City of Stuart
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The September 6, 2020 Edition
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
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The August 23, 2020 Edition
WORKSHOP MEETING AUGUST 11, 2020
The Town is a beautiful spot surrounded by the St. Lucie River and the Indian River. There are two bridges to connect the peninsula to Stuart on one side and Hutchinson Island on the other. Sewall’s Point’s only natural connection to the mainland is through North Sewall’s Point Road to Jensen Beach.
Possible annexation is limited. Growth is contained to a new home on an empty lot. That is why what is being proposed on 7.9 acres between North Sewall’s Point Road and the Indian River is a major development for the Town. Banyan Hill Estates will have 6 lots. When it was approved in 2009, there were 7 more traditional lots.
Vice-Mayor Barile had the most comments and suggestions for the plan. He thought that there needed to be more water retention by the North Sewall’s Point Road area. The developer has planned to have a preserve area with a PAMP in the middle of the development. There will be a homeowner’s association for maintenance of those common areas.
Each lot exceeds minimum lot size and will be required to handle its own storm water on site. Joe Capra, the Town engineer, is recommending that it be approved with master drainage plan and an outfall. The developer will construct a grass paver connection for River Road through the property. The Town may want to require that the developer finish the connection through the property since now River Road is incomplete.
It may take years for the lots to be bought and built upon. The developer is not building any homes only subdividing. It could be 10 years or more before 6 new homes are built. The developer’s presentation can be found here
What does it mean for a fence to be street-ward? When should the fence be 5 feet and when can it be 7 feet? What material should be acceptable? Can it go all the way around the property?
Ordinance 82-276 needs clarification according to staff. And the Commission dutifully looked at the drawing above and waded in. When they finished, it was more confusing. This needs to be further “workshopped”.
Discussions like this are hard to have in a Zoom meeting. This is something that needs to be discussed around a table. Yet why can’t the Commission give this to its Planning and Zoning Board to hash out?
I notice the smaller the government, the more the elected officials want to be involved in everything. Yet by not bringing in others, they are depriving the citizens of taking ownership in government. Public comment is nice, but it usually is more in the realm of kibitzing than offering useful suggestions. Get the community involved in the form of volunteers under staff auspices to draft a proposed ordinance and then bring it to the Commission.
STORM WATER & GRANTS
The Town is in the unique position of being a poster child for resiliency projects. Though not a barrier island like Hutchinson, it still must contend with rising tides and water encroachment. How do you move enough storm water off the peninsula and into the lagoon? How do you clean it before it gets there?
They have done remarkably well providing sewer hookups. I wish more people would take advantage of the ability to get off septic. Joe Capra, the Town engineer, has done a great job in obtaining grants to do the work. How many years will it take to complete all the work needed to raise South and North Sewall’s Point Road, finish storm water projects and all else needed to keep the Town viable as climate change becomes a larger and larger factor.
It was good that the Commission gave the titular go ahead to move forward on other grants, contracts and buying land. I say titular because this was not a meeting but a workshop where no votes can be held. So, everything that the Commission nodded their heads to tonight needs to come back for a vote at a scheduled meeting.
The reason to hold workshops is to talk about policy. Everything about water and grants has been talked to death. Yet for the double reasons of waiting for funding and bringing everything to a workshop before being able to vote at another meeting slows the process down.
Capra’s presentation could have occurred at a meeting that was advertised. After the same discussion, a vote could have been taken. The Commission was not rushing through anything. It was not as if they were working through whether these water improvements were necessary. This was already decided years ago at this point.
The workshop concept in this Town continues because the Commission cannot seem to break a habit. Preparing for all these meetings takes up an inordinate amount of staff time… time better spent dealing with problems. The Commission has one legislative meeting a month. Any ordinance passed needs a workshop and then two Commission meetings which means at least 2 months before anything is final. It is time to reconsider the validity of workshops instead of two meetings per month.
Captec’s presentation can be found here
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The August 9, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING JULY 28, 2020
The Commission has decided to allow alcohol sales on Sunday to begin at 10:00 am similar to the other days of the week. Sunday sales currently begins at 1:00 pm. It was to accommodate the new tenant in the Prawnbroker space.
Vice-Mayor Barile wanted to know why it was not work shopped. Manager Berger said she had spoken to all the Commissioners and none had a problem with just bringing it for first reading as an ordinance. Barile also asked how Benihana’s has a Sunday Brunch starting at 11 if alcohol is not being sold until 1 pm.
They have probably been breaking the law for years. No one has complained otherwise there would have been a violation written. Since no one has objected to Benihana’s behavior, let us decriminalize the behavior and move on.
This proves to me there is no reason to workshop every change. The item was advertised, and no one commented. It will be back for a second reading and will be advertised again. To pass, this ordinance will wait another entire month until the next meeting even though there is a monthly workshop next week. No votes are allowed at workshops.
The motion passed 4-1 with Barile voting no
It also seems that the way Sewall’s Point appoints people to the Planning and Zoning Board is not clear. Whose term runs to when and even who is on the Board is a bit of a mystery. The Board is comprised of 5 full members and 2 alternates. If all the full members cannot attend, then alternates are called to fill in. It is a bit archaic.
That ordinance should be changed so that there are seven members and each Commissioner gets an appointee and two at large that the entire Commission votes to accept. Perhaps with Berger, things like this will be ironed out, but the Commission has to be willing to accept changes. I am not sure every member is.
Pam Busha was elected to the PZA 4-1 with Mayfield voting no.
There was an RFQ for CEI (Construction, Engineering & Instruction) Services. The two highest ranked firms were CONSOR Engineering with 280 points and Culpepper-Terpening with 270 points. The RFQ was not to do any work presently but, in the future. If there is a future need, then these would be the two firms that staff would contact subject to a contract. The first job will probably be South Sewall’s Point Road once funds are obtained.
CAPTEC Engineering has been the Town Engineer for over 30 years. Their current contract expires September of 2020. Berger wanted to bid out a new one. The four firms that responded were: CAPTEC, Culpepper & Terpening, Tiera South Florida, and Engenuity Group Inc. CAPTEC was rated first in all categories. The Commission chose to have CAPTEC remain as the Town Engineer pending negotiating a new contract.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The July 26, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION WORKSHOP JULY 14, 2020
This meeting was devoted to the upcoming budget. Every Commissioner seemed happy with the process up until this point. There will be $1,000,000 in anticipatory grants and $3,000,000 in ad valorem and other fees and shared revenue.
They have budgeted a 10% increase in employee benefits. Finally, the computer and internet capabilities will be updated. Most of their existing computers have no cameras. In the age of virtual meetings, that is difficult. At the same time, the Chamber’s equipment is from the early 1990s. A world away from today’s needs.
It was nice to see a prepared budget that met the Commission’s needs. There will be changes, I am sure, as the process goes on. One change you will not see is an increase in the millage rate which will remain at 2.87%
To see the entire presentation please go here
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The July 9, 2020 Edition
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The June 28, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 23, 2020
It was a very busy Commission meeting. It was their first in-person meeting in several months. When we walked in the door, Chief Ciechanowski took our temperatures. She did not, however, take the Commissioners temperatures as they entered. If you are going to do it for a public health reason, you need to do it to everyone, including the Commissioners.
There was some further discussion on their sign code in commercial areas. The current sign ordinance was passed just a couple of years ago. It needed to be updated because of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Reed v. Gilbert. In a nutshell the court ruled that government cannot regulate the content of signs. They can regulate size, material, and lighting. The decision can be found here:
The ordinance, at present, meets those criteria. Even the sign size, etc., which was written with the commercial plaza’s input, are fine. The problem is the ordinance does not provide a method for someone to request a variance from the criteria. The proposal that the Manager wanted to pursue would be to have the Commission grant exceptions.
At the same time, the plaza is coming back and wants to change their signs. Three years ago, the commercial sign language incorporated the recommendations of the plaza owners. Once again, the Plaza is asking for a change to accommodate their needs as of today. The ordinance must be changed because of the prohibition of granting a variance.
Over time, styles and needs will change. It is a good thing that the Commission is sensitive to accommodating businesses as much as possible. But it is foolish to rewrite the law every time. The broader you make an ordinance, the easier it is to adjust without going to the expense of writing a brand new one.
There should be a two-prong approach to the issue. The first is to minimally change the ordinance by changing a few words from not allowing an administrative procedure or variance to having a variance heard by the Commission for the commercial part of the sign ordinance. Then after that minor change is passed, the plaza owners, working with staff, would present a variance request to show what their proposed signs would look like. It is up to the Commission whether to agree or not.
It is not complicated to do it the way the Manager proposes. And the added benefit is you do not codify today’s taste for tomorrow’s world. The Commission authorized staff to come back with choices…Sometimes you just must decide.
The ordinance and recommendations can be found here
STORM WATER HISTORY
If you are like me, you must find the endless stormwater, wastewater, all types of water in Sewall’s Point confusing.
The Town Manager has decided to have presentations that really explain what has happened in the past, what is happening today, and what will need to happen in the future. Joe Capra, the contracted Town Engineer, gave a great presentation explaining storm water and its affects. It was clear and precise. You can view the presentation here
Twenty-five years ago, the Town Commission rejected the idea of initiating a storm water fee to pay for things like the Town’s share of grant matches. It has been taking that money from the general fund. That results in not always having the money available when needed. You then must rely on one grant being the match for another. Not the best way to fund projects that are essential to keeping Sewall’s Point functioning.
Sea level rise by 2050 (you can see the table in the presentation) could make sections of the Town uninhabitable. The Town needs to get ahead of this now…which means dedicated funding sources for this work.
If anything, that fee should be instituted as soon as possible. Secondarily, the Commission needs to take advantage of inexpensive borrowing to complete as many projects as possible as quickly as possible. It appears to me the Commission, in its efforts to keep taxes low today, may be sacrificing the tax base tomorrow. Without projects being completed faster, there will come a time that some property will be underwater which will certainly remove those parcels from the tax rolls.
Perhaps the Manager is beginning to lay the groundwork for serious discussions revolving around the future viability of the Town. Kurzman and Mayfield are beginning to grasp the complexities that are involved in this subject. It is a boring subject, yet so critically important.
The Commission asked the Chief, given these uncertain times, to give a presentation regarding the Police Department. It was informative and insightful. Sewall’s Point is well served with its force.
To see the presentation, go here
COMMISSIONER KURZMAN’S EXPLANATION
Dave Kurzman wanted to clarify some of his remarks from last meeting on the tree ordinance. Any elected official who takes the time to write to the newsletter should be heard:
I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my comments about Sewall’s Point tree ordinances and on-site water retention. Regarding the tree ordinances, my concerns are the cutting down of trees, large limbs, and mangroves by residents and landscapers while ignoring the town’s strict tree ordinances. A situation reoccurred and a reduced penalty fine was offered provided the homeowner gave a long-term mitigation plan to care for the tree. Moving forward, I suggested that both homeowners and landscapers pay a small fee of $25 in order to keep track of trees and very large limbs cut and that these permits be visibly displayed on trees to be cut. The Town Manager now agreed to oversee these ordinances, noted discussions with contractors and landscapers about these requirements and ordinances, and suggested a six-month waiting period to note the progress. The enforcement of the tree ordinance is necessary to avoid potential flooding/erosion.
The other issue Sewall’s Point faces is on-site water retention which I constantly discuss during our meetings. Many residents on Sewall’s Point Road cope with their properties flooded for days, weeks, months after heavy rains, king tides, tropical storms, and even runoff from neighboring properties. This includes septic tanks underwater on some properties. Now is the time to adopt an on-site water retention code which I will work on with our Town Engineer and Building Inspector.
As the ocean rises each year so will our flooding problems. Sewall’s Point has had opportunities to obtain loans at very low interest rates of 0.53% to help remedy flooding problems. Specifically, this loan money would be used to raise and repave all of South Sewall’s Point Road, capture water as it heads west to east, and pump water into the Indian River Lagoon after it flows through a baffle box or retention pond. Our town has cracked and crumbling roads and each year quotes to repave roads increases 15%-35%. My suggestion is to secure that 0.53% low interest loan for 20 years, along with grants and funding. Our Town Engineer constantly gives suggestions on ways to capture water. Sewall’s Point needs to act. Sewall’s Point may need to match funds to qualify for some grants for stormwater overflow and flood control.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The JUNE 20, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING MAY 26, 2020
The end of an era for this community!
By a 5-0 vote the Commission has decided that pickups can now weigh up to 8000 lbs. Several people spoke in person and via zoom. Most were in favor, but some were not. There was a petition that was signed by 17 residents that were against allowing the larger vehicles.
It seemed, in most instances, that whether you were for or against the issue was generational. Like so many things, passing the torch is not easy. Newer residents with families wanted their pickups as much as families in the 1950s and 60s wanted station wagons.
One resident believed that property values would be lessened by allowing pickups that large. I could not find any hard evidence to support that though there was anecdotal evidence. Many families want to drive pickups to haul around their kids’ gear, their fishing stuff and maybe to tow a boat or popup. Yukons, Escalades, and pickups are the new family car as long as we have cheap gas. Then people will have Priuses in their driveways instead.
2019 AUDIT REPORT
The audit report for the year ending September 30, 2019 is one which shows the Town in good financial condition.
Going forward into budget years 2021 and 2022, Sewall’s Point like many other local governments may not be in such a good position. With the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 economic depression, local revenue could be down substantially. How will this municipality cope when so much of its capital budget relies on grants from state and federal sources?
What has not been seen so far is white collar employment being affected. This will probably change by the end of this year or beginning of next as the economic hardships work their way through America. That should be a concern for Sewall’s Point.
If property values begin to fall, ad valorem taxes will decrease in those out years. The only significant expense the Town has is the police. Could that budget be on the chopping block? These are questions that the Commission should be asking of staff now. Different scenarios should be considered and prepared for in local governments throughout Martin County.
The audit report can be found here
In May the existing playground equipment was deemed unsafe. That has sped up the timetable and what is planned. The Town Manager has now taken it under her wing. After discussing the project with the Park Committee, a slightly less ambitious project is now going to move forward.
The entire amount will be slightly under $200,000. It is anticipated that the equipment will be installed this summer so that it will be ready for the fall. The Commission voted 5-0 to move ahead. Perhaps after years of discussion, the new playground will be finished in a few more months. The Manager’s report, drawings, and estimate, both new and old including renderings, can be found here
The Town Engineer brought back the South Sewall’s Point Road phase. It is being designed for a 25-year 3-day storm event. Most of the funding will be courtesy of various state and federal grants to the amount of $1,235,000. That portion should be completed by the end of the year. To see the presentation including maps and more detail monetary explanation
COMMISSION WORKSHOP JUNE 9, 2020
I always thought that a monthly workshop to talk about what should go on the regular meeting’s agenda was redundant. That is not to say that there should not be workshops. They should just have a point besides what has three votes to be placed on an agenda at a regular meeting to be voted on.
Workshops in other places are for specific subjects such as a budget or development. This week there was three specific Commissioner-sponsored items that were not well thought out.
The first was on signage at Harbor Bay Plaza. Mayor Fender wanted to discuss it. At a meeting, a few months ago, the Commission asked that the Manager speak with the Plaza to see what they wanted. Berger is in the middle of doing so.
Mayor Fender’s remarks were not asking how that was proceeding. It was as if nothing had happened before. That can be dangerous. For example, in 2015 there was a U.S. Supreme Court case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert that essentially said a government could not dictate sign content. The Town drafted a new ordinance subsequently which complied with Gilbert. It appeared that Fender was open to changing that if it would help business. He said he does not know what to do or how to do it.
Commissioner Kurzman had two items…one about trees and the other about on-site water retention. What is near and dear to the residents’ hearts are trees. Sewall’s Point currently has one of the most extensive tree ordinances around. And that is a good thing.
It appeared to me that Kurzman wanted to speak about two instances regarding removal and severe pruning that had recently occurred in violation of the ordinance. In both instances Berger had already fined the offenders, and in one case, had collected a $10,000 fine. But Kurzman kept bringing up that any trimming should require a permit.
What I did not understand was whether he was upset at the lack of enforcement or whether he thought that making landscapers or residents get a permit would stop tree removal and pruning. The current ordinance already spells out when a permit is necessary. The need for a permit is probably more extensive than anywhere else in Martin County.
Now if he thought enforcement of the ordinance was lax then that could be a discussion point. It was unclear. When things are unclear then every Commissioner seems to speak about whatever their pet peeve is even when it is only tangentially connected to the subject.
Here is a novel suggestion! If a Commissioner has an idea, then he needs to do research and clearly present what he would like to achieve with an agenda item. Commissioner Mayfield thoroughly did her research when she brought forth the pickup truck change. What she wanted to accomplish was there for the other Commissioners to comment upon. It was great and it resulted in a change.
If individual Commissioners want things to be considered by the others, they need to spend some time fleshing out their proposals. They can work with staff and then make a cogent presentation for consideration.
Maybe workshops do not need to happen every month. It appears that Stuart needs more meetings and Sewall’s Point may need fewer. In most cities, Commissioners are given all the backup ahead of the meeting and they vote at that meeting. Sewall’s Point discusses items to then put them on an agenda to be discussed again. Is this redundancy necessary is the question?
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The May 31, 2020 Edition
The meeting was held on May 26th the same night as Stuart’s meeting and the School Board. As of press time the meeting tape had not yet been posted on the Town’s website.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The May 20, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING MAY 12, 2020
It was the night of the pickup!
Would the Commission finally approve pickup trucks of more than 5000 pounds was the question. And you cannot say there was not lively debate.
This was a Zoom meeting that was extremely well attended. I counted 82 attendees, but Mayor Fender said that there were 89 at one point. Some of the attendees had more than just one person on the screen, so more people were involved than any Commission meeting.
Most comments were favorable. As Commissioner Mayfield, who was the lead, kept saying, “These trucks are like family station wagons were 40 years ago.” This was borne out by speaker after speaker stating that fact although some speakers thought they did not belong and should not be allowed.
The new ordinance being proposed had a weight limit of no more than 9000 lbs. Mayfield felt that would take care of those pickups being used as family cars. That was the point of the ordinance. Everything else that is prohibited now (from tool chests to dual wheels) would still not be allowed.
Vice-Mayor Barile offered a motion that it be a maximum of 7500 lbs. It died for a lack of a second. Commissioner Campo then made a motion for 8000 lbs. He said that it was in the spirit of compromise. He wanted a unified 5-0 vote. Mayfield was perplexed since she thought it was agreed previously that the weight limit should be 9000 lbs. When Mayfield asked why 8000 instead of 9000, it was not because the weight was tied to any models, it was for compromise. Commissioner Kurzman seconded Campo’s motion.
The vote was 4-1 in favor of a maximum of 8000 lbs. with Mayfield dissenting. You can find the agenda item Here
I reached out to Kaija on her reason for voting no on a project that was so close to her and she gave me this response:
Hi Tom –
First of all, thank you for asking me and giving me the chance to clarify why I voted the way I did.
In my perspective, before we got to last night’s vote, there was already a series of compromises. The initial proposal back in March was to remove the weight limit restriction altogether, and I am still of the opinion that that is the best option. However, given the balance of the commission and the fact that there are residents who do not share the same opinion I do, the commission compromised at the March workshop and settled on 9,000 lbs. I was comfortable with that number as I believed it would encompass all of the family pickup trucks that a resident might desire. At the meeting last night, there was an immediate motion for, in my eyes at least, a much lower weight (7,500 lbs), then public comment on the topic occurred, and then another motion for a slightly higher weight (8,000 lbs) was made and was seconded. I was not comfortable that that weight (8,000 lbs) would completely achieve the desired goal. We discussed the second motion at 8,000 lbs where I was able to speak and provide backup and reasoning for my thoughts, and I said I was open to compromising at 8,500 lbs. The vote was called for 8,000 lbs, I was first to vote, and I felt 8,500 lbs was the better option.
A neighbor wrote to me and said, “The fact that we are using weight, something we cannot see with our eyes, to regulate something’s visual appearance, is fundamentally flawed.” I concur with that statement. In addition, an 8,000 lb limit, though a vast improvement over 5,000 lbs, will still require our code enforcement officers to spend their time quantifying minute details about someone’s personal vehicle, something that I believe could have been avoided if a slightly higher weight limit had been agreed upon.
That being said, I am pleased that we have moved forward with raising the weight limit on passenger pickup trucks, and we can hopefully help with alleviating the inequity that our pickup-truck owning neighbors have had to deal with. I am also pleased with the way the commission has been working together lately, and as was mentioned by another commissioner last night, I recognize the value of a united commission on a contentious issue. I respect all my fellow commissioners, and realize we are all different people, with different perspectives and ideas. I believe it is in the best interests of the town and its residents to have a commission that works together for the common good of Sewall’s Point.
While she did not get what she requested, Barile made a comment that because she had done so much work and research, it forced him to do the same. He thanked her for that. Those two are class acts.
RENTING OUT THE PARK
Since 2011, the park has been used by one entity or another as an exercise venue mostly for young mothers. The current business owner is Marion Kavovit, a local resident, and her company is Kavoland LLC d/b/a Fit4Mom. The company pays $100 per month to the Town, and they have provided a liability policy. Staff is looking for direction.
It seemed the matter became one of personalities instead of policy. Who can be against moms and babies exercising? It seems that Ms. Kavovit is a well-liked person. She was instrumental in the new park equipment coming this far. However, a government should not craft policy based on individuals but rather on what is good for the Town.
Even with insurance being provided by the user, the Town may still be the one with the deep pockets if a problem occurs. I would have thought that Campo would have been all over the insurance angle, but he did not bring it up. Kurzman kept trying to have the Manager come back to the Board with a policy. It did not seem that any other Commissioner was buying it. Barile thought that it was opening a door for others to want to use Town property as a base of operations.
I was surprised the Town Attorney was not asked for his opinion on either the agreement that Kavovit presented or what liability the Town has. Most speakers spoke in favor. A motion was made by Mayfield to allow the use to continue. It was seconded by Campo. It passed 3-2 with Barile and Kurzman dissenting.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The May 3, 2020 Edition
In the last newsletter, I castigated staff and the Town Engineer for the worse presentation I had ever heard. This week I want to congratulate the Town Engineer and Manager for having a succinct and thoroughly understandable one. It was good work and I believe the Commission appreciated the effort. Commissioner Campo mentioned it and he was right.
Much of Sewall’s Point’s meetings consist of explaining the never-ending road and sewer construction. If this were a real estate project, it would be considered highly leveraged or “other people’s money.” State grants, County dollars and a variety of other sources are funding the needed improvements. What is often overlooked is the fact that some of the money is the Town’s funds. With construction costs increasing every year, how much is saved by taking years to complete a project should be analyzed. It is not only time but the monumental inconvenience to the residents of endless construction.
The Commission approved 5-0 an interlocal agreement with Martin County for sewer lines. The only time someone would be forced to hookup is if their septic system fails. They also approved a contract with Jamie’s Underground for North Sewall’s Point road. The Commission approved unanimously a grant management contract with Amy Adams.
Unfortunately, I download the agenda and attachments from the Town’s website, but the copies downloaded were not legible and therefore cannot be attached.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The April 17, 2020 Edition
WORKSHOP MEETING APRIL 14, 2020
Sewall’s Point has had road construction and water projects going on for years. This meeting was primarily to bring the Commission up to date on where the bid process for South Sewall’s Point Road stands. I don’t know about the Commission, but I am even more confused than I was before the meeting.
We all must admit that it is hard to have these virtual meetings. The Town has done a good job trying to carry on business during this period. My confusion was more than just not having everyone in the same room. It was just a poor presentation by the Town Engineer without proper visual aids and charts. It was further complicated because the questions being asked by Commissioners were not germane to the narrow subject that was the agenda item.
What became a casualty of clarity was the explanation of the bids that were received. There was a bid summary of the two bids but not the bids themselves. The explanation of the summary was rambling and, at times, incoherent. Trying to follow the meeting was hard.
I began looking at what was presented and wondered if this is the way other projects are designed and built. The plan for the northern and southern parts of Sewall’s Point is perhaps a good comprehensive master plan. How it is being funded and implemented seems inconsistent. Then it dawned on me why.
Sewall’s Point has gotten in the habit of living off the proverbial dole. If there is no “welfare,” then the Town won’t do anything to improve their infrastructure no matter how bad it is needed. In this case the free money is grant funding from the state and federal government. Every county and municipality take advantage of these opportunities. It would be foolish not to do so.
The difference is most will have an overall funding plan. They then have phases to be constructed that use a combination of funding sources beside available grants including bonding, loans, and tax revenue. In many instances, those loans are very low interest through state-sponsored programs. The Commission has instead taken the position that if isn’t free it shouldn’t be done.
It has worked for the most part up to this point though projects have been designed and built around grant funding instead of what should be in a comprehensive way. This results in things taking longer. More starts and stops and interruptions occur. Perhaps no one has thought about this and the long term affects.
One was mentioned at this meeting by the Town Engineer and the Manager. Sewall’s Point has a reputation of not going through with work. Perhaps that is why there were only two bidders on the project. It costs thousands of dollars to prepare a bid package. No firm will do so if it feels it doesn’t have an opportunity to get the job.
Perhaps the pandemic will result in a softening of the market and more contractors will bid. However, if the economy softens, state tax revenue will be less and then there will be fewer grants available. Trying to predict or, as they say time the market, is not a good way to pick stocks or construction projects.
For the past, several years construction prices have risen 10% to 30% per year. That means waiting for all that “free” money, which usually requires a match, has resulted in Sewall’s Point paying more for projects. Interest rates have been historically low for borrowing. It would have made more financial sense to borrow the funds than to pay higher prices.
If projects were larger and being done with borrowed funds instead of grants, the Town may have the ability to negotiate better prices with the chosen contractor. If a contractor knows that he will be working on a project for a while, the certainty is worth something.
The Commission needs to stop thinking that borrowing is always bad. It isn’t! What is bad is waiting for years to complete something with escalating costs because you may have the opportunity to have “free money.” Even if the Town decided to have a dedicated millage surcharge for a period in order to obtain either loans or for bonding purposes, it may be faster and cheaper than its current way of doing things.
The presentation can be found at:
Sewall’s Point Latest News From the April 5, 2020 Edition
And from Manager Berger:
I think this is a good topic.
One of the recent things I requested from the County was to include the municipalities during their (last) Monday morning meeting. They did end up extending the invitation to municipalities to give an update, a 5 minute update, to the BOCC – in the style of public to be heard.
While that was limited, I think it was valuable. It allowed the public to see the intergovernmental agencies working together and hear a brief update from their most local elective representatives. For our Town, we had Mayor Frank Fender, Commissioner Campo and Commissioner Kurzman attend, along with myself. I asked the other two Commissioners to watch from the live feed at home, just to ensure we didn’t place all Commissioners in the space simultaneously.
At this point, we have been researching teleconference options, such as GoToMeeting, Zoom, etc. for our April meeting. Since our government only meets once a month for our official business meetings (for voting purposes) at this time we are only missing the March 24th meeting. We intend to still meet for our business meeting scheduled for April 28th at this time. Although we may decide to forgo any workshop sessions prior to then, since we are unable to vote during those times anyway. This will be a decision that can be made a couple days before the scheduled workshop on April 14th. It’s too early to cancel it now, in my opinion. But I don’t see a need to bring people together for a non-essential meeting. Some agencies are doing this, coming together for the sake of just being able they’re saying that meetings are continuing. However, there’s no need to have unproductive gatherings. I won’t take unnecessary risks, especially when today’s technology offers so many options.
Emails have been sent on a regular basis to the constituency base that have signed up for this type of communication. No less than two per week have been distributed.
As far as ensuring our Commissioners remain visible to their constituents, the Town Facebook page has some short videos from the Mayor and Commissioners, expressing their concerns and regards while we are all in this strange time together. There are also pictures of them attending the County meetings, as well as the Martin County video of the BOCC meetings that they participated in. Mayor Fender and Commissioner Mayfield have used their social media presences to share their personal updates, as well.
Much of this is considered one way communications, so I am suggesting to the Mayor that we have either a Town Hall session via teleconference, led by the Mayor or one Commissioner, prior to our April 28th meeting. Or a special meeting, where all Commissioners can dial in, along with the public, for updates. Allowing us to offer insight as to how Town Hall is operating, what we expect in the near future, etc. I’ll keep you posted on that.
Today is the first day our administrative staff is operating remotely from home. We use a progressive approach to varying our operations strategy as the intensity of this health issue has unfolded. We began two weeks ago by flexing our non-essential staff’s schedules (reducing their hours at Town Hall), then allowing the non-essential to work remotely as much as possible, then having all non-essential work remotely.
For our essential, full time employees, we progressively worked through the following:
- Last week – readied for remote work by assigning lap tops and cell phones
- Last week – installing an intercom system with the front door of Town Hall to speak to anyone who walked up during business hours
- This week – created functionality with the existing phone system to forward calls for specific extensions to the associated cell phones (building | Town Clerk | Town Manager | Finance)
- This week – started remote work today by all Town Hall staff except public works and PD
Our staff is meeting via teleconferences each morning, which is allowing us to try the different products prior to the Commission using them with the public.
I’ll keep you posted.
VIRTUAL TOWN HALL MARCH 31, 2020
Mayor Fender did a great job with his virtual Town Hall on Zoom. There were 38 participants. Between Fender, Berger, and the Police Chief they presented a thorough briefing on how the pandemic is affecting Martin County and Sewall’s Point before taking questions.
The attachment shows their presentation:
SPECIAL MEETING APRIL 3, 2020
The Commission had another virtual meeting and it went very well.
In summary, the Commission passed a resolution unanimously to support the governor’s recent orders. They then turned their attention to whether the park across the street from Town Hall should remained closed. A motion was made by Barile and seconded by Mayfield to leave the park closed but have the parking lot open. It passed 4-1 with Campo dissenting.
There then was discussion on the finances of the Town. Berger and the Finance Director stated that the Town’s finances were looking well. However, there could be troubles ahead as the impacts of Covid-19 are felt. The Commission instructed Berger to bring back more information on the terms of obtaining a stand-by line of credit if necessary.
FROM THE MARCH 22 2020 EDITION
WORKSHOP MEETING MARCH 12, 2020
Stuart Fire Chief Felicione gave a presentation to the Commission. Sewall’s Point currently purchases its Fire/Rescue from the City.
The first thing he spoke about was Stuart’s Public Protection ISO Rating which is awarded to Fire Districts. Sewall’s Point receives the same rating as Stuart. The Chief’s Department has been awarded Class 1 status. Of the more than 36,000 Fire Departments in the U.S., only 373 have that rating.
Why is it important to the property owners? Because your insurance rates are calculated using that rating. In other words, they go down if the Department providing your service is highly rated. That is a Sewall’s Point benefit for contracting with Stuart. When you click on the link to the ISO presentation below, there are links embedded that really do a great job explaining the program.
Felicione also provided statistics for the calls answered by the Department in Sewall’s Point and combined with Stuart.
The statistics can be found at:
The ISO presentation can be found at:
WHEN IS A TRUCK A CAR?
For many years, there has been a prohibition on pickup trucks over a certain weight with other restrictions. You could have a truck. It just had to be under 5000 lbs. and be able to fit in your garage. According to Vice-Mayor Barile, the current ordinance goes back to 2005 or 2006 when Coral Gables had an ordinance that didn’t allow pickups at all. They were sued so the then Town Commission decided to have an ordinance that allowed them, but they had to be under 5000 lbs. which was keeping with state definitions.
Mayfield wants to do away with the weight restrictions completely. All the other regulations regarding 7-foot heights, no commercial uses, and keeping them hidden from public view would remain. Mayfield stated that trucks are the new family cars. Several residents spoke in favor and none were opposed. Campo said he bought a new pickup that exceeds the weight limit.
Barile thought that it was a slippery slope. He could see that 5000 lbs. may no longer be relevant. In the material that Mayfield presented there were 9000 and 10,000 lbs. trucks. Included amazingly were a few SUVs also at those weights. There are no restrictions on SUVs. After going back and forth, it was decided that 9000 lbs. should be the maximum. The staff was charged with bringing an ordinance back at that weight and keeping all the other rules.
It is true that times have changed. Pickup trucks and big SUVs are the old family station wagons. The Town needs to change its standards to match the times. It was mentioned several times that Sprinter vans are not allowed because they are over 7 feet in height. Perhaps it is time to loosen up on that restriction.
Mayfield’s presentation can be found at:
Chief Ciechanowski gave a report regarding what the police do with special details and community events. It is interesting reading.
To take a look:
SPECIAL COMMISSION MEETING MARCH 16, 2020
A motion was made to institute a Declaration of Emergency by Vice-Mayor Barile and seconded by Commissioner Kurzman. It passed 4-0 with Commissioner Campo not present.
The second resolution was to suspend paying time and half to employees during this emergency. Manager Berger explained that during Dorian last year the cost was $17,000 in overtime. She did not want to incur that expense this year. The motion was made by Barile and seconded by Kurzman to suspend the rule during this emergency. It passed 4-0. Taxpayers should be happy.
FROM THE MARCH 8,2020 EDITION
COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 25
The Playground Committee gave a brief report regarding the equipment and fundraising plan. They spoke about pavers, plaques, benches, and fences. They thanked staff and Commissioners for their help.
To see the presentation:
However, one resident, Mona Leonard, did not believe that all the committee’s motives were so altruistic.
Sewall’s Point Park
Two other residents and I tried to join the Sewall’s Point Park Committee as a way of giving back to our town. The Chairwoman didn’t notify us of meetings, gave us wrong information, allowed us no input, and ignored our document requests. We finally quit. Now we know why the committee environment was so hostile.
A for-profit business is being run out of the Town Park. Marion Kavovit is Co-Chair of our Park Committee and owner of a Fit4Mom.com local franchise. See https://jensenbeach.fit4mom.com/locations/sewalls-point-park. She pays the Town $100/month so she can host fitness events for about 70 group members, multiple times a week, who each pay her $70 a month. Members use the parking spots as well. They often use all the spots, leaving none for town residents.
How is it legal to allow a resident to use Town property for personal gain?
The Town has allocated $75,000 to this committee. They intend to erect a huge plastic playground set to replace the old set built by Town volunteers years ago. Our old set reflected the quiet charm of Sewall’s Point. It blended esthetically with our town, unlike the garish new one will.
Why will the new playground equipment have a 125-child capacity? The old playground, which was not used to capacity, accommodated about 40 children. Is our Town government subsidizing a new playground for the fitness group and their 100+ children? Most of these members do not even live in Sewall’s Point.
Public bathrooms are also being contemplated for Town Hall Park. They would appear to be for the convenience of this groups’ members too, since residents are generally within 4 minutes of their own home or use the facilities at Town Hall. Public park bathrooms are magnets for crime and graffiti, not to mention maintenance. If a crime occurs, will Sewall’s Point be sued?
Our Town government is enabling this irregular arrangement to continue. They should be outraged. Instead, our commissioners and town manager have given this woman $75,000 to date for her “project.” Fundraising will include buying “bricks” at $500 each. Each new idea seems to bring more of a carnival effect to Sewall’s Point.
The “deal” between the Town and this commercial enterprise is up for renewal in April. Sewall’s Point residents are entitled to have their best interest come first—not the commercial interest of one resident under the guise of being “for the children.”
Please do the right thing and put a stop to this exploitation of our generosity and our town property. Contact our commissioners and town manager to express your thoughts.
Mona Leonard, Sewall’s Point resident
If anyone from the committee or any other residents want to express their thoughts, I would be glad to include in the next newsletter.
Mayor Fender and other Commissioners have expressed an interest in undergrounding FPL lines for some time. In the past month, Staff has expended effort trying to find out how much it would cost.
The ballpark estimate for the entire Town would be about $10 million. If the Town wanted to proceed with a more accurate estimate, FPL would require $90,000 for engineering fees. Is it worth spending any more time or money for this? Town Manager Berger explained that you would need to hire a consultant to devise not only a funding plan but assist with the entire project including working with FPL.
When removing poles and going into rights of way, there can be many problems of access. The road work on South Sewall’s Point Road illustrates how entire jobs can be delayed by people denying access. FPL is helpful to a point, and that point is not a very large one.
Fender believes it should go to the voters. I agree. The discussion sort of ended with that.
To read the agenda item:
THE END OF PRIORITIES
Fender presented the list of priorities from the Commissioners and the public. He ranked them, and it seems spent considerable time in trying to take everything into consideration. While this was a passion of his, it didn’t appear to be Barile’s and to varying degrees, the other Commissioners.
Barile said he doesn’t work like that. When a problem or project arises, then that is his current priority. Kurzman stated the same thing in more genteel language. The idea of going through the list again was not especially a number one priority.
While I think it is important to have priorities, that is only one leg of the stool. The second leg is the current projects already approved and underway. As Barile believes, those are priorities right now and not at some future date. They need to be managed in real time.
The third leg is strategic planning. Those aren’t priorities, but rather in ten years what should the Town look like and how do you get there? For instance, will it still be advantageous to have your own police force given the rising costs?
It was mentioned that everyone is happy to have the lowest millage rate in the County. The reason that is possible is because the value of the homes is higher than in most places in Martin County. To arrive at the income needed to operate the town, you need to multiply your tax rate by the assessed value minus all the exemptions. If the homes were valued similarly to Stuart, then that tax rate would be much higher. The question that should be asked is how much the Town collects and how is it spent.
The latest priorities can be found at:
February 23, 2020 EDITION
PROCEEDURES AND POLICIES
Sewall’s Point continues in its quest for order.
The new Financial Director, Cheryl Dempsey, along with the Town Manager, has written a Financial Policy Manual. This, at last, brings some sanity to the all-important tasks of Town financial management. It is hard to believe that Sewall’s Point has done as well as it has with the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants methodology that has been prevalent in its past.
Even before Berger was hired, Town Clerk White had begun to bring order in her department which encompasses human resources. She has a part time position. It is the Manager who sets the tone. Berger has hit the ground running. If the Commission gives direction and doesn’t infringe on her authority, in very short order, there will be formalized policies and procedures for the entire Town.
The Financial Policy Manual can be found at:
STAFF OR COMMISSIONERS?
When is it appropriate for staff to attend meetings representing the Town? That was the question that Berger was trying to have answered by the Commission.
She apparently went to a meeting of the South Florida Water Management District after no Commissioner, even though all five were notified, responded that they were able to attend. Berger spoke to Mayfield, Fender and Barile and they suggested that she attend for the Town. Campo, after she spoke at the SFWMD meeting, wrote Berger asking why she was the spokesperson. That is why this was on the agenda.
In general, it is always better for any municipality to be represented by a member of their governing board. That doesn’t mean the Manager cannot do so when no Commissioner can. If the SFWMD was asking for someone to speak on behalf of Sewall’s Point and the Mayor, Vice-Mayor and other Commissioners could not or did not respond to the notification, then why not the Manager?
I am sure that Berger would much rather be at her desk than sitting in a room for several hours waiting to speak for a few minutes. Contrary to what some may believe, there is not much fun and almost certainly there will be no story in the press about the words spoken. Elected Officials are supposed to be the ones that do it. They need to show up in order to do so.
DOES SOMEONE NEED TO HELP?
One of Mayor Fender’s goals is to have a strategic plan. That is accomplished with listing priorities of Sewall’s Point stakeholders. There has been much accomplished already. The residents and the Commission have been hard at work doing just that.
One of the questions to be answered is whether this work should be done by staff or someone else. Alex Anaston-Karas, who has worked for Indiantown, contacted Berger. She invited him to make a brief presentation which is attached.
It is good for staff and Commissioners to know what the residents and each Commissioner wants to see accomplished. That gives staff guidance on what to work on accomplishing. In general, though, just having people sit around throwing out ideas is a waste of time. There needs to be some order to the items being listed. Reality is the key as to whether the wish list can be accomplished.
Too often these types of sessions and plans are a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. I believe in the priority list so that staff can work on accomplishing the goals of the Commission. The other stuff looks and sounds good but will sit on the shelf.
Anaston-Karas’ presentation can be found at:
The priority lists are at:
Sewall’s Point Latest News
FROM THE FEBRUARY 9, 2020 EDITION
COMMISSION MEETING JANUARY 28, 2020
There never is a right time for public comment or Commissioner comment at a Sewall’s Point meeting.
For a couple of years, I have been going to meetings, and there is a pull and tug regarding when comments should be allowed. When I first went, there would be a debate between Commissioners and the person making public comment. This inappropriate behavior was reduced substantially last year under Mayor Barile. Mayor Fender has so far kept it up. It needs to continue.
Fender suggested a time limit on how long public comments can be made, perhaps 30 minutes. I think that would be fine, especially if the comments were repetitious. At this meeting, the Commission was anticipating more public comment because of septic to sewer conversions which may have precipitated the Mayor’s suggestion. There were only 2 public comments which is not very overwhelming.
The public can speak on non-agenda items during the public comment section and then again on specific topics when those items are being discussed. Whether public comments and Commissioner comments come at the beginning or the end doesn’t make much of a difference if it occurs.
It was also decided to have a full meeting schedule in November and only one meeting in December. Campo wanted one meeting for each month. The Board decided in a 4-1 vote to the agreed calendar.
Berger has been on the job for 3 months. According to her contract, she was to be evaluated 3 times during her first year. The first evaluation was at 90 days. As of the meeting, no evaluation criteria had been developed. I think most of the Commission would have let it go and do it at 6 months. Campo wanted to have the evaluation as per the contract.
He has a point since the evaluation is clearly stated in the Manager’s contract. At the meeting, it was decided that there would be a verbal evaluation, and then the Town Attorney would come back with a written evaluation form for the 6-month review.
According to Berger, Campo told her after 3 months, “you own the budget and the operation.” She said that she owned it from Day 1 and that her job was to fix it. She went on to say that she serves at the pleasure of the Board so every day she is being evaluated.
Berger is right. The evaluation should help both parties address what they think is right and what they believe needs improvement. It is a tool.
I have known Michele since she was a Port St. Lucie Council Member. She has always been brutally honest and no nonsense. She is no shrinking violet, nor will she allow anyone to take advantage of her.
A motion was made by Barile and seconded by Campo that the Commission approves of the job she has done for the first 90 days. It passed unanimously.
SERVING ON A ROAD GANG
Sometimes, the Board must feel as if the grants that they have hobbled together from various sources are hard to keep straight. It is for me! The anagrams flying across the room can leave a lay person confused. But when you have four or five grants being used to do a project it is hard to keep all the balls in the air.
Don’t get me wrong…I think what Captec Engineering does in applying and securing the money from government sources is amazing. Joe Capra is a hero! However, one grant on top of another present challenges. If something is delayed or the agency giving the money wants to see some results in order to issue the check, other grant money can become problematic. This has happened on South Sewall’s Point Road Phase 1 A.
I thought Berger and Capra came to a clever solution when they proposed using a state loan program at ½% to start some of the work. For a million-dollar project, that comes out to $10,000 in interest for a year. Every delay of a year could add 10% or 30% to a project’s price because of increased construction costs which is a 10% to 30% interest rate on the money.
I don’t know if the Commission understood this or not. They did decide to begin getting bids on that project in order not to lose grant funding. It could make very good sense to have the money available by a revolving loan to contract for all the projects at once.
Sewall’s Point Latest News
JANUARY 26, 2020 EDITION
It was a long night consisting of two meetings.
The first was a workshop which began promptly at 5:30 and ended nearly 3 hours later. The advertised time of the next meeting was 6:00 pm. What is wrong with that picture.
The Sewall’s Point Commission can always talk any subject to death. This is the way Sewall’s Point has conducted its meetings in the past. Be it workshop or regular meeting, everything blends together.
Frankly, I couldn’t see a difference between a workshop and a commission meeting. They were about the same. Road work or sewer conversion is reported on at both. I guess the difference has to do with voting but at some workshops they had a consensus vote to see whether an item had enough Commission support to move forward to a regular meeting.
This was a better workshop than in the past. The Commission with guidance from the Manager began the fleshing out of priorities. It would be great if the Commissioners could agree on a few things they would like the staff to work on for the year. Under Michele Berger’s guidance they may even accomplish their task.
This was a night of guest speakers. Berger believes this will be part of every workshop. However, instead of several there will be one. Next month she said that Stuart’s Fire/Rescue Chief would speak. It would be followed by the new financial person informing the Commission on the changes she has made.
Joe Capra, the Town Engineer, brought the Commission up to date on several projects. Joe is a real pro. The Commission just needs to approve the projects and stop talking about them. Not every project needs to be discussed and commented upon. The Commission needs to make sure that the project is needed and that the correct firm was chosen. Engineering should be left up to the engineers. At least a few projects were approved at the second meeting that night where voting was allowed.
Berger plans on moving the Commission into becoming a more effective body. She stated that if the workshop format does not produce shorter and more productive meetings, then it makes no sense to continue doing the same thing over and over. Perhaps they should just have two scheduled meetings per month with a presentation at each. Whatever it turns out to be with her at the helm it will be much more businesslike.
She sees the Commission as the policy body, which it is. She wants marching orders. That was the point about the strategic planning session. What are the Commission’s priorities, can they be accomplished and then if so, staff will execute those priorities. I like it.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The May 2020 Edition