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Stuart Latest News From The September 6, 2020 Edition

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.

 

WHY

 

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:

 

  1. To allow the building to be set back from the front property line to allow for a brick paver

patio with seating,

  1. For the front building façade to make up less than 80% of the lot width,
  2. To forego the requirement for the minimum building of two stories, and
  3. To forego the requirement for arcades or glazed openings and balconies along the street

façade.   

 

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.

 

LONE PALM

 

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

 

SAILFISH COVE

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

 

Stuart Latest News From The August 23, 2020 Edition

COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 10, 2020

 

For many years, the Kiplinger family has owned property on both sides of Indian Street between Kanner Highway and the river. Last year, the Commission voted to annex only the part of that parcel that lies on the north side of Indian Street. A few weeks ago, that piece became the site for Bridgeview, an apartment complex.

The reason for the annexation was because the County would allow offices to be built not residential development. When the Commission ultimately agreed to the complex, the terms struck were for a better project that could have been built in the County. (See where it was approved here)

 

The City should have insisted that the entire parcel be annexed. The southern part of the parcel is next to a County preserve area. At the time, the owner claimed they wanted to keep that property perhaps for future development.

 

The City could have had some open space in return for making the property being annexed more valuable. Unfortunately, the only Commissioner that saw the benefit to the City was Matheson. He voted against the annexation yet ultimately voted for the complex.

 

This week Kiplinger donated those several acres to the County…the same County that would not allow him to sell his land to a rental apartment developer, even though the County claims to support the development of less expensive housing. The City will be receiving additional new tax revenue for the development. The County will be receiving much more in the way of taxes and impact fees for the development. They collect taxes and fees on all properties in the county regardless of whether in the unincorporated section or municipalities. Martin County will not however have to provide any additional municipal services to the new residents.

 

Stuart Commissioners were too afraid that the project would not happen if they pressed the issue. Was it a case of not wanting to irritate a prominent person? There were probable tax benefits to Kiplinger by doing it the way he did.

 

The County will include this donated portion in the current preserve that is already there. Yet if the City had made annexation of the entire parcel a condition or allowed the partition of the property with a dedication later, the City would have 7 additional acres of preserve on its books. It could still be incorporated with the existing County preserve, but it would be part of Stuart.

 

The County gets all the benefits of the new complex such as cheaper housing, impact fees, and taxes but none of the headaches such as providing services. At the same time, both Kiplinger and Martin County get to pat each other on the back. Is the City going to benefit? Sure, it will, but it should have benefited more. Unfortunately, only Matheson saw the possibility. That is too bad.     

 

WHAT IS YOUR SCORE

 

The City was looking for a way to give density bonuses based on developers providing certain amenities that the City wants to encourage. Incorporating a list of things into the code puts everyone on notice that these are things Stuart wants to recognize as public benefit in approving a PUD. This is a good idea up to a point….and that is a PUD must have 7 points of benefit to be approved.

 

Real Estate is more of an art than a science. Putting together a successful project requires looking at it in several ways. Each project is unique and has a financial component that could be different. For example, a PUD in East Stuart would be an economic driver regardless of whether any of the proposed things listed were attached. On the other side, a project downtown can afford to have more “extras” to get through the process.

 

Once you start taking away discretion, unintentional consequences happen. This could result in throwing things in that do not meet the intent while they may satisfy the code. The second is that it narrows the Commission’s discretion. For example, if an East Stuart project does not meet enough of the criteria to make the 7 points, do you then give them a pass but not the guy downtown who can afford some superfluous things to win approval?

 

I like the idea of the Commission spelling out these preferred things in the code but giving each amenity a certain number of points is unnecessarily complicated. By having them enumerated, staff, boards, and the Commission can judge a project by their incorporation without restricting decisions because of them. My advice is to leave out the points but incorporate the goals. The ordinance with table can be found here

 

 

The Commission passed the ordinance on first reading 4-0.  

 

HARBOR GROVE

 

This was the 2nd reading of Harbor Grove which will be in South Stuart. There was no public comment. Originally, there were some concerns about traffic on US 1, but nothing surfaced this time. It went to Tallahassee for comment because it is over ten acres between the 1st and 2nd readings, and there were none.

Out of the 324 units, Mayor Meier had asked that 5% be set aside for rent at 80% of the AMI at 1st reading.  Subsequently, Matheson spoke with the developer and had him to agree to a nearly 7% set aside (20 apartments) for 10 years. Motion was made by Clarke and seconded by Bruner. It was approved 4-0.  The market will dictate if there is actually a need for these 20 apartments.

 

The presentation can be found here

 

SPECIAL BUDGET MEETING AUGUST 17, 2020

 

The Commission met to discuss the upcoming budget. The presentation can be found here

 

 

Given how precarious the Florida and national economies are, it was odd that the Commission did not look to cut any expense going forward. The only hint of a Commissioner wanting to cut a line item was to cut Main Street’s budget by $20,000 to $50,000. Mayor Meier explained that the Commission’s plan was to cut back the subsidy over three years. The other Commissioners stated that they recommend no changes for another year due to COVID hampering the leasing of Flagler Center for events.

Most of the discussion that did take place was about everything but numbers. Everyone received accolades and acknowledgements. Like the County, Stuart is facing an economic bomb that no one wants to admit yet. Many of our residents are already out of a job or will be soon. The official unemployment rate in Martin County has grown 250% since last January.

 

This could be the last flush budget for a decade. They will most likely be cutting programs and people next year and maybe even this year if all the revenue is not realized as anticipated.

 

To see the complete $30 million plus budget, go here

 

Stuart Latest News From The August 9, 2020 Edition

BUDGET MEETING JULY 27, 2020

 

In 2021, the City of Stuart has finally done it. After 14 years, it will be collecting as many dollars in property taxes as it did in 2007. A 2021 dollar is worth 25% less than a 2007 dollar. So, to be truly equal, the $10,850,000 in projected property tax would have to be $13,000,000.

 

The presentation can be found here

 

In 2008 and 2009, the City cut services and employees. It has continued to hold the line to a large extent successfully. The entire budget is $29,500,000. Ad valorem or real estate taxes account for 37% of Stuart’s income. This is the one source that is completely controlled by the City Commission. The other large revenue sources, such as Communication Services Tax, are collected and remitted by Tallahassee.

 

Most people do not realize that the Public Safety part of the budget is about $14,000,000 which far exceeds the real estate taxes collected. Stuart as a municipality can operate with a more entrepreneurial flair. If it were not for the ability to own and lease property or have a CRA, then ad valorem taxes would be higher.

 

In the past, the Commission has done rollback of the tax rate which means that if property values go up, then the City reduces the rate to collect the same amount of tax as the year before. The trouble with this methodology is that sometimes it can result in property owners receiving a tax increase, and when values go down (such as during the 2007/2008 recession), the City does not have enough income. This may result in higher rates at the worst possible time.

 

It is better to have any excess collection go into a reserve for those times when values go down. This would prevent raising rates when people can least afford it. Because of the way property tax law in Florida works with caps and exemptions, it could take decades to recover the tax amount. This results in raising the rate to offset the decline. It would be much better to place any excess in a reserve. Then when the lean times come (and they always come), you will not have to raise rates for people at the worst possible time.

 

The City’s Financial Services Director has written a more technical explanation that you can read in the News & Views Section.

 

REGULAR COMMISSION MEETING JULY 27, 2020

 

During her comments, Eula Clarke did something unusual. She read the pre-amble to the U.S. Constitution. She did not announce that was what she was going to do. She said she was not going to apologize for what she was about to say. I do not know whether others got a queasy feeling, but I know I did.

Once she began with “We the People of the United States…” I thought we were on safe ground. I was right.

 

“In Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility. Provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves, and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

 

When I asked her afterwards why she chose to read those words, she stated that she thought they had to be said.  Eula was right that no apology was needed.

 

HUDSON’S LEASE

Formerly The Pelican

Remember a year ago when the chamber was packed with supporters for extending Pelican’s lease? They were all there to excoriate the Commission. Save our Pelican!!!! Stuart would not be Stuart without it were the cries. The Commission caved and gave Paul and Linda Daly a new lease. As we all know, they then turned around and sold it to Mike Matakaetis, owner of the Boathouse and other restaurants.

 

In the long term, that is a good thing for Stuart. Yet to get to a better outcome it ended up costing the City some money. As it turns out, those hundreds of people that were up in arms were the dupes of the Dalys. In order to keep local tranquility, the City said ok. It took less than a month for Paul and Linda to secure their retirement by selling that lease.

 

COVID, design, and problems with satisfying the City’s dealings with DEP have delayed Hudson’s, named after Mr. Matakaetis late granddaughter, from a speedy opening. The lease start date has been pushed back from September to next March. It was not unexpected nor unreasonable to do so. It will be a completely new restaurant with a completely new look.

 

The only thing missing was anyone in the meeting to comment or bemoan the now true death of the Pelican. Without the frenzy of a Facebook page, all those people have disappeared. It was not as if they could do anything. It would have been nice for one of those avid “Pelicans” to say sorry for costing the City’s taxpayers so much money.

 

THE CITY FINALLY MOVES

 

The Commission has authorized staff to proceed with borrowing $5,000,000 for the purchase of what is known as the Wells Fargo Building on Ocean across from Memorial Park. The lender is JP Morgan Chase and the interest rate is at 1.295% or less than 2019s CPI. The tenants in possession will more than pay for the interest and principle.

The current plan is to have City Hall move into the building in the future. Buying the properties are the right thing to do. It will move and increase downtown business. The area now, especially in the rear on Osceola, is woefully underutilized. This will be a game changer.

 

The more the City can develop on its main thoroughfares the better. It not only brings new residents and businesses but allows existing taxpayers not to have increases in their taxes. East Ocean, Federal, and Kanner were meant to have higher density projects. It makes sense.

 

What to do about the existing City Hall will continue to perplex the Commission. Politicians are not known for possessing much more vision than to the next election. Yet maybe this time things are different. We will see.

 

As far as the City buying the building, I think they made the right choice. This will not cost the taxpayers any money since it is being purchased and managed through the property management fund and not the general fund. With the surrounding CRA purchases that were already approved, Stuart is ensuring the future by broadening the tax base.

 

SPRINGTREE

 

Staff had sent the application to be approved in Tallahassee. It was approved by DEO and it was ready for second reading. There were a few people that spoke against moving forward.

 

This development of 270 apartments in mostly 4 story buildings has a density of 13.5 units per acre which is less than current code. It also has more open space than what is required. It is located on Federal Highway in South Stuart.

 

Perhaps in the past it, would have been another strip center or maybe even a car dealer. Those are concepts that no longer work in the world we inhabit. They are sprawl in the worse sense of the word. Stuart and Martin County do not have enough residential housing. If you want to preserve open land in the west, there needs to be infill projects in the cities and CRAs.

 

Denser development belongs on our major thoroughfares. I live two blocks from Federal Highway in a single-family home. Between my home and Federal are townhomes, an office building, two 4 story condo buildings and a few other single-family homes. Nothing is self-contained. Everyone uses the same street. Guess what? There is no congestion and by about nine at night, there is hardly a car.

 

Springtree is self-contained. Those living in the apartments will not be going through streets where the single-family homes are. They will share Federal Highway and one or two connector streets. FDOT looked at the project and said there was no congestion.

 

One of the contentions is that a traffic light is needed even though FDOT says one is not. If the County believes that one is needed, then the County can pay for that or any other perceived traffic improvement with the $2,000,000 (according to the developer) in traffic impact fees it is receiving for the project. The developer is not paying impact fees for a road in western Martin County. The purpose of impact fees is to offset the problems that more building brings to a new project’s surrounding area.

 

This project will go forth and Martin County will receive the bulk of the fees and taxes being generated. This property could have chosen not to request annexation into Stuart. They did so because under the City’s codes building could be done. The County wants to move ahead with affordable housing such as this if they do not need to approve it themselves. There is a problem with that way of thinking.

 

The motion to approve was made by Bruner and seconded by Clarke. It passed 4-0

 

The presentations can be found here

 

Stuart Latest News From The July 26, 2020 Edition

COMMISSION MEETING JULY 13, 2020

 

It is nice to see that East Stuart residents, spearheaded by President Jimmy Smith of the NAACP and Thelma Washington from Gertrude Walden, come to praise the Stuart Police Department for community involvement. In this time of so many communities being torn apart by racial animus, it is great to see brotherhood and solidarity between the police and citizens.

The police should be called out if something is wrong, but then they should also be praised when they do something right. Smith praised both our current Chief, Joe Tumminelli, and former Chief now City Manager, David Dyess.

MEETING TIMES

 

Which brings me to a complaint of mine. Meetings now are running routinely 5 hours or more. With a starting time of 5:30 that means many of the important agenda items are being discussed to an empty chamber. This is depriving the public of being participants. One of the reason meetings were started at 5:30 was to allow for people to come after work. With 5-hour meetings, you are now asking them to stay past their bedtimes.

 

At least once a month, the meetings should begin at 3:30 and have the Arts Moment, proclamations, employee recognitions, and non-governmental presentations then. That way important issues can be done when the public will attend, and the Commissioners are not falling asleep.

 

This current schedule is not working. When I hear a Commissioner asking for a drink jokingly, I know the witching hour is upon us. The Commission, staff, and applicants are tired, and the applicants are spending a fortune on their lawyers and consultants to hang around. I think it is time to try something new.

 

BRIDGEVIEW

 

What could have been a controversial project with neighbor opposition was not.

 

It is amazing how many people who do not live around the property or are not Stuart residents believe the project is too tall or too dense. At 13.35 units per acre and 4 stories it is neither. When situated next to the Indian Street Bridge, which will tower over it and across from the new Cleveland Clinic facility, it is proportionate to its environment.

 

To think that buildings of that size alongside of a 70-foot bridge are too tall, then some people have lost a bit of perspective. The 212-unit 2 building complex has set aside double the preserve land that the code specifies. And the PAMP will be part of the PUD documents and require the property to use the same specifications of management as does the City including banning herbicides containing glyphosate.

The developer reached out to neighboring Riverland and created a legal MOU which resulted in the association’s endorsement. There will be extensive plantings and a 10-foot cement wall between the parties. No one spoke in opposition.

 

This will fill a niche in the County’s housing needs not just the needs of the City of Stuart. It is important to note that if the applicant had constructed the office complex that he could have built by right, it could result in a much larger footprint and nowhere near as much open land. This is smart growth that also provides an absolutely needed product. To build the same number of units as single-family housing, you would have needed several hundred acres of undeveloped land or farms.

 

It was a good result as an infill project. It is across the street from an employer that has created many new jobs. They are planning on having some residents walk to work. The environmental impact is less than other development would have been.

 

You can see the entire presentation here

Stuart Latest News From The July 8, 2020 Edition

Next Commission Meeting July 13, 2020

Stuart Latest News From The June 28, 2020 Edition

LAST NEWSLETTER:

In the last newsletter I wrote about a project that was approved by the Commission that would use the AMI to determine rent levels. Li Roberts, a member of the City’s Local Planning Agency, thought that my explanation was unclear. She offered this further explanation:

 

 

 

I read your thoughts from June 14, 2020 regarding the First Reading for Harbor Grove Apartments (corner of Commerce and Indian Street).  The information about the Rental Rates seemed a wee bit confusing so I thought I might be able to help you out and offer some clarity.

 

The federal government and state government use the same terminology when talking about housing, income, and affordability.  The most important of these are:

AMI – Area Median Income, the midpoint of a region’s income distribution (half the households earn more than the AMI, half the households earn less than the AMI.  In our area that number from HUD is $59,500 Annual Income.

AFFORDABLE – Spending no more than 30% of household income on housing

 

They both then agree on the following household income labels:

EXTREMELY LOW INCOME:  Up to 30% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME up to $17,850 and AFFORDABLE up to $466/mth

VERY LOW INCOME:  31% to 50% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME $18,445 to $29,750 and AFFORDABLE $461/mth to $744/mth

LOW INCOME:  51% to 80% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME $30,345 to $47,600 and AFFORDABLE $759/mth to $1,190/mth

MODERATE INCOME:  81% to 120% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME $48,195 to $71,400 and AFFORDABLE $1,205/mth to $1,785/mth

 

Florida defines WORKFORCE HOUSING as being in close proximity of the workplace and AFFORDABLE (that’s spending no more than 30% of household income on housing) for families within 60% to 140% of the AMI (for a family of four); meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME $35,700 to $83,300 and AFFORDABLE $892/mth to $2,082/mth.

 

Both HUD and Florida scale all these numbers for number of people in a household and number of bedrooms. 

 

The City of Stuart will have their First Reading of the EAR (Evaluation and Appraisal Report) on Monday, June 22nd where they are using the following definitions:

ATTAINABLE:  Very Low to Low Income spending no more than 30% of household income on housing

VERY LOW INCOME:  Below 50% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME below $29,750 and ATTAINABLE below $744/mth

LOW INCOME: Greater than 50% and less than 80% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME greater than $29,750 and less than $47,600 and ATTAINABLE $744/mth to $1,190/mth

WORKFORCE INCOME:  80% to 100% of the AMI; meaning HOUSEHOLD INCOME $47,600 to $59,500 and ATTAINABLE $1,190/mth to $1,487/mth

 

Regarding the Harbor Grove Apartments, the recommendation from the Local Planning Agency was a maximum rent of $1,785 – which would be Affordable (at 30% maximum) of 120% of the AMI (with 120% of $59,500 being $71,400 Annual Household Income).   The City Commission’s discussion of a percentage of rents at 80% to 100% would mean $1,190/mth to $1,487/mth.  The true devil is in the details and wordsmithing the language to arrive at this 30% of Household Income as being Affordable or Attainable; then applying the desired percentage to the AMI.  Matters become further complicated if the number was to be scaled for household size or number of bedrooms.

 

Hope this helps.  If for no other purpose than to understand how the definitions work and boil down to actual monthly numbers.

 

Christia Li Roberts

 

COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 22, 2020

 

There were two meetings prior to this one. The first was the initial budget workshop (see presentation here)

The second was a CRA meeting where the Board voted to buy two lots contiguous to the Wells Fargo Building on Ocean.

 

The regular meeting began with the Mayor warning that people will be making comments by Zoom so that there was a chance that the incident that happened a few weeks ago could happen again even with the added precautions.

 

Most governments do not worry about perceptions. For good and bad reasons, Stuart does. You seldom see the County or other municipalities discuss racism or bias in any form. Stuart takes it to heart. Perhaps it is because Stuart Commissioners wear their hearts on their sleeves.

 

This week, there were two proclamations that showed their caring. One was for Juneteenth and the other for celebrating Pride Month. They can be found here

 

During Commissioner comments Clarke spoke about a Facebook post on her personal page she recently shared. The post was in poor taste. However, some wanted to make it much more than it was. She took it down, but the damage was done. It was a self-inflicted wound. It could have been construed in several ways. I am going to believe that she did not post it in a mean-spirited way. In this exceedingly difficult time, there are more serious matters to worry about than a Facebook post.

And besides, if she did not represent the people of Stuart well enough, someone would have taken the time to run against her. No one bothered to do that two weeks ago during the qualifying period.

 

COMMUNITY RELATIONS COMMITTEE

 

The order of the meeting was changed to bring the discussion to form a Community Relations Committee to deal with racism. After Commission approval of the agenda change, Meier stated that he was going to be more diligent during public comment and keep to the time limit and to subject matter. Last meeting, it was not as orderly as it could have been. Without following the rules for civility and the time limit, meetings can devolve far from the original discussion points.

 

Dyess took charge and explained that this committee will not be an official advisory board. This would eliminate the need for Sunshine and Public Records. That could promote freer discussion. It will allow members to speak to each other without having a legal issue. Members can have frank discussions without City staff being involved or having an advertised meeting.

 

Dyess will be the City point person. The board will be comprised of a Commission member, NAACP member, ACES, Concerned Citizens of East Stuart, a Hispanic Organization, Ministerial Alliance and perhaps others.

 

It was thought that Clarke would be the Commissioner on this committee. For a moment during discussion, I thought no Commissioner would be on the board. In my opinion, that probably would have been best if you wanted to have frank discussions without a political slant. Clarke thought better of being on the board. Bruner volunteered and was chosen.

 

It passed 4-0.

 

EAR

Another week another acronym. EAR stands for Evaluation and Appraisal Report for the Comprehensive Plan. This is the method for changing the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Every 10 years this should be done, and it goes to Tallahassee for approval.

 

The goal is to make sure that the LDRs and ordinances are not in contradiction with the comp plan. Over time, conflicts happen. This is one way to bring everything back in line. It also provides an opportunity for the entire City community to have a chance to express their opinions on how they want to see the City develop.

 

There were several meetings of the public that occurred. The meeting I attended had two City residents and several non-City residents. Without participation from those that live within the municipal boundaries, staff and ultimately the Commission does what it perceives as best.

 

I think the staff and Commission have done a good job with the EAR. I am attaching staff presentation and the plan itself. If you are a Stuart resident or a business owner, you should look. You will find it interesting.

 

The plan is here

 

And the presentation is here

 

MASKS

 

I think we should all be wearing masks in public. This is not a political statement, but as every public health person stated to the County Commission, this is what stops COVID-19 from spreading. It was not an either/or statement. It was absolute.

 

Under their emergency powers, the County Commission issued an order that includes the entire County both incorporated and unincorporated. The order states that all food service workers must be masked as well as the employees of those establishments where social distancing is not possible. All others are strongly encouraged to wear masks.

 

While Stuart maybe the spiritual home of many, it has relatively few residents…about 11% of Martin County’s population. Our City Commissioners sometimes forget that Stuart, while important to those that live there, is not really the political presence that Palm City is. Palm City has a population that dwarfs the City.

 

With those three paragraphs above, Mayor Meier wanted to institute mandatory mask wearing. The argument goes that the police would make sure that people complied. This would be just the kind of emergency order that we are asking our cops to enforce that could lead to a problem.

 

Every cop knows that he is going to be challenged at some point by a citizen. What we need to do is make sure that the laws that he is asked to enforce are not trivial in nature. Because at some point a citizen is going to say, “I am not going to wear the mask and you cannot make me.” This is setting up a confrontation which can lead to all the things that set off the problems seen in Atlanta or Minneapolis.

 

Both Dyes and Tumminelli were against passing the ordinance. And for now, so too were the rest of the Commissioners. If our numbers continue to climb, I can see the County stepping in and passing universal masking. Better yet, the governor should do so. It would be the right call. Until that occurs, the Commissioners need to remember their position in the grand scheme and have the restraint to do nothing.

 

Stuart Latest News From The June 14, 2020 Edition

COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 8, 2020

 

Most of the 5 plus hour meeting was devoted to the black/white divide in Stuart, Martin County, and the nation. The recent justifiable marches throughout the country regarding George Floyd’s death highlight the problems we still have. The Stuart problem was highlighted because of the racist slurs and graffiti that occurred over 90 seconds in the recent CRB zoom meeting. This was apparently perpetrated by teenagers, but it is far from a prank.

 

That incident shows that no matter how much progress we think we have made, there is much more to go…so much more that my grandchildren will be dealing with the residual effects. Most of the racist tropes are more subtle today than what was heard during the CRB meeting hack. Perhaps there will be less of that hatred spewed tomorrow. But it will still be there in some people’s souls.

 

The City and Commission apologized, and that is fine, but those are words. Our society needs to come to grips with more than just words. They passed a diversity ordinance and that is fine as a matter of a declaration. They will look at bringing back a special commission to tackle the problem. Yet the problem is so endemic in the U.S. that a national effort needs to be made.

 

Most spoke with heavy and sad hearts. The words were meaningful. There was no grandstanding from the Commission or the public. When things like this occur, it shows how far we must still go. Yet without concrete actions, we just have another gripe session.

 

The Chief of Police suspended the use of the choke-hold. That is good concrete step, but the state and federal government should also outlaw it. Is what happened by members of the Minneapolis police force indicative of all law enforcement? I do not believe it is. But cops like Chauvin should have never been hired. That is what must be addressed.

 

In the past thirty years, we have militarized our police forces. There are some tactical units that need to have that gear available. Patrol officers should wear bullet proof vests, but should they be wearing combat boots? Cops need to wear a uniform so that we know who they are. They are patrolling our neighborhoods and not fighting a guerrilla insurgency in Baghdad. The way that all police officers behave should reflect America’s highest ideals.

 

Dyess said that the FBI was looking into tracking down the perpetrators of that 90 second hijacking of the meeting. I hope they are successful. I am not so sure what they did was a prosecutable crime. It was nevertheless a crime to our psyche and our ideals. Chains from 400 years ago are still a part of our legacy and still contribute to the divide in this country. That is a fact.

 

The motion to pass a diversity resolution was 4-0.

 

You can read the ordinance here

 

ALCOHOL SALES

Last summer Phil Harvey had his plaza for sale on Martin Luther King Blvd. He received a waiver from the Commission allowing him to sell alcohol from 9 am to 9 pm. The waiver was needed because of the proximity to Stuart Middle School. Mr. Harvey had his realtor speak on his behalf at the meeting. There was a prominent for sale sign displayed on the property. The prime reason he was asking for the waiver was so that the property would be more attractive to a potential buyer. There was neighborhood support.

 

That waiver runs with the property which means the selling of alcohol is already allowed. The eventual buyer, Shaher (Sam) Barghouthy, has been the owner of Speedy Mart in Gary Plaza for 28 years. That store location will be closing, and he is moving to the new location. The hours of his existing store are 9 am-11 pm.

 

Perhaps because of the proximity to Stuart Middle School, a waiver should have never been granted. Yet a prohibition on alcohol sales within certain distances of churches and schools seems antiquated. Medical marijuana is legal and other drugs are very accessible. The additional two hours does not really change the matter except recreating what already exists in a new location a few blocks away.

 

The Commission voted 4-0 to allow the extension.

 

You can read the application here

 

AND ALL THE REST

The Commission also had on their plate almost $100 million of real estate projects that needed to be voted on. Because of the lateness of the hour, the appropriate oversight may not have been given. Anyone who had wanted to speak had long gone by the time these matters came to the forefront.

 

It is not that I would not have voted for them, yet it does not seem appropriate that, except for Harbor Grove, not much of a presentation or discussion occurred. The Commission was tired and exhausted and did not give these items the attention they deserved. This is a ridiculous way of tending to the City’s business.

 

I have written before that overloading agendas causes insufficient time for deliberation. It does not help that Commissioners take up at least the first hour and more of every meeting with their personal peeves and citing what they did since the last meeting. Taken together with proclamations, arts moments, and employee recognitions of how long people have worked for the City, it may be good for politics but lousy for policy.

 

PROJECTS

 

The abandonment of the ROW on Osceola was so concerning earlier especially to Snug Harbor. It did not even rise to a nod at 10:15 pm. A new appraisal was included showing that the applicant will pay $16,000 to the City. Richard Baron probably paid more in professional fees than what he will spend for the property.

 

The same could be said for the whimper that ended the storm of the Ocean Town Homes Project. While there were fears that this would cause all manner of problems for the neighboring community of Kingswood, those fears were allayed when the developer made concessions including transferring property to Kingswood for their parking.

 

The developer reached a deal with the Kingswood community for what were known as Parcels A & B for that purpose. A new site plan was attached leaving off those two parcels from this development. attached

 

Harbor Grove Apartments is proposed to be built on Commerce and Indian Street. It will consist of nine 3 story buildings on the nearly 14-acre property. There will be 324 units with amenities such as a pool and clubhouse. There will be assigned parking spaces and the density is 23.3 units per acre. The rental rates will be no more than 120% of the Area Median

Income (AMI) for Stuart as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

 

This project was one of the ones that the County Commission lamented would cause more problems for the roadways. The development will provide $420,000 in County impact fees supposedly to be spent on the roads surrounding the project. When the County raised concerns about the roadways to Stuart’s development director, he stated that statute requires that there will be a rational nexus for where those fees are spent. The County’s response was it is not on their CIP and, therefore, ineligible.

 

Such an explanation is a “Catch 22” that is worthy of that moniker. The County gets hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to ameliorate the impacts of new development. By saying it cannot improve the roads around the project because the work is not on the CIP is ludicrous. With that logic not another house would be constructed in Martin County. Impact fees are then an extortion payment to get an approval and nothing more.

 

Meier suggested they add a floor to the maximum height restriction to reduce rents to 80-100% of AMI. That is another problem with our current height limit and why 4-story buildings are seldom built. When you add another story from 3 to 4, you need to include elevators. Unless you are receiving higher rents than most projects would command, the 4th floor costs more than the income provided.

 

Meier then suggested with Matheson’s endorsement that perhaps if a percentage of rents could be at 80-100% of AMI, then there could be other apartments at 140% of that number. The developer stated that he would look at it and see if a different proposal could be had on second reading. It passed 4-0.

 

The presentation can be found here

 

Lastly in a less than 10-minute discussion, the Commission voted to proceed with buying the Wells Fargo Building on Ocean with the intention of City Hall being moved there once Wells Fargo vacates. Wells Fargo’s departure could be anywhere from 6 months to 10 years. The price is $7,000,000. The vote was 4-0.

 

What to do with the existing City Hall was not discussed. How much renovation would cost to make a building older than the current City Hall ready for City occupancy was not discussed. In the time frame allotted at the end of the night, the Commission was not in the mood. They passed it 4-0

I am in favor of buying this building. Extending the reaches of the commercial district is a good idea. Maybe even the move of City Hall is a good idea. Of course, a referendum on what to do with the existing building would need to go to the voters. Unfortunately, I have seen too many times that the Stuart City Commission wants to proceed with grandiose plans only to fold once a few people with tee shirts protest whether they are residents of Stuart or Katmandu.

 

The Sailfish Ball Park scene is a perfect example. Twice that was put out for development and twice the Commission refused to go forward because of two hundred people, mostly from Palm City, that protested. You did not hear anything from the 16,000 actual City residents although it is their tax dollars that pay for it. The Commission believes in one step forward and two steps back.

 

But that night at that time, the Commissioners were hungry and tired. They had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.

Stuart Latest News From The May 31, 2020 Edition

COMMISSION MEETING MAY 26, 2020

 

I want to begin this section not with something that was on the agenda but something that was not.

 

Several months ago, a project was approved by the CRB and the Commission for new apartments in an old motel on Federal Highway by Frazier Creek. Some of you may remember that when it came before the CRB, they originally refused to vote up or down until a few things were attached to the application…like a site plan. As a member of the CRB, I said when it was first presented that it was not ready to move forward.

 

When it came back a few weeks later, there were a site plan, a landscape plan, and elevations. The only reason it was coming before us was because the existing structure had 19 hotel units, and to be converted to multi-family, only 15 units per acre were allowed. The project needed to become a UPUD to increase the density to the number of units already there. A plan was submitted that was not the most detailed but better than before. The CRB sent it to the Commission with conditions.

The Commission added a significant other condition when approval was voted upon. The building needed to hook up to sewer instead of staying on septic. It was a good addition because of the property’s approximation to the creek and the river. The other reason the hook up is beneficial is that if state and local government has spent millions to run sewer lines, then it should be mandatory (at least for commercial properties) to hook up once available.

 

The buyer of the property either had no idea what he was doing, or he thought he could skirt the codes. As I wrote above in the News & Views section, Florida’s building code must be followed. There is no wiggle room. And when you are agreeing to hook up to sewer, then that is in your plans. You cannot say I forgot. The developer wanted to come back to the Commission to ask not to hook up to the sewer.

 

I know the neighbors were not happy regarding the project. The sewer hookup was a promise. Several Commissioners behind the scenes began to let it be known that the developer should not come back for that relief. He got the message and did not move forward with his request. Occasionally, the system works.

 

This should show that Stuart needs some reforms. The first is that like the residential sewer hookup finance deal where the costs are paid over a period of time, the same needs to be offered to commercial properties. However, for commercial properties it should be mandatory that hookup occur within a defined time limit.

 

The second and equally important matter is that the City needs to more closely follow its master plan. In this case, what is the benefit to having a single-story motel building in that spot. Is that compatible or comparable to what we want the City to look like. Stuart may be using the PUD process to do what is always best for a developer but not for the entire City.

 

I am for density and infill where appropriate. Our codes and comp plan should not be ignored in order for one project to move forward. This ultimately will weaken our economic development. The PUD process should tweak individual projects to make them economically possible. We cannot ignore the overall development criteria for an area.

 

That does not mean that the plan is not changeable. What was once an acceptable character for an area may over time need to be changed so that the area can remain viable. Then the City needs to engage the stakeholders and come up with area wide changes. A continuous stream of “one offs” will only weaken our overall City.

 

SHOPPES OF COLORADO

While the above was not on the agenda, the Shoppes of Colorado was. This is the project that is being developed by Ted Glasrud who owns the building across the street that houses Fruits & Roots.

 

If you look at the plan, you will notice that the parcel is an unusual shape because of Frazier Creek. Two streets dead end on either side. Like many other roads in Stuart, dead ends are standard. It is hard to have connectivity. There is the challenge with how low the property grade is. The developer is bringing in fill. To put it politely, the parcel has challenges.

 

The Commission felt that it was not ready to come forward. Commissioner Leighton could not put her finger on it but just did not quite believe that the drainage would work. (I had the same feeling.) Matheson was skeptical about the oak trees being cut down because they gave the sidewalk shade. Bruner wanted a boardwalk along the creek (Attorney Mortell said that it is not possible because of environmental concerns.) Meier felt that the adopted plan for Colorado Avenue was not being followed.

 

After more than an hour of discussion, no vote was taken, and it was returned to staff with several suggestions. Another example of not ready for prime time.

 

You can see the presentation here 

 

 

STUART OCEAN TOWNHOUSES

 

Between the Pointe and Kingswood on Ocean Avenue is a parcel that is the quintessential infill project. The project will have an 80-foot buffer with Kingswood, a lake, rain gardens and a very suburban feel. It will be 14 buildings of 2 story town homes. There is 7.25 units to the acre which is less dense than its neighbors and less than current zoning allows.

 

At first, Kingswood was making noise to oppose the project. A few of the residents were saying all kinds of crazy things such as suggesting it should be an over-55 community so there would not be children. Watch out children would jump into their pools. I wrote a piece about how silly it all was. The Stuart News ran a story about the fight to come.

 

Yet at the meeting, no one spoke against the project. It was a rare love fest between the neighbors and the developer. Pulte, the developer, Bob Raynes, the attorney, and Michael Houston, the land planner, had ten meetings before this one with Kingswood. They worked to alleviate everyone’s fears. It showed last night.

 

The project could have been at least twice as dense by right. But this is the product that Pulte builds and believes there is a market for in Stuart. It is one more option for 80 families to call home. A little something for everyone.

 

A motion was made by Leighton and seconded by Clarke. It passed 5-0.

 

You can see the presentations here

 

COMMISSION GOODBYE

 

This was Commissioner Leighton’s final meeting. She is resigning to run for another office. While we may not have always gotten along temperamentally, policy-wise I agree with her more than not. She has been a Commissioner for 8 ½ years.

 

Good luck!

 

Stuart Latest News From The May 20, 2020 Edition

SPECIAL COMMISSION MEETING MAY 4, 2020

 

The Commission convened a special meeting to discuss the easing of restrictions considering the governor’s order that was taking effect that day.

 

First, they had several presentations from their own staff and the Business Development Board. Suffice it to say, there was nothing that I need to spend time writing about. If you do wish to see the BDB, a presentation named Stuart Strong, or the Development Directors concentric circles regarding restaurant tables and social distancing, they are Attached

 

Of greater importance was when the summer program at the Stuart Recreation Center was going to open. It was decided to start the program on May 18th for those children whose parents will be back to work. There will be 9 children per group, and once capacity is reached, program registrations will no longer be accepted.

 

The Commission wanted to close Osceola Street to allow for adequate social distancing and restaurants to be allowed to have outside dining. Unfortunately, the next day after the City Manager and staff polled the store owners, they overwhelmingly did not want the closure. Instead the City will temporarily close parking spaces in front of restaurants that do not currently have outdoor dining. The Commission decided to allow outdoor dining in all areas of the City if the property owner gives permission.

The Commission also debated face masks. Indiantown had passed an ordinance requiring face coverings in public. There was no enforcement mechanism. Stuart will have an ordinance come back to the Commission next meeting.

 

If they pass the wearing of masks as mandatory, then I cannot believe Stuart PD will spend much time wanting to confront citizens and never mind issuing citations. If it is just an ordinance recommending the use of masks, then it will be an empty gesture. In any case much ado about nothing.

 

COMMISSION MEETING MAY 11, 2020

 

During Commissioner comments Commissioner Matheson asked that the City have all Commissioners sign a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers mirroring the County’s comments regarding LOSUM. There was back and forth for a while, but a motion was finally made by Matheson and seconded by Vice-Mayor Clarke. It passed 5-0. Who is ever against water?

The letters are Here

 

Apparently, there was an international news story regarding downtown not following social distancing at restaurants. Mayor Meier brought it up and was worried about how Stuart appeared. Stuart PD will have an officer assigned downtown to make sure that the law is being followed. The strategy is to report to the Department of Business & Professional Regulation any violators.

 

I and others have noticed that not all businesses are following those guidelines. Will it spark another rise in the number of cases? If it does will people, then retreat behind closed doors whether the government has another lock down or not? We are closing in on 90,000 deaths. Will a spike mean the end of how many businesses and jobs?

Dyess stated that he had re-opened the playgrounds. This mirrors the County’s action at their last special meeting.

 

Which brings us to Stuart’s version of face coverings. Do not worry the resolution that was passed in Stuart is completely voluntary. It says you should wear one whenever outdoors but if you do not…no penalty. The Commission had discussed this at their special meeting. Staff brought back a resolution as directed.

 

While Meier and Matheson would probably want to make it mandatory, they understood they did not have the three votes necessary. The final resolution has no impact at all except to say wear face coverings…pretty please. The motion was made by Clarke and seconded by Matheson. It passed 3-2 with Commissioners Bruner and Leighton voting no. The ordinance can be found Here

 

CHARTER REVISIONS

 

Matheson attempted to roll back the proposed Commission term limits to 2 terms. Unfortunately, while Meier said he would go along, the other three career pols decided they and their far in the future successors needed longer to feed at the trough. Bruner made a motion for terms to be extended to 4 years and have a three-term limit of 12 years. It was seconded by Leighton and passed 5-0. Who wants to give up $18,000 a year, medical insurance, and a pension?

The second charter revision provides that once you open a campaign account to run for a different office, you must resign your seat on the City Commission. This was proposed to curb any perceived or actual influence regarding how a Commissioner running for another office would vote on different matters coming before the Commission during the campaign season. Candidates need money to run and votes to be elected. And as we have seen, sometimes it is hard to tell why a vote is cast in a certain way. Clarke moved to send it on to the voters and it was seconded by Matheson. It passed 5-0.

 

SPRINGTREE

 

Since the last go-round, the developer has lopped off a floor in the rear north building closest to the perimeter, made the lake more irregular as per the code, and changed the traffic pattern for ingress and egress. That still leaves 6 4-story buildings and the other amenities in the original proposal. The 13.9-acre parcel will have a density of 20 units per acre.

This development fronts Federal Highway by Commerce Street. It is not being dropped down into the middle of a single-family neighborhood though it borders one. And I guess that is what people do not like. The neighbors seem to confuse the terms comparable with compatible. In the modern planning world, what you want is the latter.

 

Under the old commercial zoning, many different things could have gone there. By having residential zoning, it is compatible with the residential developments to the rear. While the homeowners want to see as little density as possible, it is not financially practical. The rents that would have to be charged to build 200 units would be at least 50% more. That is not anywhere near the market.

 

The developer, who has over 10,000 units, has conducted market studies that show a need for this housing. At present, other similar complexes are full and have a waiting list. There are ample setbacks from the single-family homes…hundreds of feet in some instances.

 

At any time, the homeowners could have bought the parcel that they had to know would be developed someday. Would they have been happier with a couple of fast food restaurants and a Wawa? The homeowners hired David Earle’s law firm to intervene, and there were rumblings of court actions by some of the speakers. The courts, unless it is spot zoning and this is not spot zoning, give a wide amount of latitude to elected bodies to make these decisions.

 

After many speakers both in person and virtually, it was time for the Commission to deliberate. Bruner moved to approve, and Clarke seconded for discussion. Leighton stated that Stuart has grown by 3300 people in 30 years which is not exactly a huge growth spurt. She went on to say there is a need for development. However, she believed it was too dense and would not support it. It is election season and the Property Appraiser’s office calls.

 

Clarke, which she did throughout the meeting, rambled on without making any sense. It is election season. Bruner is consistent. She is for the river, the economy, and the survivability of the City.

 

Matheson had stated at the last meeting that he would support the project if the north building was reduced to three floors, the lake was an irregular shape and the U.S. 1 traffic situation was addressed. They were. Matheson as well as Meier are environmentalist not “no growth” fanatics. Meier especially believes that density belongs in cities. The alternative is sprawl.

 

The vote was 4-1 with Leighton dissenting.

 

Take a look at all the Presentation

 

 

From the May 3, 2020 Edition

COMMISSION MEETING APRIL 27, 2020

When you create bad law, it tends to corrupt actions going forward. This happened quite a bit at this meeting beginning with the awarding of the right to future transfer of impact fee credits.

 

It is my opinion that the City of Stuart should do away with the payment of impact fees. The City is built out, and anywhere improvements would need to accommodate a new project, the City should charge those costs to the individual parcel as part of the approval process. It could be a requirement by ordinance.

 

Yet, that is not what the City does. It still charges impact fees for new projects. That is except if you are lucky enough to be an insider.

 

The motion that passed was as a result of an earlier ordinance that the City Commission approved which allows for the right to transfer unused impact fee credits from one parcel to another. This earlier ordinance was championed by the owner of 604 East Ocean, John Leighton. That property had originally 57 small units on it of less than 800 sq. feet.

 

The building itself had been demolished years ago. He eventually built 5 townhouses and 2 commercial spaces. For that project it was determined that 10 impact fee credits were used of the original 57. The ordinance passed at this meeting determined that John Leighton has 47 unused credits that he will ask to be transferred to other property in the future.

 

The original ordinance would allow any property owner the right to the unused credits. How many parcels in the City would have such an excess? There is only one I can think of at present that would have the ability to do so. A special deal for a special person. And what is so amazing about the entire episode is that the original building that had the 57 units never paid any impact fees. When that building was built, impact fees did not exist. Further you could not build 57 units on that parcel today.

 

A motion was made by Clarke to accept the finding of 47 excess impact fee credits. It was seconded by Bruner. The vote was 4-1 with Glass-Leighton, Clarke, Bruner and Meier voting for the motion and Matheson voting against. I asked Meier why he voted in favor and he said he felt he had no choice because of the ordinance earlier that was passed allowing this to occur. He and Matheson had voted against the earlier ordinance.

 

You can find the entire item here:

 

CLICK HERE

HUDSON ON THE RIVER

It seems like only yesterday when Paul and Linda Daly were in the chamber with hundreds of supporters pressuring the Commission to “Save The Pelican.” They claimed they needed a new lease to make sure that the small charming beach-front restaurant would remain and be a symbol of Stuart’s enduring small-town charm. The Dalys assured the Commission that they were not going to sell the lease. The lease extension that was signed was for years into the future and had below market rent. Barely a month later, it was for sale by the Dalys.

 

Mike Matakaetis, the owner of the Boathouse Café and other restaurants, began to cut a deal with the Dalys months ago. At Christmas time Matakaetis showed me renderings and his ideas for the place. Those plans, although quite attractive, bore no resemblance to the Pelican. But why would they have to since the scam had already happened. One more time the Commission, was taken for a ride. This time by the Dalys.

 

At this meeting, the Commission approved the assignment of the existing lease with an amended and restated lease for the property. There will be extensive work and improvements that will result in the building being much larger than the quaint Pelican. Matakaetis is a knowledgeable operator and will probably be successful. The City will make more money if everything pans out.

 

The catch is that once the lease is approved, the Commission will not have any input into how the finished product will look. No, they gave that right away. If the design meets code for the City-owned property, it will be approved by staff. The building could be designed any way that is legal.

msn.com

What will be gone is that quaint little spot that the Dalys promised in what seemed perpetuity in October. Where were all their supporters who could not live without the Pelican? Not one of them bothered to even send an email. The Dalys received their retirement package care of the Commission and the taxpayers made all the contributions.

 

The vote was 4-1 with Meier dissenting. He asked why anything, but the assignment of lease had to be approved at the meeting. The answer Mayor Meier is that the Commission folds every time. Any little pressure or a well-placed campaign contribution will seal the deal.

 

I am sure that Matakaetis will do a great job and for the many of us, it will not matter. It is amazing how quickly charm and small town can go out the window and the people who could not live without it a few months ago, could not care less today.

 

The new lease and other information can be found at:

 

CLICK HERE

 

 

CHARTER RECOMMENDATIONS

 

The Charter Review Board recommended 3 Charter revisions. This is the 10-year review that is required by the Charter itself. I was the Chair. My editorial on term limits could be found in the News & Views section.

The Board made three recommendations for questions to go to referendum plus several other matters that should be addressed by ordinance. The Commission did not mention any of those recommendations. Perhaps they were not concerned because those changes did not directly affect Commissioners.

 

Change A: The Board had multiple discussions regarding Commissioner pay. The

Charter Board settled on the following concept: outside a general wage increase or cost

of living increase afforded to all City Employees, the Commission must wait until their next

election cycle to receive any pay increase. Currently, commission pay is addressed in

Section 2 of code and not in the charter.

 

This was one of the issues that Matheson ran on and defeated Troy McDonald. In 2018, there was a pay increase of 55% that was voted in by the Commission a few weeks after Bruner was first elected and Leighton ran unopposed.

 

Matheson wanted to see that there would be no pay increase outside of a COLA without a referendum. The Board decided that they did not want to have the City go through the expense of a referendum and that a raise could take effect after each Commissioner stood for election.

 

Glass-Leighton said that no one cared that she voted herself a raise of 55%. Clarke stated that they had not received a raise in years, and it was due. Stuart has the highest paid Commission in the state for similar size cities and budgets. As part of their compensation, commissioners receive medical benefits and are part of the Florida Retirement System in addition to pay of $18,000 per year.

 

Matheson made a motion to accept the recommendation. It failed for a lack of a second. The Commission will continue to vote their own pay increases and other benefits without any check on their ability to do so.

 

Change B: Sec. 7.03 Qualification for Office. The board feels the following changes

should be added to the qualifications for office of City Commissioner. The Term of each

group shall be four years with a maximum of eight consecutive years regardless of which

group. The Charter Board recommends this be one referendum question and not two

individual questions.

 

The Charter Board felt that terms of two years were no longer advisable because it did not give Commissioners enough time in office before running for re-election. They felt that 4 years would allow Commissioners the time to have their platforms enacted. Further, by moving elections to even years, the City would not go through the added expense as they do currently of having elections in odd-number years. It further adds transparency since many voters did not even realize there were two Commissioners up for re-election last August.

 

With longer terms, the Charter Board overwhelmingly concurred that term limits of no more than 8 consecutive years would ensure others would be able to run. The history of Stuart elections is that there are very few challengers to incumbents. For example, there are currently 4 seats up for election. The only one with two people running is the seat being vacated by Leighton who is running for Property Appraiser. That “open” race will only be for her unexpired term of one year the remains.

 

All Commissioners agreed with increasing the term to 4 years. Leighton is opposed to term limits. Matheson saw there was opposition and said he felt 12 years was better. A motion was made by Matheson and seconded by Leighton for 4-year terms with term limits of 12 years. It passed 5-0

 

Change C: Sec. 7.03 Qualification for Office. The board feels the following changes

should be added to the qualifications for office of City Commissioner. If a City

Commissioner opens a treasury account for the purposes of accepting donations to run

for an office other than their current seat or any Commissioner who registers to run for a

different office, shall no longer be qualified to serve. Either, shall be deemed as a

resignation by the Commissioner effective immediately.

 

In the past two years City Commissioners have announced for other offices while still being Stuart Commissioners and voting on matters that had an effect on residents outside the City and for projects that people had contributed to their campaigns for those outside elections. While no Charter Board member claimed there were any improprieties, they wanted to see that there could not even be an allegation of such.

 

This appeared to be one that Commissioners all agreed was a good idea. A motion was made by Matheson and seconded by Bruner. It passed 5-0

 

It was noted in the agenda item that the Board also had several other recommendations that they wanted the Commission to take up by ordinance instead of by a Charter change. The item states that they will be brought back for discussion. If a Commissioner does not push this, those proposed ideas will die without a hearing in the bowels of City Hall.

 

ROW ABANDONMENT

 

It was requested by the applicant that the item be brought back at the next meeting.

 

The abandonment on Osceola was approved on first reading subject to an up-to-date appraisal. The appraisal was not available for anyone except staff at the last meeting.

 

Development had last minute presentations which were not contained in the agenda packets. Two Commissioners, Matheson and Meier, ran on transparency. How about living up to it in some fashion and making sure that the public has all information prior to the meeting so that they are just as informed as staff and the Commission.

 

The appraisal that was being used and was out of date is attached. A new one should be ready for the next meeting. You can find the old appraisal at:

 

CLICK HERE

 

 

HANEY CREEK

For more than a decade, the City of Stuart has been trying to lease a little less than a 2-acre plot on U.S. 1 north of the Roosevelt Bridge. It is part of the Haney Creek property and was carved out of the preserve in order to be leased to provide funds for the maintenance of Haney Creek. Nothing has ever panned out.

 

Housing Solutions, a nonprofit, has been trying to build work force housing for several years. They have asked the City to consider leasing the property to them for an amount to be determined after study. There is also a for-profit entity that has put a bid in to lease the land to build a self-storage facility. This is not the first commercial proposal received, but nothing ever has materialized.

 

The Commission has decided to see if a deal can be worked out with Housing Solutions for them to build affordable housing. In the past, it was determined that there would need to be $500,000 in site improvements. Where all this money will come from is a good question.

 

In all probability, the self-storage project would probably never happen. While I would normally be in favor of the private sector, I do not think there would be any harm in having the nonprofit see what it can do but I will strongly object if it costs the City any out of pocket expense. The City cannot afford to spend their taxpayer’s money to build public housing.

 

As I have stated in the past, the parcel is too small and too isolated to work. The cost per unit would be more than any rent they could charge. As we enter a time of economic uncertainty, I would not expect any money from Tallahassee or Washington. But since this parcel will continue to be problematic, I believe the Commission should offer Housing Solution a finite time to see if a project could work and be financed there. If not, the Commission should seek to change the agreement with the County to just make it part of the Haney Creek Preserve.

 

The presentation can be found at:

 

CLICK HERE

 

MATHESON’S OP-ED

Merritt Matheson wrote an op-ed that he sent to TC Palm and the newsletter. It has to do with Stuart’s LOSUM recommendations and their vision that they passed for the St. Lucie:

 

With the uncertainty of these unprecedented times, it is more important than ever to pay attention to stories of hope and positivity. As we approach the summer wet season, one bright spot is the current and forecasted level of Lake Okeechobee. 

 

During my campaign for office, I advocated for the City of Stuart to participate in proactive, year-round focus on Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River, not just reactive protests during rainy summers when our waterways are already bloated with toxic green gunk. In the early weeks of 2020, Congressman Brian Mast and local environmental leaders were drawing attention to how the Army Corps of Engineers was managing Lake Okeechobee during the dry season. I recognized the importance of ensuring the City of Stuart was an active participant in one of the most significant safeguards against summer discharges: Lower the level of Lake Okeechobee during the dry season so it will have more capacity for additional water during the wet season.

 

By February, the City of Stuart was on the brink of filing litigation against the Army Corps for their proposed management of Lake Okeechobee during the 2020 dry season.  The management proposal, announced in December, stated a “focus on water supply” with a projected lake height of 12.5 feet by June 1, 2020. This contrasted with 2019 when Lake Okeechobee started the wet season at a height of 10.8 feet. The difference of 1.7 feet prior to the rainy season can mean the difference between clearer water and continued restoration of the estuary—or another toxic summer. It’s all about capacity. Clear historical evidence directly correlates a higher lake level on June 1 with an increased probability of massive discharges into the St. Lucie River.

 

The initial discussions pertaining to the City’s lawsuit were based around injunctive relief from the “focus on water supply” management pattern.

 

I am incredibly thankful for and proud of my fellow commissioners. We voted unanimously in favor of doing everything possible to encourage the Corps to manage the lake at a lower level, including the pursuit of litigation. Many residents, environmental experts, lawyers and advocates offered valuable advice to help us come to this consensus.

 

So where does Stuart stand now?

 

Although the City of Stuart always has the right to file suit to protect the health and safety of its residents, we currently are not on a path for litigation. Over the course of our deliberations, the Army Corps did begin managing the lake the way our proposed lawsuit would have demanded: Keeping the lake at a lower level by increasing flow to the south and west. Our need to take decisive, immediate action had subsided. The city’s goals of Lake Okeechobee management became realized.

 

I want to be clear, I do not claim that the City’s threat of a lawsuit changed the Army Corps’ action. What did happen, though, was increased communication among public and private agencies and increased public awareness of the issue at a time when most don’t think about it. Stuart adopted a Vision Statement (Vision Statement) for Lake Okeechobee management (link below), created a full-time position for a “River Advocate,” and gave me authority to speak on behalf of the City during LOSOM meetings. Martin County’s staff presented an update of their advocacy during the Lake Okeechobee System Operations Manual (LOSOM) process. (LOSOM will dictate management of the lake for the next decade.) Most importantly, beneficial flows to the south and west from the lake increased even as the lake went below 12 feet. Mother Nature, as is typical, likely played the largest role by providing rain during a typically dry season.

 

As I write this, the lake is at 11.37 feet. The most recent updates from the Corps project a height of roughly 11.5 feet on June 1. Compared to prior years, we expect to enter the wet season with more storage capacity in Lake Okeechobee.

 

Recently, toxic algae blooms were reported at Port Mayaca and the St. Lucie Canal. With decades’ worth of legacy muck on the bottom of Lake Okeechobee and ever-warming temperatures, future algae blooms seem inevitable. Our collective hope is that the increased capacity in the lake will be enough for the St. Lucie River to be spared harmful releases even in the event of a major hurricane.

 

Link to City of Stuarts Vision Statement

 

https://www.cityofstuart.us/DocumentCenter/View/2539/City-of-Stuart-Vision-Statement-on-Elimination-of-Lake-Okeechobee-Discharges

 

FROM THE APRIL 17, 2020 EDITION

CITY COMMISSION MEETING APRIL 13, 2020

 

During her comments, Commissioner Clarke mentioned that two East Stuart notables had recently passed. Robert Hall, the first black Mayor of Stuart, was also, I believe, the first black Commissioner and City department head. He was 83.

 

Dr. Willie “Jay” Thompson was a pillar of the community for many years. He attended the segregated Stuart Training School and went on to FAMU. Jay taught in Okeechobee and Martin County throughout his career. He was someone that had a keen interest in children. He loved to recite poetry and engage everyone in music which was his specialty. Clarke recited a poem in his honor, “Keep A Goin.” It was a fitting tribute.

 

Mayor Meier commented negatively on the last newsletter’s portrayal of the City’s emergency meeting as the Becket play “Waiting for Godot.” In other words, 2.5 hours of nothing. I went back and listened to portions of the meeting and I haven’t changed my opinion.

 

I also stated that the streaming service was not up to par. It isn’t. This meeting was done via Zoom as a high-bred and the quality was very good. I realize that Zoom may not be practical for other meetings once things are back to normal because of close captioning but the audio and video were clear and much better than normal. As an aside, the City’s streaming was not working for the April 13th meeting.

 

VISION ON THE ST. LUCIE

The Commission had a vision statement crafted for how they see the discharges and our water quality. It is something that staff and Commission can point to as what they would like to see. The statement outlines the City’s idea on what should be the outcomes.

 

The statement was given to Martin County and Sanibel on the West Coast. The Corp has been releasing water to the west and south but not into the St. Lucie. The Caloosahatchee and the Everglades need more water, we rarely if ever do. The current lake level is 11 feet 4 inches which is a vast improvement over earlier years. Of course, we have had a very dry winter.

 

A vision statement is one of many steps and once the proposed County-wide task force is up and running (BOCC please don’t forget), perhaps a County wide statement could be crafted.

 

The Vision Statement can be found at:

 

CLICK HERE

 

RIGHT OF WAY ABANDONMENT

 

In some minds, even some of those on the Commission, it appears that they don’t fully grasp that the City doesn’t own the property in ROWs. What was granted was an easement to the City when the lots were platted. In the case of the Osceola discussion, that was in the 1920s. For almost a hundred years, this 50-foot-wide strip of land has been waiting for a use.

 

Richard Baron, the landowner for half, has asked that the easement or right of way be extinguished. No taxes have ever been paid on this property. Perhaps back in the 1920s, it was envisioned that a street or alley would be created. It doesn’t matter. As a matter of equity, why would you deprive the rightful owner of the property from using it?

 

If you believe in property rights, then there should be no excuse. A hundred years ago, the City didn’t ask the owner of the proposed subdivision to dedicate this area but rather just give easements or rights of way in case the City would make an ally or for another use in the future. When does the future that was anticipated end?

 

As to the objections from the landowners and other people, the owners do not have to give permission for the City to relinquish easement rights. Individual landowners may have forgotten they already own the land that this easement is on. In this case, Mr. Baron and the Snug Harbor Condo Association have equally divisible ownership of the strip of land. That does not change. Snug Harbor saying they want the City to maintain that right would be like a landlord objecting to the tenant leaving after the term of the lease expired.

 

Perhaps the terminology of abandonment is creating the psychological problem. It is not as though the City is retreating but rather informing the property owner that they no longer want the right or the responsibility for maintaining that piece of land.

 

The other problem is that Mr. Baron had an appraisal done perhaps in accordance with the City Code that gave a value of $26,000. I assume that this will be the amount that Baron will pay the City as a “privilege fee” for the abandonment. However, as Mayor Meier correctly pointed out, the code states the appraisal is to determine the fee not for the value of the property but rather to determine how much the entire property will increase in value. Unfortunately, staff did not have the appraisal in the packet. Why? That is a good question. By not having the appraisal the Commission is making determinations without having all the information.

 

The City Attorney was asked to obtain a legal opinion regarding right of way abandonment’s. The adjacent homeowner, Mr. Fry, that was objecting and spoke at the last meeting wrote a letter that the Commissioners had. Both the opinion and the letter can be viewed at:

 

Opinion Letter:

CLICK HERE

 

Mr. Fry’s Letter:

CLICK HERE

 

Commissioner Bruner made a motion to proceed on the abandonment with an updated appraisal. It was seconded by Leighton. Then, during further discussion Bruner, wanted the privilege fee to go to House of Hope. Leighton objected saying that she was not comfortable choosing charities. She is right. It isn’t in the purview of this Commission to be giving any money to favored charities. A reading of 36-2 states that the privilege fee is to go into the property management fund. The code can be found at:

 

CLICK HERE

 

Bruner withdrew her amendment and the motion passed 5-0.

 

 

FROM THE APR 5, 2020 EDITION:

Question from a reader from last week regarding a crosswalk at Dixie by Sailor’s Return. The City Manager states:

 

There was a letter from a citizen about the crosswalk on Dixie Hwy. at the south side foot of the Old Roosevelt bridge. This has come to the attention of the commission in the past few weeks either by citizens or personal observations and I tasked our public works department to address it. There has been a budget transfer for lighting and push button crosswalk flashers. We hope to have that installed as soon as possible.

 

 

City Manager David Dyess on the City’s Covid response so far:

 

City of Stuart commission meetings will resume on April 13th at 5:30 in the Stuart city hall commission chambers. There will be limited public seating, but we will have public comment waiting areas in the lobby and outside where audio and video will be provided. We will also be streaming live online at http://cityofstuart.us/streaming     

All city functions are still active and we are providing full service as normal. Some large commission action items will be delayed to comply as best possible with social distancing guidelines.

City Buildings: Closed to the public but either have drive through windows or drop boxes at individual departments to receive documents. Citizens are encouraged to use our online services http://cityofstuart.us/eservices

 

Contact Us At:

http://cityofstuart.us/contact      

Phone: 772-288-5300

 

SNUG HARBOR

 

In the last issue, I wrote that Snug Harbor was a Homeowners Association. In fact, it is a Condo Association. I want to thank my friend, Jean Drescher, for the correction.

 

 

SPECIAL COMMISSION MEETING APRIL 3, 2020

 

Originally this meeting was called to pass a resolution in support of the County’s newest resolution. Both the County’s and City’s agendas were abruptly changed with the issuance of the governor’s new and confusing orders which pre-empts what can be done by local government. As I have discussed above under the County and News & Views Sections, the orders from Tallahassee are broader than what Martin County already had in place and not very well thought out.

 

I thought the meeting would last at most 45 minutes. There were two items. The first would extend the declaration until May 11th and the second would adopt a resolution in support of the governor’s orders. It was standard and uncomplicated. The declaration of emergency could have waited until the April 13th meeting because that it is when it was due to expire. Never underestimate the consequences when you place a microphone in front of an elected official.

 

The meeting about nothing went on for 2.5 hours!

 

I am all about communication. It is important that people know what is happening. The City’s website has been turned into information central. There were 7000 views of one of the releases on that website last week.

 

There are videos coming out next week. The staff wants to have them air on MC 20. Leighton thought that the City should push the County to have more content on the station. She is correct. The City can more effectively communicate using TV than any other media.

 

When there was a discussion regarding the governor’s order concerning churches being essential and exempt from the social distancing requirement, it seemed that Meier and Matheson were wanting to do something about that. Meier was going to contact the pastors. Once again Leighton said something that made sense, that people need to be accountable for their actions. Perhaps the Commission forgot that they had no authority to not enforce the governor’s order.

Then the Commission began to discuss preventing senior citizens from leaving their homes in apparent compliance as part of the governor’s order. According to the City Attorney people over the age of 60 fall into the category under state statute. The Commissioners asked questions of how the police were going to enforce it.

 

My wife and I are over 60. I began to get worried if I were going to be locked up for going to Publix. Would I be stopped and asked by the police for my papers. The discussion was conjuring up visions of “Soylent Green.” Two City Commissioners are older than 60. The Sheriff is in his 60s.

 

After a long rambling discussion which included the City Attorney and the Police Chief, the City Manager piped up and said, it is up to the discretion of the officer whether an arrest or ticket or any action is taken. This is a tool. That was the same thing the Sheriff stated at the BOCC earlier.  It appeared that sanity prevailed and that most of the people who are “Condo Commandos” would be spared jail time.

 

I won’t bore you with any other parts of the meeting. It seemed that every Commissioner, but Bruner had to go on and on about…nothing. Most of the meeting was reminiscent of the lines from Becket’s “Waiting for Godot.”

In this instance the City is constrained in what it can do. The governor’s order takes away the ability of Stuart to implement tougher standards. Staff has done remarkable things in getting information up for the public. That is what needs to be done.

 

I hadn’t watched a meeting through streaming for a couple of years. It hasn’t improved. There were only cameras on the Commissioners and even that was not always on the person speaking. There was no video for the Attorney or Manager. The Zoom part worked well for staff. Audio of the meeting was hard to hear at times. Can’t wait to go back to a live meeting if the alternative is this technology.  

 

 

MARCH 22, 2020 NEWSLETTER

COMMISSION MEETING MARCH 9, 2020

 

During Commissioner comments, Glass-Leighton stated that she had a joint Town Hall Meeting with County Commissioner Stacey Hetherington. It was regarding the Springtree development and was held for County residents outside the City boundaries.

I checked with Commissioner Hetherington, and she did not consider it a joint meeting. That meeting was noticed by the County as Commissioner Hetherington’s meeting, and there was no billing for “special guest star Kelli Leighton.” Hetherington said that Leighton called her and told her she was attending. Hetherington said to Leighton that would be fine since what else could she possibly say. Hetherington did speak to Commissioner Matheson about the meeting, but he wisely declined to attend.

 

There is nothing wrong with a Commissioner speaking to people even if those people are not her constituents. It is good to listen to as many points of view as possible, though a City Commissioner is not a County Commissioner. A City Commissioner is elected to represent the interests of City residents by City residents. When a decision is made, it should be in the best interest of the citizens who elected you which could be different than those outside the municipal boundaries.

 

Speaking of municipal boundaries, it is my understanding that all official meetings must be held within the municipal boundaries of the City. If Leighton is calling this an official Town Hall Meeting, it should have taken place within Stuart. Further Stuart made no public notice, and no Stuart official preserved any public record. According to the Florida League of Cities Officials Manual, …requires that a city council “meet” solely within the territorial jurisdiction of the city; council members may gather at other locations but should not have a “meeting” there, i.e., should not conduct business or have discussions of subjects which might be acted on by the council at a later date.”

 

I am willing to believe that Leighton misspoke, and it was, in fact, Hetherington’s Town Hall. She only was there to listen to non-city residents speak about their opposition of the proposed Stuart project.

 

Perception is very important. If someone occupies one office while at the same time runs for a different office, his/her actions may be construed as political. As an elected official, you can only serve one “master.” Even when a Commissioner is running for re-election, motives for voting are questioned. In this instance, it is even harder to tell since Leighton is running for a different office, Property Appraiser.

 

This happened a few years ago when Troy McDonald, a City Commissioner, was running for the County seat that currently is held by Hetherington. His votes were sometimes questioned as to whether they were best for his constituents.

 

If you want to run for another office, then you should resign from the one you are holding. There are several hundred votes in the unincorporated neighborhoods surrounding the proposed City project. No matter how Glass-Leighton votes, it may look as if she is pandering to people even if it is for the best of intentions.

WHO DOES A CITY COMMISSIONER REPRESENT?

When I was a Commissioner, I made no secret of the fact that my only responsibility was to the residents of Stuart. I took no campaign contributions so no one could ever say I was bought. Businesses were important to me as an elected official but only how their operation and tax money would be beneficial to my constituents. People who lived outside the City were not the people I represented.

 

Stuart is a small place. As a Stuart Commissioner, how a road, project or policy affects non-residents is one of minor concern. With a population of fewer than 17,000 people, a Commissioner needs to make sure there is enough revenue to make the government run. Those that reside outside our City limits are nowhere near as important as the people who live inside the limits.

 

Several Commissioners then and now apparently have a different opinion. They are believers of the umbrella theory. Every squeaky wheel is important. If you wear a protest tee shirt you need to be taken seriously regardless of whether you reside in the City or not.

 

The Springtree project has several things that I think need to have done before approval. One is the retention pond needs to look more like a natural body of water with an irregular shape. Two, the buffer needs to be as required by code and not less. Three, while I am not against the density, it does need to be scaled to 3-stories at least in the one building that is closest to the line.

 

However, the most important factor for the entire neighborhood whether in the City or not is ingress and egress to the project. There are ways to reduce speeding and other issues. That is going to require the developer, and more importantly, the County to use the impact fees that will be collected. Everything from a road diet (narrowing the lanes at points), to a roundabout, to speed tables and crosswalks should be employed.

 

In some respects, this project will be a good one. Stuart Commissioners should look at it through the prism of what is best for the City. You can do that and at the same time be neighborly to the unincorporated Martin County residents. The City and the developer should be respectful and minimize the disruptions to their property.

 

ABANDONMENT

 

The City has many, many rights of way and alleyways that are not used or maintained. Every so often, the adjacent owner wants to incorporate one of these as part of his property. In many instances, this has unofficially occurred. Things become even more complicated because utilities may have the right to use those areas for poles and staging areas.

 

The City came up with a way of formally abandoning those properties years ago. One of those instances of abandonment is a 50-foot public right of way along Osceola and Monterey. On one side of the right of way is Richard Baron’s home, and on the other is Snug Harbor which is in unincorporated Martin County.

 

Snug Harbor has rejected taking its half. Baron is agreeing to take the entire piece and pay the privilege fee that is part of the City’s code. The Public Works Department has no desire to keep the property. So then what is the problem?

 

Another property owner objects to it. The only reason I can discern is because he uses the right of way to walk to his son’s home on the Snug Harbor side. Why have we made abandonment so complicated that we are stuck spending expensive and valuable staff time on something like this?

 

It seems ludicrous that unproductive property that the City does not want, or need is kept. The City does not maintain it, and there is liability in owning it. In this instance, there may be perceived complications because the adjoining property owner, Snug Harbor, is a homeowners’ association and in unincorporated Martin County. I don’t think there is any problem in disposing of the property.

 

The more unused land the government can sell the better for the taxpayers. What is happening now with the method the City currently uses has many pitfalls that can be avoided. Instead of the Commission having to decide each of these abandonments separately, the City should survey every right of way and alleyway that is not being used. They can produce a map of those that are deemed surplus, the Commission can vote on it, and then those properties can be offered to the abutting landowners.

 

These properties are eyesores. Let’s get them into the private sector and on the tax rolls. They can give another 10 feet of property for a bigger yard. It can allow the homeowner to expand his home because he now has adequate setbacks. It is a win-win. The amount of tax dollars that would be added is not much in most instances, if any. But vacant and abandoned property can become important to those residents who abut.

 

Barron’s request will come back for further discussion. The Commission should see it as a property rights issue. When those properties were platted, these rights of way were dedicated to the government. It was to be used as alleyways or access to the rear of properties abutting it. That clearly is no longer the intention. The City needs to dispose of the property. The abutting property owners should be able to be the owners of complete lots.

 

Staff presentation can be found at:

CLICK HERE

Baron’s Presentation can be found at:

 

CLICK HERE

 

 

AVONLEA

 

New Urban Communities, the builders of Azul in downtown Stuart, is now proposing a project in Avonlea consisting of 47 townhouses and 22 single family cottages. There will be a clubhouse and pool. The decision has not yet been made whether they will be rentals or for sale. They are being hyped as affordable but sales prices and/or rental prices were not given.

 

They are starter homes since they are 1000 to 1400 square feet. They look great and it is a nice small development for north Stuart. It abuts the preserve area. The Commission voted 5-0 in favor.

 

You can see the presentation at:

 

CLICK HERE

 

STUART SPECIAL COMMISSION MEETING MARCH 17, 2020

The first order of business was for the Commission to recognize the Declaration of Emergency that was signed by the Mayor yesterday. Matheson moved to recognize the declaration and extend the emergency date until April 13, 2020 which is the date of their next meeting. It was seconded by Leighton. The vote was 5-0.

 

Manager Dyess suggested that all meetings be held using “Zoom” during the pandemic. That system has the capability of having everything done virtually. It appears that Commissioners can have a meeting from their homes without having to come to City Hall. The public can also participate electronically.

 

Businesses use these electronic platforms all the time. Government is not a business. There is something known as “Sunshine.” According to Florida statute for meetings, to be lawful they must be done in public. There is even argument regarding public participation electronically and whether these virtual meetings conform to the law.

 

Florida law does allow for a board member to call into a meeting and participate electronically. Other Martin County Boards have taken the position that the meeting must be held in a public place with a quorum of the Board present. It appears to these other boards that a meeting held virtually may not stand up to scrutiny.

 

I am not an attorney and no expert on any type of law including governmental affairs. I could not find any Attorney General’s position on whether a municipal board can meet in the manner being proposed. I did find one having to do with a School Board and one with a local airport authority that would seem to suggest that certain conditions must be met in order to comply with the statute.

 

As to local boards, this office has noted that the authorization in section 120.54(5)(b)2., to conduct meetings entirely through the use of communications media technology applies only to state agencies. Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 98-28 (1998). Thus, since section 230.17, Florida Statutes, requires a district school board to hold its meetings at a “public place in the county,” a quorum of the board must be physically present at the -6- meeting of the school board. However, as long as a quorum of the board is physically present at the meeting site, the board may use electronic media technology to allow a physically absent member of the board to attend the meeting. Id. Compliance with the requirements of section 286.011, Florida Statutes, “would involve providing notice and access to the public at such meetings through the use of such devices as a speaker telephone that would allow the absent member to participate in discussions, to be heard by the other board members and the public and to hear discussions taking place during the meeting.” Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 94-55 (1994). c.

 

 

Airport authority members may conduct informal discussions and workshops over the Internet, provided proper notice is given, and interactive access by members of the public is provided. Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 01-66 (2001). Such interactive access must include not only public access via the Internet but also designated places within the authority boundaries where the airport authority makes computers with Internet access available to members of the public who may not otherwise have Internet access. Id. For meetings, however, where a quorum is necessary for action to be taken, physical presence of the members making up the quorum would be required in the absence of a statute providing otherwise. Id. Internet access to such meetings, however, may still be offered to provide greater public access.

 

The City is relying on an article written for the Florida Bar. It appears the attorney that wrote it believes that the Attorney General opinions are wrong when it comes to quorum. He cites many opinions which state that in order to have quorum, a majority of the Commission must be present in a meeting chamber within the jurisdiction. Perhaps he is right, but no judge has ruled in this matter yet.

 

CLICK HERE

 

Before voting on anything, the Commission should be very sure of its position. Even during these unusual circumstances, the law still is the law. Government must continue and votes must be taken. If they take a vote that someone disagrees with that may ultimately be considered illegal, the City could find itself in an unenviable position.

 

There was something panicky in the way this meeting was held. Instead of being reassuring, it was a bit unsettling. When you can postpone all the meetings that are scheduled for the next three weeks and give as your reason the protection of people, it comes across as the Commissioners Protection policy. The School Board and the County are taking precautions, but they are still carrying out their responsibilities.

 

A motion was made to have the next Commission meeting on April 13th electronically using Zoom. Further, all meetings of advisory boards are cancelled. The motion was made by Leighton and seconded by Bruner. It passed 5-0

 

If you are interested the Zoom website can be found at:

 

CLICK HERE

 

CLICK HERE

 

UPDATE: THE GOVERNOR HAS SUSPENDED THE NEED TO HAVE A PHYSICAL QUORUM. YOU CAN READ THE EXECUTIVE ORDER HERE:

 

CLICK HERE

 

 

 

FROM THE MARCH 8, 2020 EDITION

COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 24, 2020

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation. Audience at the conference hall.

It was an exciting and long night.

 

The Chamber was packed with residents from the Springtree development, located in unincorporated Martin County. The parcel in question has 900 feet on Federal Highway and Harrison Street in South Stuart. The property was annexed into the City at the owner’s request a few years ago. A parcel that is annexed stays with the same zoning until the owner asks the City for a change. Under the County’s Future Land Use Map, it is zoned commercial. Ownership is asking to change the designation to allow multi-family.

 

The surrounding communities apparently would be happy to have nothing built on the property. If something must be built, then their desire is to remain commercial. Under that definition, the permitted uses on the site could be a hotel or a strip center. The hotel would bring some tax dollars into the City and the County but would not provide homes for existing and new residents. A strip center has no reasonable probability of success given the changing retail market.

 

The Springtree residents argue that this project is not in keeping with the existing neighborhood. Attorney David Earle filed for intervenor status on their behalf. An intervenor becomes a party to the public hearing and, as such, has the right to present evidence and examine witnesses. For transparency sake, you should know that Mr. Earle competently represented me in the past.

 

The existing homeowners claim that the project is not in compliance with the City’s Comp Plan. The City’s Development Director, Kev Freeman, demonstrated how the project complied. City Attorney Mortell explained that City staff could not bring something forward if it did not comply with the plan under the law.

 

The homeowners believe that the buffer was less than the code allowed. The buffer should be 55 feet when a building is 4-stories. The developer was claiming, in this instance, only 50 feet was necessary because there is a preserve area which is owned by Springtree that is 350 feet additional between the proposed buildings and the existing single-family homes. When you add the parking and yards, the distance between the rental buildings and the homes is about 450 feet at their closest.

 

There was a dispute over the height of the buildings. The buildings are designed as 4-story which, under code, cannot exceed 45 feet. However, there can be 15 feet additional for architectural design allowing for 60 feet in total. In the current plan the, highest roof element is 59 feet which is within the current code.

 

To see:

 

CLICK HERE

 

While there is provision to exit or enter the project south using Federal Highway, it could be difficult if you wanted to go north. You would have to cut across the road and go to a turning lane that currently exists. The other way is to drive north on Alden Street and exit onto Monroe Street where there is an existing light. There will be more traffic, and because of no stop signs on Alden, people will speed.

 

To see:

 

CLICK HERE

 

During the course of the discussion, I think at times there were three perhaps four Commission votes (Leighton was absent from the meeting) to approve the project with a few minor modifications. Matheson encouraged all parties to work together. He asked about the rectangular retention pond which should be of an irregular shape according to the Land Development Code (LDR). He also asked about whether the building closest to the homes by the 50-foot setback could lose a story.

 

Meier stated that, for some reason, many people don’t think of rental apartments as suitable for families. He didn’t think that all families need or want single family homes. He went onto say that since Floridians undervalue and underutilize land, we encourage sprawl. That sprawl is part of our environmental problems. Meier continued that land uses must adapt to changing economics. Ten, twenty or thirty years ago, commercial may have made sense in this instance, but it no longer does.

 

The developer’s attorney, Terry McCarthy, said if you can’t put rental housing on south U.S. 1, where in the world would you put it? And that is the crux of the matter. We cannot afford to misuse our infill parcels within cities and CRAs. If we do, our valuable open lands outside the Urban Services Boundary will be lost. McCarthy and Meier understand that simple fact. The rest of the County needs to understand that also.

 

A motion was made to table the item until next meeting by Matheson and seconded by Clarke. It passed 4-0

 

In my opinion, the following is what should occur for this project to move forward. First, there needs to be a retention pond that more closely adheres to our code which should be irregular in nature. Second, the building needs to be moved forward by 5 feet so that there is no question that the setbacks are complying. Third, there needs to be some type of traffic calming along Harrison and Alden Streets for the safety of all residents. And finally, the building closest to the Springtree neighbors should be reduced to 3-story. The developer would end up with 371 apartments which was the original number when the project was initially developed.  

 

To understand the points fully I have enclosed the three presentations:

 

Staff:

 

CLICK HERE

 

Developer:

 

CLICK HERE

 

Intervenor:

CLICK HERE

 

February 23, 2020 Edition

CITY COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 10, 2020

 

This Commission meeting was the day before the joint meeting that was reported above. It seems that the Commission is walking back its lawsuit insistence. When the first thought of anyone is “let’s sue or hire a miracle man,” you know that a mistake is likely to be made.

 

Luckily, the Commission is beginning to see that the process is more is involved than just a lawsuit or someone attending meetings and pounding his fists on the table. Meier had had a meeting with staff and other environmentalists. He cautioned against continuing to move toward litigation. Gary Goforth wrote a visioning statement mirroring that of the Rivers Coalition. He mentioned Senator Harrell’s new working group.

 

I hope that the City decides to work with Martin County… at least for now.

 
 

Stuart Latest News

February 9, 2020 Edition

It appears as if I am picking on the City in this newsletter. Maybe I am! Only because I have several disagreements with its policies.

 

I have been a staunch defender of David Dyess when he was at the Police Department and now as City Manager. We are friends and I am impressed by his abilities. He may be my friend, but when I think a mistake has been made it needs to be called out.

 

In a recent Movers & Shakers section of Florida Trend Magazine, it appeared that Mr. Dyess was being recognized by the magazine for his accomplishments. In actuality, it was a paid press release that was authored by City staff. Staff did so apparently to highlight the City’s efforts to resolve the cybersecurity breach and the City’s environmental advocacy.

 

David did save the City at least a million dollars by not caving to the criminals that had hacked Stuart’s files and then being the main person that fixed the problems. Dyess is a self-described nerd who knows more about programming than most professionals. In this instance, it is beside the point.

 

There is no reason to have paid press releases extolling the virtues of the City Manager, Commissioners, or any other staff. There should be a policy that ends this phony recognition nonsense. When I asked Dyess, he told me he did not know it was a paid advertisement. I believe him. I hope he took the staff member responsible to task for this silliness.

 

In the future, if staff believes that the City deserves recognition, let me know I would be glad to author a story…after checking out the details.

 

COMMISSION MEETING JANUARY 27, 2020

 

LAKE LAWSUIT

Once again, Stuart’s intrepid Commission feels it must take on the world to save the residents.

 

There was extensive public comment from about 20 people, the vast majority of whom were not Stuart residents. Taryn Kryzda, the County Administrator, spoke on how the County has 14 employees and consultants in different fields advising them on environmental actions. She stated correctly that every Stuart resident was a resident of the County. Taryn went on to pledge cooperation in a common cause.

 

There were the “usual” river people urging the City to sue the Corps. It was easy for them to take that position since any expenses were not being paid from their tax dollars. Even though most of the speakers live in unincorporated Martin County, none criticized the County for not suing the Corps. They know a soft target when they see it and it is the City Commission.

 

Commissioner Matheson began by reading from a prepared statement. He said that for the past 40 years, leaving things to others has not worked very well. He believes that all the doors that were open to him this week, including conversations with the Corps, were because of the threatened lawsuit. There is an emergency now and it must move forward.

 

Commissioner Clarke had an analogy that everyone was in a rowboat and must row in the same direction. Leighton believes that we are in a different position than the County. Following that logic would mean the people in unincorporated Snug Harbor which is surrounded by Stuart and the River is somehow environmentally different than Stuart.

 

Meier thanked the County and didn’t realize all the work that was being done by their staff and consultants. He believes we are in a crisis. A crisis means that Stuart is under great stress immediately which isn’t true. He wants to know what the strategy is to move forward. He said that he spoke with Congressman Mast, and his advice was not to feel rushed but continue to apply pressure (whatever that means). The Corps is part of the federal government as is the Congressman. Meier went on to say that he isn’t ready to file just yet.

 

Matheson made several motions in the ensuing discussion that were ultimately changed. The final motion was to give the City Attorney the authority to draft a lawsuit after speaking with the environmental and legal experts (not enumerated) which includes asking for professional mediation. Before filing the suit, it must come back to the Commission for approval. It was seconded by Leighton and passed 5-0.

 

I have now listened to the tape of the meeting twice, and there was no time-frame given for the return of the draft.

 

The one positive thing that happened was that Matheson was appointed by the Commission to attend the PDT (Project Delivery Team) meetings which is where the new regulations and the schedule are being drafted. The City has been sending staff member Ben Hogarth to PDT for the past several months. He will continue to attend with Matheson.

 

When Hogarth stepped up to the podium to discuss his role, he explained that he was hesitant to speak too loudly for the Commission. He is not elected, and attending is a big difference from being able to speak about the City’s positions. With Matheson attending, he will be able to do just that.

 

Hogarth did say something very strange and, to me, perplexing. He told the Commission and the Manager that he had confidential conversations with other PDT participants that he wasn’t at liberty to divulge. Ha!!!

 

He is going to these meeting and being paid by the City to ferret out information and report back. He is not a lone agent. His fiduciary responsibility is to Stuart. He doesn’t make strategy. He is the eyes and ears of Stuart and should report back to Dyess everything he finds out.

 

Only in government could an employee make such a statement and still have a job.

 

FULL TIME…PART TIME…CONSULTANT…STAY WITH BEN

Meier stated that he wanted to find a full-time employee (FTE) as a river defender that had legal, lobbying, legislative and environmental experience. That is a tall order. If you use up the entire appropriation of the river defense fund, you could fund this position through September. But then what?

 

The agenda item states that a tax increase would be necessary to fund this position in the next budget year. The job description seems to be written for the resume of Alex Gillen which was attached. Gillen was the Executive Director of the Friends of The Everglades for 6 months. Gillen has been trying to be hired by the City for the past 5 or 6 years.

 

He was proposed several times when I was a Commissioner. I believed then and as I now do that it is a preposterous idea and an unneeded expense. Apparently, so does Leighton and Bruner who both opposed the idea of any new employees.

 

Does the City really need one more employee or environmental consultant? There is no magic bullet to stop the discharges. Lawsuits are not going to do it. Angry letters to other governmental officials are going to go right into the circular file. All of it is perplexing because the entire water problem is a statewide one.

 

The counties most affected by the management of Lake Okeechobee are not on the Treasure Coast but are Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. When one speaks about the human health and safety to be considered, in many respects the Corps is already doing that. There are millions of people south of us that depend on how the lake is managed. The votes and the tax money are concentrated there…not in Martin County and definitely not in the City with less than 17,000 residents.

 

It was decided to do nothing at the present time.

 

The agenda item with job description and Gillen resume can be found at:

 

CLICK HERE

 

Stuart Latest News

JANUARY 26 2020 EDITION

COMMISSION WORKSHOP JAN 13, 2020

NEW URBAN COMMUNITIES

The Commission met at 3:30 to have presentations on housing within the City.

 

As an aside, having workshops and then regular Commission meetings is a large commitment of time and energy especially when both are jam packed. There is so much information to absorb that I don’t think you can give both meetings the concentration they deserve. I am glad they are having workshops which is something that past Commissions did not seem to do enough.

 

I would recommend one workshop per quarter to be held on a day when no regular Commission meeting is scheduled. The first workshop of the year should be a retreat to be held preferably on a Saturday. In December prior to the meeting, each Commissioner should send the City Manager three very concrete action items that the Commissioner wants to see accomplished for the year. No pie in the sky statements but rather things such as paving a street or sidewalk in a neighborhood or changing parking regulations downtown.

 

Those priorities can be discussed by staff and Commissioners at the retreat. By doing so, the City Manager has been given direction as to what should be accomplished for the rest of the year. If a Commissioner brings up another goal during the year, the City Manager can remind them that he has been given 15 action items that staff is working on and that new ones should be held until the following year.

 

The problem now is that the Commission does not allow the staff the time needed to institute their policies and projects. This direction gives the City Manager the ability to fully implement agreed upon policy. What Stuart has now can be schizophrenic.

 

PRESENTATIONS

 

The first presentation was made by Dana Little of the Treasure Coast Planning Council. It was generic and not specific to Stuart. What every planner is trying to convey today is that the mid-20th century housing model didn’t and doesn’t work.  That model isolates people by different socio-economic groups. It separates homes from stores from businesses. It encouraged a car culture and influenced how we see ourselves as a society.

 

Today we are returning to an older model of everyone living, working, and shopping within the same area. Creating real neighborhoods where people can interact. Communities where you can age in place longer and that are welcoming to all. This is one of Stuart’s core strengths. By using density, especially in our urban downtown and CRA, we can go back to a time when this was the way people lived.

 

The most interesting thing that Little said was that the “Coolest Places” were all built before there were too many regulations and zoning. In many places, including Stuart, much of what we think of as our best features could not be built today because of codes. As an example, Downtown’s look would not be possible under today’s codes and zoning. Osceola and Flagler have been built without setbacks. The look and feel would be entirely different if done today.

 

His presentation can be found at:

 

CLICK HERE

 

The second and third presentations were on what is affordable, and the housing being built currently. Kev Freeman, the director, was the main presenter. Because every Commissioner has raised the spectrum of affordability, the City put together these presentations. Under the SHIP (State Housing Initiative Partnership) Program, workforce housing is characterized as 140% of the AMI (Annual Medium Income.)

 

Housing fitting that criteria is currently available. But there is not enough affordable, (or every other type of housing) being built here. The problem with many people in Stuart and Martin County is that they want to have housing that they classify as affordable but without an increase in density within the urban boundary.

 

Freeman and the staff gave several suggestions such as allowing ancillary apartments with single family homes, stop counting one-bedroom units the same as three-bedroom units for density purposes, and within the Urban Core decrease the amount of required parking per unit. This will allow less expensive housing to be built.

 

Those presentations and one that the City Attorney gave on Florida law can be found at:

 

PRESENTATION 1 CLICK HERE

 

PRESENTATION 2 CLICK HERE

 

PRESENTATION 3 CLICK HERE

 

After discussion, the Commission decided not to change the City’s current direction. 60% of the existing units fall within the definitions of affordable. There are many units that have been approved in the past few years that have not yet been built. The Commission felt they may take another look after those units come online in a few years before changing the code for affordability.

 

I agree that trying to incentivize developers to build low income, moderate income or other housing will not work in a small city such as Stuart. Federal and state programs need to be the driving forces if subsidized housing is to exist. It is beyond Stuart’s and Martin County’s ability.

 

COMMISSION MEETING JANUARY 13, 2020

 

Commissioner Glass Leighton announced that she would be stepping down in May to run for the Property Appraiser’s position. Laurel Kelly is retiring after nearly 30 years in office. Kelly’s long-time number two, Jenny Fields, has also filed to run.  It will be an interesting race. Leighton has been an elected City Commissioner for 8 years. Fields has been with the Appraiser’s office for 31 years. Leighton has no experience in real estate or as an appraiser. Fields has the institutional knowledge and understands the complexities of the office but no elected experience. What will the voters think would be more important?

We are about to hear more regarding the Pelican lease. An item was on the consent calendar to authorize the City Manager to negotiate a rent for the possible assignment to Mike Matakaetis from Paul and Linda Daly. You remember the Daly’s from November when they swore to the Commission that they had no intention of selling the new 20-year lease that the Commission gave them with a sweetheart rent. I hope our Commissioners have learned something and won’t be giving the store away again.

 

A motion was made by Matheson and seconded by Leighton to authorize the Manager to begin negotiations. The vote was unanimous.

 

IS STUART REALLY THAT IMPORTANT

In school, we had music class a couple of times per week. They taught us different songs from different periods in history. One of the songs was titled “The Battle Flag of Freedom.” It was written in 1864 for the union troops. I always think about that song when I hear or see people rallying round a cause. The discussion that the Commission had to initiate a lawsuit against the Army Corp immediately brought the tune and lyrics to my head.

 

Martin County, including the City of Stuart, had a fantastic last summer. There were no releases from the Lake. The Corp considered what happens to the human safety of residents when toxic algae is released into the canals and ultimately the St. Lucie. This was possible because water was managed differently in the Lake by the Corp. After only one year, it appears the Corp is going back to standard practice of releasing water without thought to our communities. That could make the summer of 2020 like that of 2018.

 

I whole heartedly agree that this turn may not be in our best interest. No one in the County can believe otherwise, but should the City sue the Corp over this issue? I think that it would be a waste of Stuart’s tax dollars.

 

Commissioner Matheson brought this to the Commission citing the absolute need to force the Corp to consider our human health. It is ironic that the federal government has an entire list of things that they consider, but our health is not one of them. It is indefensible conduct on their behalf. However, does Stuart have even a chance of prevailing in any type of suit? I think not.

 

The County is not suing the Corp. The County that has paid staff devoted to this issue is not becoming involved. Every taxpayer in Stuart pays taxes in Martin County, yet no one is demanding the County sue the Corp. Why not?

 

Martin County has miles and miles of river front…. more than 20 miles before Stuart has any. Any green algae that is released will affect Martin County, yet they are silent. The BOCC is not jumping on any bandwagon to act. They realize that this is a loser. And, in this instance, they are being fiscally prudent.

 

Commissioner Matheson said the City could afford to spend thousands on a lawsuit that even he doesn’t believe is winnable. He mentioned that the City has a $27 million dollar budget and this action was affordable. Yes, the City will not go broke because of it. But the same thousands may be better spent paving streets or, better yet, converting people to sewer from septic. The City Commission and some in general believe that Stuart should solve all sorts of things including affordable housing.

 

What comes to my mind is the word hubris, and the Commission’s belief that Stuart is so much more important and influential than it really is. The Greeks considered hubris to be a dangerous character flaw. The City should think about that definition.

 

Most of those who spoke in favor of the suit do not live or pay taxes within the City. The same people urging Matheson and the Commission are eager to not spend their money. Why aren’t the various groups such as the Rivers Coalition backing this suit with more than just their mouths? How come they don’t pass the hat and have a legal fund. Then perhaps Stuart could be the named litigant, but the taxpayer wouldn’t be on the spot for the thousands necessary.

 

Sure, the environmentalists will rally round Matheson’s flag! What is it costing them? Not money or time. A beautiful picture will emerge. Lofty statements will be given. Those folks are not doing the hard lifting. They live in Sewall’s Point and Palm City. It is the guy who pays his City taxes that may not have his road paved that will suffer for this quixotic suit.

 

I am all for challenging the methodology of the Corp’s rationale, but it needs to be done in partnership with the County who should take the lead. We should not let them slink into the background.

 

A motion was made by Matheson and seconded by Meier to bring back a draft lawsuit for the next meeting. It passed 5-0. A second motion was made by Matheson and seconded by Clarke to spend up to the balance put aside from last year’s fund (it was believed to be $88,000) for the suit and the hiring of an employee or consultant to represent or advise the City in the suit, at various meetings, and to lobby people. It too passed 5-0.

 

I asked Matheson to send me his comments from the discussion. They are printed below:

 

The health of our river is the one overarching issue that affects nearly all aspect of our quality of life. For 9 out of the past 14 years our residents have received toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee. 2019 was a taste of how operational management can be changed to put health and safety of our residents as a priority. The announcement by the ACOE (Army Corp of Engineers) to move away from this deserves a response from us.

 

I Motion to have an action Item brought backing for our Jan 27th meeting.  Drafting legal action against the ACOE regarding their position of 2020 Lake Okeechobee dry season management with a focus on water storage instead of the health and safety of our residents.  In creating this complaint, we should seek assistance from all willing parties, including MC commission, Sewall’s Point, other counties, and municipalities as well as nonprofits. With the same goals. 

 

Furthermore, I motion to direct staff to come up with a plan for the city of Stuart to actively have a louder voice in the LOSOM process an overall advocate against discharges from the St. Lucie Canal.  I would like to contemplate creating a new temporary position, or seeking lobbyists, consultants, or advisers to our current staff. I would like staff to factor in the remaining unused funds allocated for the Health of our r river in fiscal year 2019 to get this started. 

 

The 2 motions evolved slightly during discussion as you are aware. My intent with the second was to direct staff to seek the employment of a dedicated river advocate. I wanted to leave this with as much flexibility as possible during the drafting and consideration process. We are not sure who may apply and what their credentials might be. Perhaps we will not move forward with anyone. I do believe it is in the interest of City residents to “expect” attendance at meetings regarding discharges into our river though.  This was done with the financial cap of the remaining funds allocated for our river in fiscal 2019. 

 

I continue to believe that Merritt has been a thoughtful and insightful Commissioner. In every case except in this instance, he has been an advocate for fiscal restraint. I disagree with him, and the stance taken by the rest of the Commission, regarding a lawsuit and spending additional dollars on a new employee or consultant.

 

The Corp did a presentation at a meeting with Matheson and the City Manager after the Commission meeting which shows that keeping that additional foot in the Lake will be needed. We should not overlook the fact they may be right in their assertions. They are doing an unbelievable balancing act.

 

Congressman Mast should be taking the lead with a federal agency, the Army Corp of Engineers. Where are Rubio and Scott, our senators? Florida is supposedly a swing state. Where is the political pressure on the administration? Are we separating our votes from our supposed priority?

 

COLORADO COFFEE ROASTER, MOTEL CONVERSION

 

The CRB, of which I am a member, had already approved both these projects. The coffee roaster was approved rather easily, but the motel conversion needed to have a few issues ironed out before going to the Commission.

 

The beauty of advisory boards is that they can allow things to be aired in public and any neighborhood concerns be addressed prior to the Commission meeting. There were a few concerns raised by the Board and the neighbors to the rear of the motel which is located on U.S. 1 by Dune Dog. In the original application presented, there was no site plan, landscape plan nor architectural renderings. The proposed buyer was asking for approval for higher density than what would be allowed under the code.

 

Though it would be the same number of units as the motel, which is 19, only 15 units per acre would be allowed under the existing code. The neighbors were upset because they did not understand that the number of units would stay the same at first.

 

Since the Board and then the Commission under the original application without site plans and renderings would be giving permission for the change, the new owner could demolish the motel and put up 19 units. And, since it is a conditional use, there would not be setback requirements or other protections to make sure the new structure blends in with the neighborhood. There could have been a four-story building overlooking a one-story home.

 

The Board made sure that a site plan was attached which allowed for the existing units being rehabbed. There could be no other changes without coming back before the Board and Commission. The neighbors, who did come to both CRB hearings, didn’t even show up at the Commission because their fears had been alleviated.

 

No such luck with the roaster. They are buying the old florist shop on Colorado and will be moving the Roasted Record from further down the street. However, two neighbors complained because they were asking for a parking exemption of two spaces.

 

As I keep saying, the City and the County CRAs cannot let outdated parking regulations deter new businesses and residences from opening in our urban centers. Colorado Avenue should not be considered suburban. It is in an urban area that should be requiring buildings to be more than single story and built closer to sidewalks.

 

The owner of the property next door is concerned that the new business’s customers will park in his lot. The reason he is concerned is because his tenants’ businesses have a parking lot in front while the entrances are recessed. This type of design encourages the use of autos. So, customers drive from shop to shop instead of parking and then walking to multiple destinations.

 

The Commission was not persuaded by this argument. A motion was made by Clarke to approve. It was seconded by Bruner and passed 5-0.

 

MOVING TOWARD A REAL CITY CENTER

 

In keeping with the earlier housing workshop, staff has now brought forth a motion to allow for different density calculations and parking within the CRA.

 

For some time, I have been a proponent of not counting units per acre but rather allowing as many units as would fit within a building envelope after setback and preserve requirements were met. This would allow smaller units to be built. If, for example, you can build 20 units per acre on a parcel, then the developer would build those units that would give him the better return. That encourages large units which are more expensive to rent or buy.

 

If what the City needs are smaller units for our population, then it would make sense to allow more 1-bedroom units to be built on a project than 3-bedroom units. The number of people living at the property would be the same. The City did not go that far but rather used square foot per unit calculations to add to the density.

 

At the same time, they recognized that if Stuart is going to be a walkable City, then the need to have 1.5 parking spaces for every unit should be changed. Smaller units need fewer spaces. This could be a game changer for developers to minimize their building costs. It is important for the City because more units will be built for our young people and empty nesters.

 

It can be found at:

 

CLICK HERE

 

A BAD IDEA

Another agenda item was to allow impact fee credits to be transferred from one parcel to another. For example, if a developer knocks down a building that had 50 units at one point and builds one with only 5 new units, the lot then has 45 additional credits for units where impact fees were once paid. This vote now allows the transfer of credits from one lot to another and from one owner to another.

 

The Commission needs to discuss impact fees in a universal way. I believe they can be lowered for everyone. What happened at this meeting was not beneficial to the City. A market was created for the “Good Ole Boys” to sell impact fee credits to each other. It encourages developers to build fewer units than previously were situated on a parcel and more expensive units. This results in fewer and more expensive units being built.

 

The ordinance does not consider what the dollar amount originally paid was for impact fees. For example, in 1975 a developer put up a four-family building and he paid “x” per unit. Last year a developer bought the property and tore down that building and built 2 units. He would not have to pay any new impact fees on the new units. That seems fair. However, he now gets to sell 2 units of impact fee credits to another owner for another lot in the City. Not only is he selling something to another owner that rightfully belongs to the City and therefore the taxpayer but today impact fees are not “x” per unit but 3”x”.

 

During discussion, Matheson suggested that this results in the opposite of everything that the Commission had discussed earlier. He said, justifiably so, that these credits should be used if the developer was going to build affordable housing. Meier agreed.

 

This is a sop to give some developers more profit when they build. It will not do any of the things that the City earlier was trying to encourage. The “Good Ole Boys” still have their snouts in the public’s trough.

 

A motion was made by Bruner and second by Clarke to approve the item. It passed 3-2 with Meier and Matheson dissenting.

 

The last impact fee study for the City can be found at:

 

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3Af38d1be8-d04f-4e2b-b391-28cf28c0bc94

 

RIVERS COALITION MEETING JANUARY 23, 2020

This is not a meeting I normally would write about because it is not a governmental meeting. However, this meeting is pivotal to the City because of the possible suit against the Corp. The Rivers Coalition has an opinion regarding whether the City should proceed or not. Their concerns have sway over a few Commissioners.

 

When I arrived at the City Hall parking lot, I noticed many large and expensive SUVs, Mercedes, BMWs, and big trucks. Just the kind of vehicles that environmentalists should be driving. Some of the meeting participants had plastic water bottles, plastic straws, and even polystyrene cups. The crowd was excited that the City of Stuart had decided to file the suit against the Corp and spend money doing it.

 

Not money that was coming out of their pockets. The majority lived outside the City’s boundaries. No, this lawsuit would be underwritten by the homeowners of East Stuart, Sarita Heights and the rest of the neighborhoods of the City. Sure, everyone wants clean water including the City’s residents. They may be the people that can least afford to fund it. Those homeowners weren’t at the meeting at 11 am. They had jobs to be at.

 

Three of the City’s Commissioners were there. Mayor Meier, Commissioner Bruner, and Commissioner Matheson. Only Commissioner Matheson spoke. He was eloquent and sincere. Was there a political calculation to what he was doing…perhaps. What struck me though was he believed in what he was saying.

 

The real question is should the City of Stuart all by itself sue the Army Corp of Engineers? No one believes they will prevail. What is the point? There is much that Matheson and the rest were unknowing about including what Martin County has been doing.

 

I have written before that when it comes to the health of the estuary, Stuart is not in it alone. We are part of Martin County and pay taxes to the County just the same as everyone else. To date the County has allocated $145,000 towards this matter. The County has hired as a consultant someone who helped develop the last LORS (Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule)document, there is a hydrologist who worked for the Water District, a meteorologist, an environmental modeler, an estuarine ecologist, and a law firm specializing in this type of law. It is a County-wide issue and needs to be addressed as such.

 

Martin County has positions on these matters. They haven’t buried their heads in the sand. What has happened is that there is a lack of communication between the City and the County. Both governments and elected officials need to have more understanding of what each is doing and thinking of doing.

 

The suit being contemplated is not in the best interest of anyone. Martin County sued the Corp in the past and failed. Everyone should learn something from that. Once a suit begins communications between the Corp and Stuart will cease. We will not have that seat at the table.

 

Commissioner Matheson’s comments are reproduced below:

 

My fellow commissioners 5/0 vote of solidarity to go down this path shows that we all want to do everything possible to protect the health and safety of our residents.  The last thing any of us ever want to do is to direct staff to put up signs telling people to keep out of “toxic water”

 

I stressed this over and over again to Lt Cornell Polk in a meeting we had Tuesday with some of his staff and our City Manager and Attorney.

 

 

What was so bad about 2019 operations that it cannot be recreated for another year?  This year the focus is on water supply?  Why the abrupt turn around? Who was not supplied water last year?  Will you exercise your operational flexibility again this year and project a lower lake level? These were some of the questions I brought up.

 

The meeting was beneficial, and I hope the dialogue continues. Their experts started at the Kissimmee chain of lakes and we walked through the system on down to Florida bay.  We talked about the different segments and their individual constraints. As expected, they had answered for all the questions.  We’re they what we wanted to hear though.  Not exactly. There was a lot of talk of the projects in the pipeline. There was talk to system constraints as well as deviations.

 

A review of the system was beneficial but off the point.  We are asking for them to deviate from the system as they did in 2019 in order to bridge the time gap between now and LOSOM.

 

SAV  “The long-term restoration goals are to consistently have over 40,000 acres of submerged vegetation in order to provide abundant habitat for fish and wildlife that use the lake, and to help maintain good water quality in the shoreline area.”

 

 So, if the justification for the 2019 deviation was to increase SAV and the goal is consistently 40,000 acres as stated by the district. Why are we stopping with 28,000 acres on the Lake?

 

So where are we now. Regarding direction on the lawsuit I will continue to discuss this with City staff and look forward to discussing with my fellow commissioners at Monday’s meeting. We have a few options to be considered.  

 

I would just like to end. By saying that my Job is to ensure the City of Stuart is doing its best to look out for the health safety and welfare of our residents. Whether doing that is in terms of supporting our excellent police force, our Number 1 ranked fire department, or doing everything possible to work towards achieving Zero discharges. 

  

The Corp’s presentation which Matheson mentioned is composed with this week’s data and should be looked at:

 

CLICK HERE FOR CORP PRESENTATION

 

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