League and was slated to become 1st VP in December. That would mean in 2022, she would have been president. As a member of the local board she was elected to be the Treasure Coast Board Member of the Florida League of Cities and her appointment was effective as of this month. She was also appointed to the Nominating Committee of the Florida League.
In a relatively short time, she had become an influential person in government circles not only locally but in Tallahassee. There are two organizations on that appointment list that rely on membership remaining constant. The first is the MPO which is how our road projects are funded. It takes a couple of years just to understand the nomenclature used by FDOT and the feds. The second is the League of Cities.
Except for policy committees that any municipal elected official can ask to join, League offices and appointments are based on your Council or Commission appointing you to the Treasure Coast Regional League. The longer you stay, the higher you can go and more clout you have to represent your city. Taking away that appointment from Gibbs-Thomas was counter-productive to Indiantown’s interest.
In a vote of 3-2, Susan Gibbs-Thomas was stripped of that seat and all she had accomplished for Indiantown in the past couple of years. Gibbs-Thomas was well liked by the other members of the local league. She was beginning to be recognized in Tallahassee which could only serve the interest of Indiantown. Why did they do it? Hernandez will not receive the local league VP spot. She will not be the Treasure Coast delegate to FLC, and by stepping onto the Board, she will encounter some cold shoulders from other members.
Hernandez kept saying that everyone should rotate through positions. Yet Dowling who was the MPO representative since before incorporation is not rotating off that board. Nor has he rotated off the Trust Fund board.
There is something more here than what was done at the meeting. Hernandez, Stone, and Dowling became fast buddies during the election. Which brings me to the next story.
DON’T ANNOY A STATE REP
Representative Randy Fine from Brevard County does not play well with municipalities. While I do not agree with him on his displeasure with local control, he is right about one thing. Municipalities, just like every level of government, owe their citizens and taxpayers good and efficient government. He would not have even cared about Martin County, and especially Indiantown, if they did not share Mr. Robert Burns.
Mr. Burns is a “political consultant” that apparently was heavily involved with Fine’s opponent. Fine’s family was targeted and there were some outrageous claims against him that I will not repeat here. The primary fight was so nasty that Florida House Speaker Oliva had to come to Fine’s defense. Burns apparently had a hand in the Indiantown elections also.
Fine has sent a letter to the Florida Division of Elections, Florida Elections Commission, and the Florida Department of State’s General Counsel’s Office outlining what he claims is criminal activity in Indiantown. The contents of the letter was posted on Fine’s Facebook page here
He closes with the following:
I appreciate your full attention to this matter. While I was able to easily defeat the Adkins/Burns campaign despite their illegal activity, in Indiantown, my understanding is that these illegal activities may constitute election fraud. If we allow convicted criminals like Robert Burns to get away with his illegal electioneering by refusing to disclose his contributors and expenditures, and potentially worse by laundering money from candidates to PCs and non-political entities – and candidates lose as a result — we put our entire elections system at risk.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I know that myself and Speaker Pro-Tempore Magar, who represents Indiantown where the other illegal activity occurred, will make ourselves available however needed to assist you in holding Burns accountable for the maximum civil and criminal penalties possible.
Eric Miller, an Indiantown resident, is also following this story. He is posting on his website regarding, as he claims, the possible illegality of Council Members actions. You can read Miller’s allegations here
Is any of this true? I do not know. Here is what I do know…if you look at their financial disclosures, both Stone and Hernandez had nothing extraordinary in campaign contributions. Did they not disclose everything that they collected? More than likely, any shenanigans can be found in PAC money that is not part of their individual campaigns. There are allegations that they were using fronts as pass throughs. But that is all innuendo. I have been around long enough that, until proven otherwise, Hernandez and Stone are innocent.
This is what an investigation will look at to see if any campaign or other laws were broken. And that includes public records and sunshine violations. What happened to Gibbs-Thomas was no fluke. It did not appear to me it was just magic that Stone, Hernandez, and Dowling had the same idea. Even Clarke did not believe that.
Gibbs-Thomas may have been punished because she did not endorse her fellow commissioners’ reelection bids. It was highly unusual that Dowling would. To me, there is something more, and Rep. Fine and Rep. Magar should insist that a thorough investigation is done for the good of Indiantown.
What really is interesting is who may have paid Burns to be involved in races of such little consequences. That is the person who should be exposed to the public and prosecuted for any crimes committed. Burns did not just show up in Indiantown one day and began rooting for the home team.
VENTURE PARK PUD
The Venture Park PUD is a light industrial park consisting of 138 acres. There are 81 acres in the Village and 57 in the County. The owners are asking that it all comes into the Village. That makes perfect sense since it should have been always in the incorporated area.
The vote was 5-0 for annexation. The presentation can be found here
The next meeting will be September 14, 2020
The next meeting will be September 16, 2020.
We are shaped by our childhood experiences. What is it that you remember from when you are 4 or 5 or 8 and 10 years old? Those memories are what gives context to how you see your life. You become a certain person because of those influences.
Something as mundane as a radio broadcast of the Lone Ranger, I can remember listening to while eating a sandwich when I was about 4 in the middle of the day. Another time being in my grandparents’ house in Hollywood, FL, playing on the floor while Grandma watched the soap opera Edge of Night on TV about the same time.
Those memories are fleeting fragments of some non-descript day. These are the Proustian moments that forge your character somehow. The children of today will have COVID-19 as their madeleine. They will remember that the first time they went to school they did so with a mask.
How will that affect the way their characters are formed? Their fleeting memories may be of masks, not being touched by their teachers, social distancing, and all the rest. To read more here
GET THE WORD OUT
Friends and Neighbors of Martin County is 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
Our first article is from Route 50 regarding Puerto Rico’s affirmative vote to become a state:
From The Startup Milton Freedman still knows more about markets than The NY Times:
The History of Yesterday has an article regarding Adam Smith’s two revolutionary ideas:
From The New York Times a piece remembering the time that Martin Luther King was stabbed in Harlem and saved by the NYPD:
Another from Route 50 regarding New York City sending EMTs with cops to answer some calls:
And finally another from The History of Yesterday regarding a scientist that gave the world cheap fertilizer and a gas used to kill millions of people:
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