City of Stuart
City of Stuart
Stuart Latest News From The April 25, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING APRIL 12, 2021:
There was a presentation from the financial director on Stuart’s midyear budget and actual numbers.
According to the city, the budget is currently where it should be for both expenditures and receipts. Given everything with Covid, that is a remarkable accomplishment. You can see the presentation HERE
Commissioner McDonald has stated his intention to meet with the city manager and department heads to go through the departments next year’s requests. Commissioners should understand the budget and sitting down with the finance director and city manager is important.
However, if more than one commissioner wants to be a part of staff and go through budget lines, then there should be a budget workshop with staff presenting their preliminary budgets to the entire commission as the county does. Individual commissioners sitting in on meetings with the city manager and department heads is time consuming.
And do not think that staff isn’t putting on a kabuki dance for the commissioner during those private meetings. In the preliminary stages of budgeting, staff should be free to have candid conversations with the manager without politics involved. Once the early stages are completed, then having commissioners ask questions and voice their concerns is a good idea. This should happen at a meeting before the meeting when they must vote.
ODDS & ENDS
During comments, Commissioner McDonald brought up the subject of creating a park on a closed street on Bryant.
The street was closed around 2010 “temporarily” for six months. This is a residential neighborhood off Federal Highway and Palm City Road. (It is my neighborhood.) At one time, there was a used car dealer there, and his customers would test drive the cars at excessive speeds in a residential neighborhood. The commission placed the gate there to stop that from happening. A couple of years later, the dealership closed.
The gate, which is just a pole with a lock on it, was installed to allow emergency vehicles to have access. I would be surprised if anyone even knew where the key was. It is time that the closure become permanent.
They have just completed the Cube Smart project which backs up to the street. A little park with curbs and trees instead of the gate would be an enhancement. Add a bench, some planters to be cared for by the neighbors and perhaps a basketball hoop, and the kids would love it.
A motion was made by McDonald for an item to be placed on the agenda and seconded by Matheson. It passed 5-0.
Matheson made a comment about the state of the water. There is an algae bloom by the locks. See Commissioner Matheson’s article in the News & Views Section above.
The city’s leasehold to Mulligan’s on Flagler is being assigned. It seems George Hart, Mulligan’s founder, has decided to franchise this site to two partners from down south. The sweetheart lease with the city runs to 2038. Only government operates on these timelines, and they believe the nonsense that their tenants spew about how they need the time to amortize their expense.
Meier made a motion to see a CV from the new operators and for them to demonstrate their financial ability by Monday before the assignment can go in effect. It was seconded by Matheson. The lease has no personal guarantees. Hart or these new guys could default without liability. They bought a franchise and Mr. Hart he knows business, so he has thoroughly vetted the franchisees.
Nice gesture but it doesn’t really matter since the assignment cannot unreasonably be denied according to the lease. What would happen if the commission said no? There would be a lawsuit. The motion passed 5-0.
When first presented, I did not think the lofts were a very good project. And as I said when it was first reading, I do not know whether I would have voted for it or not. I am still not so sure whether it is a good project, but I would have voted for it on second reading.
The developer knocked off an entire building which brings the number of units to 172. They increased parking to 303 spaces which is still short by 13 spaces. However, it is more spaces than what similar projects that have been approved have had.
There also is more green space around, but it has included amenities such as a pickle ball court and splash pad. With that, there is now enough open space to meet that requirement. They still need a waiver for setbacks.
Here are the good parts of the plan. It is set on a commercial roadway. The road is only now at 13% of capacity during peak hours. During public comment, one member of the public kept saying that the roadway will be an “F”. Under the DOT Quality/Level of Service Handbook an “F” or an “A” are not letter grades. They are a way of explaining the impact that traffic is having. Here is a quote from the manual:
“Misconception 3: LOS (Level of Service) letter A-F grades are comparable to American school letter grades. Truth: Unlike school grades, LOS A is not necessarily a desirable goal and the meaning of A-F is not entirely consistent across modes.”
For instance, you would not want to spend $50 million on a road that had less than 6 cars per hour during peak times. That would certainly make someone driving on it happy, but the public who was taxed for that roadway could have spent those dollars on a better use.
The project puts parallel parking on Central Parkway. This will slow traffic down which is a concern because presently there is not enough traffic to keep speeds within the limit. They are also putting in a left-hand turn lane which will alleviate the need to make “U” turns.
Though they really do not go anywhere, the streets within the development will not be gated, like Seagate and Villa Bella. There is no place for a gated community with walls within a city. They should not have been approved that way.
17 apartments or 10% will be rented at 80% of the AMI in perpetuity. The city will monitor the reduced rents by the project sending a list of tenants plus the rents every year to the city. The city will have the authority to monitor the leases. That will be the mechanism the city uses to make sure the owner is adhering to the agreement. Let’s see if it is followed.
The intervenor made a pitch from the heart that the project was against the comp plan. While I was delighted that he had been a Stuart Fire/Rescue employee that had moved from crowded Broward, I know it could not influence the commission in whether to approve a project or not. For after all, it is what is permissible under the code that matters…not any individual’s feelings.
He also showed photos of vistas that now will have buildings of 45 feet plus another 6 or 7 feet for parapet walls. Those structures can be built there as of right. The applicant is applying under an expired PUD. The zoning does not revert to what it had been initially.
He cited the comp plan section: Policy 1.A5.2 : Development on all vacant, un-platted areas
designated as residential should be compatible with any surrounding existing homes. And: Policy 1.A5.3: Whenever possible, medium density residential and recreation/open space areas shoulder serve as buffers between higher and lower intensity residential uses to achieve orderly land use transition.
Compatible does not mean the “same.” There are apartment and town houses already surrounding this project. As to transitional, Meier stated that Seagate was the transitional project from low density to medium.
Planning documents and codes are created to be flexible to accommodate changing economics and societal needs. Beautiful photos and bucolic settings are nice, but Stuart and the county CRAs are urban. This is an infill project. If we are going to try to limit sprawl in Martin County, and 5-acre ranchettes or single-family homes on acre lots even within the urban services boundary are sprawl, then projects of this size must be developed.
Subjectively, I do not find this project appealing. However, the commissioners, the intervenor, or those that are against the project do not own the property. The owner has property rights, and if enough boxes are checked, the project should go forward.
On second reading, I would have voted in favor. Bruner made a motion to approve that was altered several times. McDonald seconded and it passed with the same 3-2 vote as last time with Clarke and Matheson dissenting.
You can see the staff, applicant, and intervenor’s presentation by going HERE
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Stuart Latest News From The April 11, 2021 Edition
I am a member of the CRB. We are an advisory board for the city commission on projects within the CRA. At the last meeting, I was incredibly sad to have had to vote against a project that was being presented.
Presenting a project is telling a story. The more convincing the storyteller is, the easier the project moves forward. But the story cannot be fictional. The chapters need to be woven together in a factual narrative. Logic is important and the plot must stand up to scrutiny. It did not in this case.
The project is known as the Sportfish Marina UPUD. There is to be a 37-room hotel of one- and two-bedroom suites. It will have 49 boat slips. There will also be a pool and restaurant with parking under the three-story hotel. There will be a boardwalk along the river.
The number of parking spaces did not fit the narrative they were presenting. Under the code, they need one parking space for every room and two for employees which is a total of 39. They will have 55 spaces. According to their business model as told, their guests will be boating here and mooring at one of the wet slips. Looks great so far.
When going into the meeting, I was under the impression that they would reserve 37 slips for the hotel and the remaining 12 slips could be leased out to the public. What they were selling and what they actually want to do began diverging at this point.
When I asked that a condition be placed on approval that only 15 slips could be leased to the public, the developer’s representative said no. He said the submerged land lease reads they must reserve half the spaces for the public. When I asked to see the lease, he did not have a copy nor did the Development Department…a large disconnect in the narrative being told.
The city has subsequently learned that there is no submerged land lease. The applicant is now saying that he has applied for one. As of this writing he has not supplied the application to the city. How do we know that the state will grant one and how many slips it will be? The parking calculation can be off even more than what I believe.
The only reason this project needs to come before the commission is because their parking is under the building. Under the code, they have enough spaces. In reality, I dispute that because the story is not coming together.
This project is next to Harborage. For nearly 15 years, that was the project from hell that cost the city massive legal fees having to do with parking, slips and live aboard boaters. Though this project is considerably smaller, the same problems can occur again.
When the meeting began, I was ready to vote yes, but the developer’s presentation made me vote no. The only reason that I can see for the developer not to agree to limit outside slip rentals is that his intention is to keep his options open to turn this into something other than the story being told.
Except for several months in the winter, it may be very hard to fill these rooms. At 37 units on less than an acre, it may work as a hotel but there is no way that it works for a rental or condo.
Every room has at least wall kitchens if not full kitchens. The city has no ordinance that limits hotel occupancy to a set number of days or weeks. Without ever coming back to the commission, this can be turned into permanent and semi-permanent hotel rental housing. If you add in the leasing of 49 slips to the public, 55 parking spaces are not enough.
This isn’t downtown where you can walk places. Cars are necessary whether it is a hotel with marina or apartments. Two bedrooms means at least two people will occupy the suite. The site will also have boat trailer parking. When questioned about the siting of that, the developer said that has not been worked out yet. This could easily become a chapter of the story to be looked at later that may further reduce the number of actual parking spaces to less than 55.
If the submerged land lease were produced and one of the conditions was that half the slips would have to be rented to the general public, I would have been satisfied and asked that the number of slips available to the general public to be that number.
How does the city even know there will be a lease? If someone is asking you for permission to do something with a key element predicated on that fact, wouldn’t you like to read it and make sure? The “not ready for prime-time players” are at work. The city deserves better.
I see the bait, and I know the switch is not far behind. I hope the commission sees the same thing and approves the project only after examining all the documents. I personally have little hope that the commission will do their due diligence and make sure they are not inviting a problem.
This could be an enviable project if it were just 37 apartments with each having a boat slip or even the original concept of a boating-centric hotel. Instead, it is too cute by half. The story has diverged from the opening chapter.
To see the presentation of the applicant, go here
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Stuart Latest News From The March 28, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING MARCH 22, 2021
The commissioners had plenty to bring up during their comments. Commissioners McDonald and Matheson were just chock full of ideas that, in my opinion, were both good and bad.
Before their comments, the Treasure Coast Planning Council had presented an update on two projects that they are working on. That must have gotten the commissioners blood flowing because they were shooting out ideas both fast and furious. There is nothing wrong with ideas if they are focused. The commissioners did have a few focused ones.
For some reason, both McDonald and Matheson are consumed with the “hot right” onto Palm City Road from Federal Highway. They want the MPO to study to eliminate it. That may be a good idea traffic-wise but there are other considerations. What should be studied is Federal Highway from the Roosevelt Bridge to beyond Kanner Highway as a corridor. That study would take in not only how Palm City Road is affected but also the streets that connect the two and the rest of the corridor.
The street where I live, St. Lucie Crescent, is connected to Federal Highway a little north of Palm City Road. Even now when the light changes at Federal and Palm City Road, a backup occurs if not enough cars turn onto that “hot right.” That prevents me from turning onto St. Lucie Crescent going south on Federal Highway. My point is everything is interconnected, and there can be unintended consequences.
A better course of action would be to study the traffic patterns on the entire stretch of Federal Highway from the bridge going south past Kanner including the interconnectivity between the different streets such as Palm City Road and the neighborhood streets. The point is not to create a traffic bottleneck. At the same time, you need to slow down traffic on Federal so that it is more appealing for the businesses, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Now you have a dangerous and physically ugly street for all that use it.
A motion was made by McDonald and seconded by Matheson to bring the “hot right” to the MPO along with the placement of the light poles on Federal Highway. It passed 5-0
FOR HOME RULE…DON’T TELL THE LEGISLATORS
The Stuart City Commission is for home rule. They just do not want Tallahassee finding out.
There was another motion by McDonald and seconded by Meier for a resolution in opposition to HB 55 and SB 284 in the Florida legislature. These bills would prevent local government from regulating certain home design features. It is an infringement on home rule for sure.
The bill is being sponsored by Stuart Representative Overdorf in the House. Where exactly this resolution was going was not really spelled out in the motion. I know it was intended to be a feel-good resolution that is innocuous and meant not to anger anyone. That is what happens when the resolution is meant to go nowhere.
Unfortunately, this is a public meeting and either Overdorf was watching, or he had a spy in the room. The anonymity factor went out the window. He was a little upset with the commissioners. Overdorf cannot claim to be for home rule when he is getting resolutions that are against his bills.
Let me tell you a little secret as someone who fought hard when in local government about the home rule concept. The legislature doesn’t really care about what your local commissioners think or want. For the most part, local politicians do not control votes, or campaign contributions, or have foot soldiers to help with door knocking and signs. In other words, they are not much help to legislators in obtaining or keeping their offices.
Legislators get their money from the state party and special interests. They are assured election because districts are drawn to protect one party or the other. The election laws make sure of that.
And here is another secret, local government needs their legislators for appropriations. If they will not sponsor bills to bring home the bacon, then how is Stuart going to pay for its water plant or Sewall’s Point its sewers? If they want a check, then they better be nice and not get in the way of more important concerns than home rule.
To read more about home rule go here
WE MADE A DEAL AND NOW I WANT TO CHANGE IT
And lastly both Matheson and McDonald decided that a few complaints about the new Cube Smart on Federal and Palm City Road needed to be addressed.
There are some who will dislike anything that is different than before including a low intensity project like a storage site. A Race Trac 24-hour gas station and convenience store had been proposed for the site. That would have caused more disruption to the single-family neighborhood surrounding the parcel than any self-storage facility.
Led by McDonald and Matheson, the commission wants the developer to change the look of the structure which is a structure that was approved by the commission after negotiation. The commission wanted it to appear to be an office building so the design features mirror that. An art feature was also proposed that was accepted.
Now, because they heard a few complaints, they want to change the deal. They realize that any changes would have to voluntarily be made by the business at this point. One of those proposed changes would be to paint a mural using the mural program of the CRA. That is despite the fact they made the company add and paint reliefs on the building to make it look like an office building.
While the latter idea was Matheson’s, McDonald (not to be outdone) proposed having light shows on the building even though there are single family residences on three sides. That of course does not address what happens during the day and at night once the lights are shut off. For both ideas, there was some vague talk of the city not charging the requisite fees for any plan amendments and contributing more than they would to other art projects.
This all needs to be forgotten. When does election season begin and end? This sounds like a few commissioners are running and they believe that doing something about anything is a good idea. It isn’t.
The best politicians can do is have a governing philosophy and stick to it. Then all they need to do is make decisions based on their philosophy. Voters will support a candidate they do not always agree with if the candidate is sincere and consistent. The candidate just needs to be confident in his/her own positions.
The Business Development Board gave a presentation on its programs. It is going to pick up a guaranteed $10,000 from the city no matter what with the possibility of another $15,000 in projects. This is the price of admission to that rarefied club. The county gives hundreds of thousands more and Indiantown is right there with Stuart.
There were many shiny distractions in its presentation. Jobs, metrics, and other things purporting to have results but nowhere during the presentation did they say that they were the ones that brought any specific company to Martin County or Stuart. The only thing they could absolutely claim was 18 videos that they made.
That reminds me of the old adage, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” In Martin County there is no failure if you are fortunate enough to be part of the taxpayer supported dole. The contract can be found here
McDonald made the motion to accept the contract for $25,000 and it was seconded by Matheson. It passed 4-0 with Bruner momentarily off the dais.
McDonald made a motion to terminate the current Greenmarket licensee in 60 days as per the contract. It was seconded by Meier. The current operator has yet to show any insurance or completed financials as stipulated in the contract. They pay $2000 per year to the city and charge $35 to $50 per week to each of the vendors.
Armond Pasquale, with whom I seldom agree, spoke and is right on this point. It is currently a flea market and not a green market. So, it was rather amusing that the commissioners were so concerned with the welfare of the vendors instead of that of the patrons. The quality of the merchandise offered has been anything but enticing and the green part is extremely limited and unimaginative.
This was a long time coming for a variety of reasons. Now comes the political intrigue to see who gets to pay practically nothing and collect thousands. My money is on Stuart Main Street…the organization that keeps on getting. Bruner was ready to give it to them immediately.
There will be an RFP going out to see who will be the lucky one. What will happen is different than what should happen. It is time for the city to take control.
There is a couple of hundred thousand dollars on the line. The city is now giving it away and it doesn’t matter much if it is to another greenmarket organizer or Main Street. That is money that should go to the taxpayer to fund programs.
Now the city not only funds Main Street to the tune of $70,000 per year, they also have a reduced lease at the Flagler Center. If the City of Stuart gives them the trifecta of the market, the city is missing a golden chance.
Stuart is now big enough to run the downtown festivals to make the profit instead of outsourcing to Main Street. With all those subsidies gone, the city could hire two people. One would be the greenmarket manager and the other would be an events coordinator. They could do the work now outsourced to Main Street and the green market. It would be much more taxpayer oriented and patron friendly.
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Stuart Latest News From The March 14, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING MARCH 8, 2021
There were two development proposals on the agenda this week.
The first was “Four Winds at St. Lucie.” You would think with a moniker like that it would be some large and elegant development. It was simply a zoning change for five 50-foot lots on the corner of St Lucie Blvd and Four Winds Drive. Currently, it is occupied by two 65-year-old dilapidated homes.
The applicant wanted to change the zoning to R2 from R1 which would allow him to have duplexes. Most of the surrounding area are zoned R3. It seemed to be a no brainer. Except neighbors being neighbors, they were, of course, against it. One even took the position of an intervenor.
An intervenor pays a fee and then becomes a party to the quasi-judicial proceeding. The applicant gave a superb outline and really delved into why the change he asked for was reasonable. In fact, it was oversell. The intervenor put on his case and it was what you would expect from a non-attorney. I didn’t see any of the commissioners being swayed by his arguments.
The applicant then has a chance to rebut the intervenor’s case. As I said, there was not much of a case to begin with. If I were the applicant, I would have said no rebuttal. Instead, he began to impugn the intervenor’s reasons. It seemed petty and made the intervenor sympathetic, but not enough to make the commissioners deny the rezoning. It passed 5-0.
Meier said afterwards that there was too much bad information going around. This was not a site plan hearing. There are more than enough safeguards in the LDRs to protect the integrity of the process. He said it was all in the code that could be read. “I am heartbroken” he said.
The mayor tried valiantly to keep it moving. Clarke does tend to sometimes be too solicitous. She repeats herself and that does add to the length of the meeting. Monday’s meeting was 6 hours long.
There are not enough rules in place to make hearings be coherent and cogent instead of rambling and unfocused. The city should write time limits into presentations. This item took way too long. The intervenor part of the hearing should be run by the city attorney. He can keep the two sides on point and not allow unrelated testimony to become part of the record. Remember the commissioners are not only the deciders, but they are also a party to the hearing.
Public comment time limits at BOCC meetings are enforced by the county administrator. She is good at cutting people off after three minutes. Politicians are not so good at it. At the city, the manager should assume that role. Boards are there to listen to everyone, but some commonsense rules need to be written and then enforced.
You can find the presentations here
CENTRAL PARKWAY LOFTS
Have you ever noticed that sometimes things do not fit? This may be one of those projects.
It is proposed to be a 196-unit project on both sides of Central Parkway. The developer was offering 20 apartments at rents of 80% of the AMI for 10 years. There will be a bike sharing program and a pool and clubhouse. The buildings are mostly 4 story with two that will be three story.
I usually like density in the City. Here, there may be too much for the allotted space. They are asking for 29 units per acre. It cannot meet parking requirements so they will create parking along the street. The setbacks are less than the code. And they have agreed to make provisions for safely crossing the road since the pool and clubhouse are only on one side.
While many of the speakers and the commissioners were concerned with the crossing, I did not think that was much of a problem. None of this would have mattered if the developer had come in as two different projects with one having a pool and clubhouse. After it was built, they could have had an agreement to allow for use by everyone. It never would have been part of the development order.
Even the setback requirements do not bother me. At some point, the proposed Willoughby Extension will be built. When that happens, the roadway will impact the buildings. If the developer feels setbacks are not a problem, I wouldn’t use that to deny the application.
The project is too intense for the allocated space. I usually don’t care about parking, though in this case I do. The dog park next door already has the overflow parking from Villa Bella Condominiums at night. I think this may add to it.
Meier made a motion to accept on first reading with having the subsidized apartments be in perpetuity and for 8-foot sidewalks. It was seconded by Bruner. It passed 3-2 with Clarke and Matheson voting no. It looked to me that McDonald could easily vote no on final reading. If I were the developer, I would either knock off a building or make it all three floors to allow for less density.
As I mentioned above, providing a lower rent in perpetuity means what? Who is going to monitor that it will happen? Is the city or the county going to create a position to enforce these provisions? No, it will be up to someone to remember what is in the development order. There is a lousy track record of that.
This is a national problem. You are not going to solve affordability this way. It may make a commissioner feel good, but it is PR and not good planning.
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Stuart Latest News From The March 14, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 22, 2021
Because of Covid, the government has brought some innovative programs to the cities. The city’s consultant presented a possible Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to alleviate economic problems caused by the disease. The grant which does not require any match needs to benefit low to moderate economic communities of under 50,000 people. A minimum of 70% of the grant must be to the benefit of those people who are low to moderate in income.
While it could go for individual assistance, the staff’s plan is to buy Gary Plaza on MLK and turn it into a jobs training facility and business incubator. The city itself would not run programs but partner with qualified entities to do so. One partner that comes to my mind would be Indian River State College. There are others, and it does not have to be just one though it should be organizations that have a track record.
This would be a big undertaking for little Stuart. The city would be doing it right by being a facilitator but not the operator. Sometimes commissioners want to reinvent the wheel and in trying to do so accomplish nothing. Commissioners are politicians and they have a deep desire to never say no.
I hope the commission does not intrude on who should provide the instruction and the mentoring. It needs to be someone that the city manager and his staff can work with. The commission is policy, and the staff is operations. The policy is the decision to seek the grant for this purpose. The operating of city services is up to staff to do.
You can see the presentation here
THE GREEN MARKET ONE MORE TIME
For as long as I have been involved with Stuart, the Sunday green market has been a problem.
The city receives $2000 a year. The market charges each vendor a minimum of $25.00 per day. There are 40 to 50 vendors per week. So, on a bad week, they pull in $1000.00.
Sure, they have expenses, mostly what is paid to the manager, but what about the rest of the money? According to the license agreement, the city is supposed to see the books. The city was told for years that it was a non-profit. It was not true. With city prodding a couple of years ago, they tried to form a 501(c)3 but were denied because they were not a charity. They ended up being a 501(c)4, which is a social organization.
I can’t quite understand why the city continues with this stuff. If the commission feels they want a green market, then why don’t they just put it out to an RFP or RFQ. Let the person or organization that will pay the city the correct price will win the contract. We know that $2000 a year is not the right price.
A green market should also serve a civic purpose. That can be spelled out in the bid. Last week, according to the current market manager, only one vendor was selling produce out of 45. That needs to change.
Commissioner Bruner envisions a market with many more vendors. I am not so sure that Stuart can accommodate either all the space necessary or that there is business for more than 50 vendors. We just don’t have the population. So, let us have the market decide the location (either current or in the park itself) and which vendor to use.
The commission is comfortable with staff bringing back an RFP.
This reminds me of the county and its insistence that the annual fair can only be run by the self-named Martin County Fair Association. That is just as nonsensical as keeping the so-called Stuart Green Market. There is nothing magic in a name or organization. Both events should go to the organization best able to perform.
You can find a short presentation here
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Stuart Latest News From The February 14, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING JANUARY 25, 2021
Commissioners McDonald and Matheson are Stuart’s representatives to the MPO. During commissioner comments, they spoke about two proposed projects that may be done. The first was providing another left-hand turning lane on Kanner Highway onto Federal. That would have resulted in only one remaining lane for going straight or turning right. The project is on hold for now. At some point, there will have to be more right of way provided to accomplish that.
The second project was the doing away of the hot right from Federal Highway onto Palm City Road. While in the past I have not been in favor of that, it may be time to give it another look. Within the entire area, traffic is becoming more and more a problem.
Currently, there is a study being conducted of the Federal Highway corridor by the Treasure Coast Planning Council. Palm City Road, local side streets, Kanner between Monterey and Federal, and Monterey from Kanner to the bridge should be studied. There needs to be a more seamless way of getting from Point A to Point B. The study should also look at a complete street concept including a road diet for Federal Highway.
VAPING & PLASTICS
The second reading of the 18-21 Vaping Ordinance should have been a simple thing.
Instead, it was turned into a problem because it did not mirror the county by having licensing requirements. The city is not the county. While the county will be citing the violators which, eventually, could impair their ability to continue in business. In the city’s case, the fine will be assessed on the owner of the property. Which is better? Both have plusses and minuses.
First let’s remember the age to purchase cigarettes is already 21 throughout Florida and is a Federal law. Nothing there is changing. Last year, the Florida Legislature introduced a bill that would not raise the legal age for purchasing of vaping products from 18 to 21 but did ban flavored ones. This resulted in the governor’s veto. The age to buy these products then remained at 18 even though federal law, which supersedes state law, is 21.
Both Martin County and Stuart decided to step into the breach and raise the age to 21 for vapes. Both ordinances will do that. So why all the fuss? A county commissioner, a lobbyist, and a member of the county attorney’s staff decided to speak by Zoom to the commission to recommend that their ordinance include a license.
The city commissioners began interacting with all three of the speakers. I guess if you are a friend then it is no longer public comment where the commission listens for 3 minutes and take what they hear under advisement. What really irked me was the commission having the county attorney critiquing its own ordinance which had been crafted by their own attorney. The county commission would have never stood for it if the roles were reversed.
McDonald introduced fines of $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second, and $1000 for the third and subsequent ones plus, in all cases, a mandatory $300 magistrate’s appearance fee as part of the ordinance. It would be enforced by Code Enforcement. The motion was seconded by Matheson and passed 5-0.
There was a discussion item regarding single use plastics on city property including parks. After two years of “education,” it is now time to enforce penalties and fines.
I do not know whether the Boat Show violated the ordinance, but the Martin Luther King celebration certainly did. The ordinance calls for progressive fines. The city can keep the security deposit and refuse to give the organization another permit. The fines are levied against the permit holder.
The city is preempted from banning single use plastic in general throughout the city except for plastic straws. At around the same time of the single use plastic ordinance, the city banned the use of straws. Now the time for education is over and there are penalties attached.
In both instances, Stuart stands alone. The county has refused to do the same. If tomorrow, the state (better yet the federal government) was to ban the use of all single use plastic, I would applaud the effort. Several states have already passed bans. With only seven square miles of land, Stuart is trying to be an ecological utopia.
The city and county will spend taxpayer resources to enforce ordinances that most of us find silly. Local government is often preempted because they stray from their governmental lanes. They should stick to things that are truly local in nature such as development and public works.
I predict the state will pass its own vaping law preempting localities as they did with tobacco. I predict that they will preempt locals from banning plastic straws. And at some point, the chamber will fill with businesspeople and residents incensed at the park ban of plastics. That will result in a repeal of that ordinance.
COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 8, 2020
Utilities & Engineering Director Tim Voelker gave an excellent presentation on the new water system going in over the next few years.
It is very technical, and his presentation can be found here
The nearly $20 million price tag for the pipelines, wells and reverse osmosis system is necessary for the utility. The cost is high and rate payers already feel the burden. My bills for the utility now rival my FPL bills in the winter months when the air conditioning is off. Is there anything that can be done?
I doubt it because the Stuart utility doesn’t have enough rate payers to equally share in these large very necessary capital expenses. Another result of Stuart’s decision to not grow. Being a full-service city is expensive, and there needs to be a large population to support all the services.
Though the city provides water and sewer to a district that is larger than the current city boundaries, the utility is prevented from growing further because Martin County’s utility is everywhere else. At some point within the next decade or so, the city may find that their residents cannot afford the charges. Then what happens? A merge with Martin County utilities will not be out of the question.
There is a cost to the no-growth, little-town philosophy. To have local government costs money…more and more every year. You can spread the cost out over many users, or you must charge more to each user, or you can cut services. The same people that are now complaining about growth will complain when the cost of government increases to them or services cut.
WHAT IS A COP TO DO?
For some time now, America has been dealing with the issue of how a police officer should act when enforcing the law and even which laws to enforce. There has even been questions about whether officers should respond at all to calls when a mentally ill person is involved or domestic disputes. More progressive thought would say social workers and mental health professionals should be involved.
It appears that commissioners in Stuart want its cops to respond to all types of calls even those that have nothing to do with policing.
At this meeting, several commissioners announced officers’ involvement on projects that at best have a very tangential relationship to law enforcement and in one case nothing at all.
We have all heard about having an “undercover cop” to identify the irresponsible fishing folks who leave trash on the Old Roosevelt Bridge. That is one commissioner’s idea. If those that use the bridge as their fishing hole can’t take away their garbage and fish guts, then let an officer go undercover to whip out his ticket book. The city has already placed garbage cans and sends employees to clean up after the offenders.
Why can’t you just prevent fishing if those doing so leave a mess? There is no constitutional right to fish off the bridge. It blocks the sidewalk so that walkers and joggers end up in the road creating a hazard. There is a pier below to allow water access. And cops are expensive. If my kids made a mess, they were obligated to clean it up…not me. Tax dollars can be used for other things.
Then there is the job fair being held. Originally it was strictly for those seeking information about becoming members of Stuart PD. Commissioner Matheson has now muscled in and made it a job fair for all. The Business Development Board will now assist as part of its $25,000 contract with the city (or as I like to say their welfare check). It will be held at the public safety building on M.L.K. What was once a police initiative has grown a bit.
And, then the attendees learned about Commissioner McDonald’s discussion with two patrol officers about the homeless. When he mentioned he was working with the two officers to come up with a program at the meeting, you could see that the chief (who was present) had not the slightest idea what was going on. Nothing that was discussed at the commission meeting had been vetted by the city manager, police chief, police captains, or even a sergeant.
During public comment, Helen McBride, a citizen activist, spoke about speeding on East Ocean and how the city needs more police and maybe should hire more to do traffic enforcement. Indeed, they will need to hire more if we expand their job descriptions to include programs for the homeless, job counseling, and undercover litter patrol.
Commissioner Meier might just be getting it. He quietly just said Stuart cannot be responsible for some things. In the normal course of his patrol, a cop can give a summons for littering. It isn’t the city’s obligation to provide a place for individuals to fish if they can’t “police” themselves. A cop is not a jobs counselor. So far, there are a few civilian employers signed up for the job fair such as Chipotle and Lowes both of which hire people by online applications.
Even if the BDB brings a dozen more such companies to the fair, all chains use the same process of internet applications to hire people. This is just a flimsy justification to give them that $25,000 dollars of Stuart tax dollars. Career Source has been tapped to assist.
Career Source is specifically funded to help employers and employees find each other and has training programs. It is on Central Parkway. They are open five days per week. Their number is 772-214-3174 and their information-extensive website can be found here
The homeless is a much more challenging issue. It is not one that can be solved by the City of Stuart. The police must often deal with that population because they are on private property or in our parks. This is a national and state problem. The county does not want nor do they have the funds necessary to have any shelter program. The 7 square miles that encompasses Stuart does not have the resources either.
There needs to be some balance here. The city manager needs to do his job and place some order and procedures in affect. It can’t be every commissioner with an idea trying to execute it. In some municipalities, commissioners can only speak with the manager. Stuart has a more reasonable and relaxed policy.
Commissioners should be able to obtain information from department heads. They should be able to speak to the employees just like any other citizen to see what is going on in the trenches. It is impossible for commissioners to become program coordinators. Like Meier said, Stuart can’t do everything.
STRAWS & HIDDEN KEY
The city has begun enforcing the straw ordinance. It seems that the more well-known businesses are complying and not using plastic straws. We have saved the planet. What will come first…the state preempting the city’s ability to have such an ordinance or the state having a statewide ban?
To see who received citations go here
Almost two and half hours into the meeting, the commission finally did something that is in their wheelhouse. They approved a small infill project of 1.36 acres on Kanner Highway abutting property owned by ARC.
The rental property will be 2 stories and consist of 28 apartments. It is a good project for a piece of property where it would be hard to do anything else. The complete presentations with renderings can be found here
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Stuart Latest News From The January 24, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING JANUARY 11, 2021
The meeting began at the new time of 4 pm for the first meeting of the month. It went rather smoothly.
I want to thank Mayor Clarke about her kind words regarding the newsletter during her comments. During his comments, Commissioner Matheson mentioned that the board should not rush through agenda items. Commissioner Bruner apologized for doing just that at the last meeting. Both Matheson and Bruner made their points in a graceful way.
Agenda items need not be rushed. Development projects and other approvals coming before the commission need to be thoughtfully weighed. At the same time, there doesn’t need to be belabored points and windy self-serving speeches made from the dais. There is a happy medium.
There were only two matters of any importance. The first was the annexation of 4 city-owned parcels within the county. They are currently adjacent to Haney Creek park and have been zoned with low density uses. The property was bought using grant funds meant for conservation.
Once annexed, the city will designate them to be as conservation and therefore will never be developed. It just makes sense that since the city owns the parcels, it also has legal jurisdiction. Now if there is a law enforcement matter, since the parcels are in the county, the sheriff must be called to handle it instead of Stuart Police Dept which does not have jurisdiction in the county.
The vote was 5-0
Staff’s presentation can be found here
The other matter was the adoption of a tobacco sales ordinance that mirrors the county’s ordinance. It makes sense that both jurisdictions have the same restrictions.
The ordinance can be found here
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Stuart Latest News From The January 10, 2021 Edition
In keeping with Friends & Neighbors policy, I asked newly elected Mayor Eula Clarke to tell us about her upcoming year as mayor.
Happy New Year! It is truly an honor to serve again as Mayor of Stuart. I am honored and humbled and look forward to serving you in 2021.
First, I promise to work with our community members to ensure that our City remains vibrant as we continue to face the challenges to our businesses, churches, schools and homes and especially our non-profit organizations due to the impact of COVID 19. As a City we will strive to maintain high quality customer service and continue with our community partnerships and collaboration to provide essential services and keep our City functioning.
In 2021, the Referendum which passed in 2019 to go from “two year term” to “four year term” will take effect and going forward Commissioners will serve 4 year terms limited to up to 3 consecutive terms. This will start in a staggered fashion in the August 2021 Elections.
Our City of Stuart has been a Florida Municipality for 106 years now… and we have much to look forward to. My goals which I hope our Commission and the entire community will embrace are as follows:
- BALANCED DEVELOPMENT: Approve and work on achieving balance development while maintaining and increasing our public green space.
- UNITY IN THE COMMUNITY-Working together with nonprofits, individuals, churches, businesses and law enforcement towards a harmonious community.
- CLEAN RIVER/CLIMATE CHANGE – Support groups and organizations who are working to help clean up the St. Lucie River and Okeechobee waterway by our stewardship as a City and focused and agile collaboration.
- CLEAN STREETS – Having a clean environment is vital to attracting new development and is a sign of positive revitalization. I plan to work with residents in our community to focus on East Stuart and surrounding neighborhoods to clean up trash, plant trees and upgrade homes and yards to increase habitability and community harmony.
- CREATING AN ARTS AND CULTURAL DISTRICT FOR EAST STUART -Gathering and using historical information to enhance revitalization in this area by using various street scape designs and creating a Historic Walking Tour/Markers to highlight the iconic history of East Stuart members since its inception in Martin County in 1913.
- PRIORITIZING AND IMPLEMENTING OUR STRATEGIC AND SUSTAINABILITY PLAN. We can have Prosperity through Sustainability. We will always strive to be fiscally responsible and transparent.
- KEEPING STUART BUSINESSES OPEN DURING THE PANDEMIC AND SUPPORTING ALL CDC GUIDELINES
- SUPPORTING SMALL BUSINESS AND SHOPPING LOCAL.
- CONTINUE PARTNERSHIP WITH COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS.
- FIND INNOVATIVE WAYS TO DEVELOP AND IMPLEMENT AFFORDABLE ATTAINABLE HOUSING
I am here to listen and learn from you and more importantly to work with you. Please let me know your concerns. In addition to working to implement a sustainable development plan, our Community Redevelopment agency has a motto “Preserving our Past while Embracing our Future” and this is truly a code to live by in 2021. Remember, We are a Better, More vibrant Stuart when we collaborate to make Stuart an Awesome Place to Live Work and Play!
CITY COMMISSION MEETING DECEMBER 14, 2020
Commissioner Eula Clarke was elected unanimously by her peers to be Mayor for the year. Commissioner Matheson was elected Vice-Mayor. I want to congratulate Clarke on her mayoralty. It may prove to be a tough year financially for the city. And I hope she and the other commissioners do not go on quixotic journeys when Stuart will probably need a way to do more with less.
It was a testament to Matheson’s abilities to be able to have Col. Andrew Kelly of the Army Corps come and brief the commission. To me, the best thing that Kelly said was that the Corps was 100% committed to completing the reservoir south of the lake. Given the noise that the new Florida Senate President, Wilton Simpson, was making about cutting the project, Kelly’s words were comforting.
Kelly stated that the release of water would continue through January 9th. The need is to have the Lake down to below 11 feet before the wet season next summer. Though this year’s dry season is off to a wet start.
Matheson asked good hypothetical questions of Kelly that he wasn’t expected to answer such as what does flood control mean? Is it preventing water from entering homes and businesses? Can a watershed be flooded? What does zero releases mean?
To Matheson, any water that is running into the river from canals and the lake is unnatural. Originally, the St. Lucie River was not connected to Lake Okeechobee. It isn’t even a real river because it has no headwaters. In the 1890s, the settlers dug an inlet to the ocean. In the early 1900s, they dug a canal connecting it to the Lake. We have been screwing up the “river” for over 130 years.
To borrow an old, hackneyed phrase, “we have met the enemy and he is us!”
JUST WHEN I THOUGH IT WAS GETTING BETTER
The first part of the meeting that began at 4 pm didn’t get down to enacting resolutions and ordinances for the first three hours. Some of that time was the Army Corps’ presentation. Yet the meeting still was full of an arts moment, employee recognitions, employee of the month, 2021 calendar photo winners, and a completely useless Covid update from the Department of Health.
By the time that Item 17 rolled around, which was the first time they were approving anything that mattered, some commissioners were apparently too tired to allow for discussion. Commissioner Bruner moved Tom Lucido’s project before the title was even announced. I think Bruner was ready to vote right then and there. This went on for the rest of the meeting.
Clarke tried valiantly to stick with meeting protocol, but it was her first meeting as mayor. Michael Mortell, the city attorney, had to chime in that staff and the applicant were speaking without being sworn in. They were supposed to be giving testimony not shooting the bull. By the end of the evening, Manager Dyess had to say that by not even giving a chance to Mortell to read the title of the resolution or ordinance, the commission could be opening themselves up to problems.
Perhaps, it is time for Stuart to emulate the county and start at least one meeting a month even earlier. The commission and manager still need to do some fine tuning on meeting protocol. Since most times, our commissioners are verbose, the manager will need to limit the items on the agenda so that things like Savannah Place are given the discussion they deserve.
Employees are important. But when the commission devotes the same amount of time to an employee of the month recognition or an acoustical guitarist as they do a multimillion-dollar development project, it shows the system is broken.
Tom Lucido, a local planner, has owned a strip of land on Georgia and Osceola for many years. He has decided to build up to 5 cottages. He will be starting with one. It is a great idea but is it the right location?
Stuart has bought the Wells Fargo property which includes the Cancer Center and the small office building adjacent. The bank building will be the new city hall, but while the Cancer Center has a long-term lease, the nearly empty adjacent strip center is ripe for development. The parking lot that is in the rear and to the side of the bank will not stay as a lot. Mr. Lucido’s cottages will be overwhelmed by larger structures.
It may make some sort of sense for him to sell his piece to the city. If those cottages are built, I have a feeling that they will be offices before too long. It is a great idea and in other less dense areas, it would be a great addition. I believe the time has passed for new cottages at that spot.
To see the excellent design power point, go here
Savannah Place was supposed to be built with 10 units of housing priced at 80% of the AMI. That was the deal that was made when the commission approved the project. If my memory serves me right, it was the developers own idea.
Somewhere along the line that developer sold the PUD to another developer. This new company wanted to get out of that obligation. So, staff and the developer came up with a magical, mystical, miraculous formula that would allow him to pay more than $252,000 to the city. It would be paid to a “housing fund” that doesn’t exist and has no rules to be used for something having to do with housing once the fund and the rules are established.
No one ever claimed that commissioners were practical. And this certainly proves it. The magical, mystical, miraculous formula was concocted by the development department and apparently the city’s finance department had nothing whatsoever to do with this. Clarke asked why wasn’t the finance director involved? That was a very cogent observation.
Meier thought it was too much at once and while it was billed as a slight modification it really isn’t. As a small city with limited staff, he thinks Stuart is not capable of administering such a fund. He equated it to a new impact fee.
Matheson did not understand where the math came from. As a Certified Property Manager, Real Estate Broker, and CCIM for 50 years, I know that the outcome derived using formulas is only as good as the assumptions used. He also wanted to know whether this would make the PUD process seem as pay to play.
Then an affordable, attainable, workforce housing group that has yet to do anything more than plan, wanted to get their hands on the money. And that ultimately is the problem with all this type of “do goodism.” The City of Stuart is far too tiny to make much of a difference in the quality of the river or solving a housing shortage for those that need help.
The commission could have done one of two things. First it could have required the developer to abide by the deal that had been made. He bought the PUD knowing the terms. When built, it would have resulted in 10 apartments being available below market.
Or the commission could have said that it needed time to explore this possibility. It could have postponed deciding until it had discussed whether this was a good deal or not. What is the rush?
It appears to me in this instance that the city staff is not serving the commissioners very well. This should have never come to them in this form with none of the details worked out and without the imprimatur of the director of finance. The city manager owes it to his commission to bring items that have been vetted thoroughly.
A motion was made by Bruner and seconded by McDonald to take the money and release the developer from that obligation. It passed 3-2 with Meier and Matheson voting no.
You can see the presentations here including the magical, mystical, miraculous formula here
If you want affordable housing, then build more housing. In economic terms, real estate is a perfect market. Supply and demand really work. The more new units that are built, the less expensive the older units become. Affordable, attainable, workforce housing is usually not the newest units built. Unless federal funds, can be obtained the old type of housing projects are not coming back.
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Stuart Latest News From The December 13, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING NOVEMBER 23, 2020
This was a quiet meeting.
There was some discussion about masks. Stuart, Martin County, and Sewall’s Point now have in place a recommendation that people wear masks in public. There is no enforcement provision since the governor has taken the power to do so away from local government. The Village of Indiantown is more stringent in requiring masks but still has no enforcement provision.
I don’t expect Stuart or any other Martin County government to pass any new mandates. It would be foolish given that the governor has removed the proverbial stick from local government to enforce anything. Governor DeSantis, for better or worse, now owns the mask issue and no local elected officials need do anything more.
The city adopted its legislative priorities for the next session. The big one is that they are looking for a million dollars for their alternate water supply project. Stuart has been successful in the past, but the state is projecting huge budget shortfalls for tax collection. The anticipated shortfall in 2020 is $1.9 billion and in 2021, $3.4 billion. It is not likely that Stuart will receive anything from Tallahassee this or next year.
A handy chart from the Center of Budget & Policy Priorities gives these numbers for all the states. It can be found here
The other outlined priorities are the ones that are adopted every year including sales tax being remitted by online and out of state retailers. Others include coastal resiliency and environmental sustainability priorities and, of course, short-term rentals. There are others, and if they cost money or take away control from Tallahassee, they probably will not pass.
To see all of the priorities go here
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Stuart Latest News From The November 22, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING NOVEMBER 9, 2020
Starting the meeting at 4 pm once a month has been a great idea. The proclamations, awards, and arts moment being done earlier is best for making sure that the commission is not voting on issues of importance at 10 pm. For instance, after all the above was done, several presentations were made, and the public and commissioners made their comments. It took over 2 hours. If that meeting had begun at 5:30, then the “business” portion where the commission votes on items wouldn’t have started until after 7:30. This is much better.
THE BUSINESS OF WATER AND ITS QUALITY
Dr. Beth Falls from ORCA conducted a study at Shepards Park regarding shoreline quality. The study showed that there was nitrogen and phosphorus going into the water from both the drains and shore. This contributes to the high muck content on the bottom of the river. The muck is responsible for much of the turbidity, and it prevents both plant and animal life from inhabiting the river.
Having shoreline plantings will reduce the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into the river. There will be a demonstration project at the park to see how much of those elements are reduced. Much of the shoreline in the City of Stuart and Martin County have bulkheads.
If planting certain grasses and bushes along the shoreline can curb the pollutants, then more property owners may get on the band wagon.
You can find the entire presentation here
Next up was Mac Stuckey’s presentation on why the city should have an environmental department with a lawyer to monitor and stop the discharges from the Corps. This is an idea he has been advocating for a number of years. While he is sincere in what he believes, I do not think that this is the right action for the City of Stuart.
Mr. Stuckey has said that you can’t trust Martin County to do anything because the agriculture industry contributes too much to the BOCC election campaigns. But Martin County is doing something, and quite a bit. They have several scientists on staff and 40+ consultants to help in the LORS process and to deal with the Army Corps of Engineers and SFWMD. Their efforts are being paid for by the county’s General Fund which all Martin County taxpayers (including those within the city) pay into.
Stuckey also expressed dissatisfaction with the state and SFWMD. Yet on November 12th SFWMD unanimously approved full funding ($64 million) for the EAA Reservoir Project’s STA which will send more water south when completed. Further the Corps has been much more amenable to listening to the concerns of Martin County in recent years.
Stuart has about 2 miles of shoreline. The St. Lucie flows for miles and miles before Stuart, and it goes on a bit more after leaving the city before reaching the lagoon. Mac mentioned how clean the water was in1956 when he first came here. Stuart then had a population of a little over 3000 people and Martin County had 10,000 overall. It was the county seat of a farming area. Stuart may still be the county seat, but it is only about 10% of Martin County’s population today.
It is still a farming area. Many of our problems are caused by runoff but not just agricultural runoff. There are now thousands of homes with septic systems contributing to the problem. During the recent flooding, Sewall’s Point had the Health Department do a study of the standing water and it found fecal coliform material. This is just not a problem caused by the discharges.
The days of thinking that Stuart can solve the problems of our water are over. The city needs to work with Martin County, our state representatives, the SFWMD and the Corps to solve the extremely complicated problems we face. Mr. Stuckey’s idea that by starting lawsuits, money will flow from others to pay for the legal action is not realistic.
The 16,500 residents of Stuart will never have the financial or technical ability to match the Corps in court. Collaboration is the only way to solve this problem. Commissioners who think spending a couple of hundred thousand dollars on an attorney would be fruitful are wrong. The next steps should be working with our partners rather than turning them into enemies.
Stuckey’s handout to the commission can be found here
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Stuart Latest News From The November 20, 2020 Edition
CRA MEETING OCTOBER 26, 2020
I became an even bigger fan of City Clerk Mary Kindel during this meeting.
She did an excellent presentation about how a meeting should be conducted. For some time, the city’s meetings have come to resemble freewheeling college discussion groups rather than parliamentary governmental meetings. This has caused them to be much longer than necessary and more unproductive.
Public Comment had devolved into Socratic question and answer periods between the commission and the public speaker instead of its intended purpose. It was devised so that the public could let their elected officials know what is on their minds. During general comment, they can speak on any topic if they are civil. The commission is not supposed to respond or answer questions.
When it comes to public comment on a specific topic before a vote on a motion, again the purpose is for the commission to hear from them. Perhaps a member of the public will bring something up that may influence how a commissioner will vote. It is not to rehash or explain either the project or procedure.
The clerk did a great job, and it should be repeated often for the commission and the various volunteer boards.
The presentation can be found here
COMMISSION MEETING OCTOBER 26, 2020
Stuart is good at winning awards. It is especially good at awards that are predicated on receiving votes by the public…even when the same members of the public can vote repeatedly. Stuart won another award like this.
The “Great Places in Florida People’s Choice Award” is bestowed by the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association. And like the Coastal Living award received in 2016 for “Happiest Seaside Town,” Stuart will add the latest award to its marketing material. Let’s not lose sight that all the awards in the world are not a substitute for being attractive for business.
INFILL LOTS AND WATER RETENTION
A problem has occurred regarding building homes on vacant infill lots.
When a new home is being built, the builder sometimes decides to place fill on the lot. This could result in raising the new home where rainwater would runoff to the neighboring properties. Most older homes were built before current regulations requiring storm water management. Once the new home is built, then there is a problem for the neighbors.
Staff wants to have standards requiring the builders to hold the water on site. Using required gutters and French drains, this can be accomplished. There would be another requirement for an engineer create a stormwater lot grading plan.
How much money will an engineer charge for this purpose and add to the cost of development? Is it hundreds or thousands of dollars? By designing such a plan, would the engineer be liable if the neighbor’s property flooded? Would the engineer’s insurance cover that contingency? Will it be one more thing that makes building a house for a middle-class family an impossibility?
A motion was made to approve on 1st reading by McDonald and seconded by Matheson. It passed 5-0. Those questions are to be answered by 2nd reading. The presentation can be found here
Stuart has proposed to reduce setbacks and minimum lot sizes in R 2 and R 3 zoning areas.
It probably is a good idea because, in some cases with current setback requirements, you can’t build a house on a property. This could result in more affordable homes being built in the city. The discussion then went further afield.
Mayor Meier suggested allowing multi-families, but there are plenty of places to do that now without looking in these zones. Cottage lots could be encouraged. The best way to have more affordable housing is to allow small ancillary buildings on lots.
You can create apartments over garages or “Mother-daughter” units in rear yards. Those ancillary units could be limited to one story and 600 square feet. Live/work arrangements limited to certain occupations could be allowed in ancillary buildings. Development that allows for more affordable home ownership is what the city should strive to accomplish.
A few weeks ago, there was a proposal to have scooter rentals in the city. As I wrote at the time, I thought it was just one more bad idea for staff to administer instead of devoting the time needed for economic development.
The city asked Main Street to conduct a survey as to what Main Street stakeholders thought regarding this idea. It was not embraced by most. The survey is attached here
Everything is stated in the survey. It doesn’t look like there is enough consensus to move forward. We are not a place that requires that type of amenity for our visitors. Any resident who wants to use a scooter, whether motorized or not, can certainly do so. All they need to do is buy one and it is certainly a very affordable toy to own. I have never seen anyone using such a device in the city. It’s a cool sounding idea but nothing else.
Stuart Latest News From The October 18, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING OCTOBER 13, 2020
This was the first meeting with the new starting time of 4 pm for the first meeting of the month. It was thought that the new time would allow for the Arts Moment, proclamations, and employee recognitions to be done earlier. In that way, meetings would not have to go on until 10 pm or later. In that respect, it absolutely was a success.
Yet I wonder why the meeting must recess and then resume at 5:30. What is the magic time about that witching hour. There are no more people in the audience to hear the mostly self-serving comments of Commissioners. Or is public comment more relevant then than later? Just let the meeting continue.
Speaking of public comment, the City should take a cue from the County. Public comment is not a question and answer session with the commenter. If a question can be answered briefly, the City Manager or Attorney could address it then or ask that the speaker contact them the next day.
When the chair and the other Commissioners are so solicitous of every speaker, the meeting becomes longer and longer. It is not fair to everyone else at the meeting. Please, Commissioners, bring back procedures that were followed for years. It allowed the public to comment without the colloquy and endless back and forth. The Commission is there to hear from the public…not to discuss issues or answer questions from the dais.
I did like the idea that there was an extended discussion period after the proclamations. It gave the Commissioners an opportunity to go into depth. D&D (Discussion & Deliberation) usually occurs at the end of the meeting when people are tired. This is a much better place to have discussion.
During that period, Commissioner Matheson gave an in-depth presentation detailing that the Corps of Engineers will begin releasing 1800 CFS (Cubic Feet Per Second) from the Lake per day which will flow directly into the river. That means 1.16 billion gallons will be released into the river every day that the releases continue at that level.
The lake is currently at 16.1 feet. We went into the wet season at an 11 feet level. We have had record rains this season. Matheson believes there has been a cultural shift by the Corps and South Florida Water Management District in favor of retention. That is good. Matheson and Ben Hogarth, the staff person assigned, have been on the weekly call with the Corps and have been reaching out to a variety of officials.
Mr. Stuckey, a County resident who has advocated for a possible lawsuit against the Corps by the City, will present his ideas for establishing a City department at the first meeting in November. According to Matheson, his presentation will take 20 to 30 minutes. Once hearing the presentation, Ben Hogarth will bring back cost estimates at a later meeting.
Commissioner McDonald wanted to have the Corps there also. But both Matheson and Meier thought that it was not needed for that meeting. I think McDonald is correct to have all there. I would even have the County environmental representative(s) present.
For some reason, the City is acting as if Stuart is not part of Martin County. The County has assembled a formidable team to advocate with both the Corps and SFWMD. The money to pay for those experts comes out of the general fund which all Martin County taxpayers are assessed including Stuart.
The County Commission has voted to put together a board comprised of an elected representative of every municipality to meet and understand how the County is proceeding on our behalf. Both Commissioner Hetherington and Smith that both represent portions of Stuart have not pushed for that Committee to begin operation. They need to do so immediately.
The Stuart Commission needs not to be so parochial. They need to call on County resources to accomplish the City’s goal. Matheson, as the Commission point person, should be knocking on the doors of not only Hetherington and Smith but also the other three County Commissioners. Dyess and Taryn Kryzda, the County Administrator, should be working in tandem on this issue. Stuart’s size, both in area and population, creates distinct disadvantage in moving the discussion forward. Martin County is a much better vehicle for getting things done for stopping the discharges.
Stuart Latest News From The October 4, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETINGS SEPTEMBER 28, 2020
Last week, there was a workshop on Main Street. I am going to leave others to comment on that organization for the time being since I have just stepped down from being involved. The other part of that same workshop was on the future resiliency in the City. I would imagine much of what is doable is conditioned on the County, Florida, and Washington.
Stuart’s public comment is turning into an “ask the Commissioners” forum. The point is for the Commission to listen to the public commenting which should aid them in their decision making. It is not to answer anyone’s questions nor intended as an information session. If anybody has a question or expects resolution of a problem, they should make a phone call, send an email, or make a visit to City Hall to get an answer.
When anything but public comment occurs, the Mayor should direct the City Manager or a staff person to take the citizen aside to find the answer for the citizen after the meeting or make an appointment to discuss. Commissioners need to be silent. The School Board reads a statement before public comment stating that Board Members will not talk back to the public during their public comment. This is a good rule.
Other business at the meeting included the announcement that the Visiting Nurse Association will not have the Christmas Parade this year due to COVID.
The Commission also wants staff to begin issuing event permits when they think it is appropriate.
With the expiration of the Governor’s order regarding government meetings being allowed to take place electronically, the old rules are now in effect. Boards and the Commission, which never did meet electronically, will be back in the chamber. As a member of a board, I believe it is much more beneficial to see my fellow members and to listen to presentations in person.
Zoom will be continued for those at home and the public may still comment that way.
During his comments, Mayor Meier touched on an issue that was important…what is the role of government regarding historic properties? That entire subject is a conundrum for Stuart. It should be discussed. Yet, I am afraid there are so many well-meaning people who do not understand the meaning of what an historical structure is.
Is the Walton Building, that is supposedly moving from a City lot to a parking lot, truly historical? Stuart residents seem to believe that being old is a qualifier. That is not necessarily true. Over the years, the Walton Building has been so significantly changed that it no longer even possesses the characteristics that would warrant historical preservation. Having a walk-in refrigerator on the back of the 450 sq. foot building, a cooking ventilator system, and modern air conditioning units in plain visible site is a structure that has been changed significantly since built.
The proposed use as a fast-food take-out restaurant will preclude the public from being allowed inside. Just as the outside structure has been brought up to modern standards, the inside bears no resemblance to Walton’s office of the 1920s. There isn’t even a re-creation of that office for the public to look at. For both the interior and exterior of the building, there is nothing architecturally deserving to be preserved.
Lastly, what happened inside the building historically that would warrant preservation? Mr. Walton built several buildings in Stuart in the first half of the 20th century most notably the Lyric Theater. If someone bought the Lyric and wanted to tear it down, I would be the first to condemn the action. Walton’s office in essence was a construction trailer. He probably had a desk, tools, and a telephone. There was nothing of historic significance that transpired there.
I am using that building as an example of what is wrong with confusing historical with old. The owner of that building has every right to move it, put a fast-food restaurant in it or tear it down. While historical preservation should be considered, government should not be the deciding factor in what is and is not historical. Nor should it determine whether a property owner can make alterations to his property or even tear it down.
LDR AMENITY GUIDELINES
After thorough discussion on 2nd Reading, the Commission changed the awarding of points for including certain characteristics when developers want to present a PUD. While several things are still listed as aspirational considerations, there is nothing that will now be mandatory. In my opinion, giving points was a bad idea.
Meier seems to want to have projects done under straight zoning as much as possible. In an entity larger than Stuart, that may be desirable. But within the City’s small geographical area, it would prove problematic. For years, I have wrestled with the two concepts for Stuart and, more broadly, Martin County. I have concluded that the PUD process is the way to go.
The PUD process guarantees the public’s ability to become involved when projects are proposed. As an example, Meier was concerned about the storage facility that was going up on Federal Highway. He thought it may be an inappropriate use. Yet though it is comprised of tall structures that will eventually be more pleasing to the eye once finished, it was the best possible use given that it has small single-family residences on two sides.
Would the proposed gas station and convenience store have been a better solution for the neighborhood? What about a Walgreens? Meier mentioned that the gas station was caboshed because of a traffic study and that is true. The real impetus was that the neighborhood came out to oppose the use when it came before the Commission. The traffic study done by the applicant showed no problem. It was the study done by the City, which was ordered after the neighbors complained, that the Commission relied upon. If there was no PUD process, then perhaps that gas station would be there now.
It was also mentioned that certain uses could be prohibited. That is true and, in some cases, would be justified. However, while you and I may not like self-storage units, the market tells us otherwise. In the need for straight zoning, do we ignore the property rights of owners? These are tricky questions that the PUD process addresses.
McDonald moved to approve the ordinance without a point system. It was seconded by Matheson. It passed 4-1 with Meier dissenting.
The presentation can be found here
The Commission discussed the merits of a company coming to Stuart and being given the right to rent electric scooters to the public. This would be done through a phone app using geo-fencing so that the scooters would stay within the designated area allowed.
It appeared the only one that was a full-fledged supporter was Meier. The other Commissioners had reservations about liability, whether they should be allowed downtown, who was the market going to be, and other concerns. The proposal had Stuart receiving no compensation for allowing the use.
In the last newsletter, I wrote how silly this venture seemed to me. Based on our demographic, which skews older both for our residents and visitors, who would rent the scooters? If any residents thought using one was a good idea, they would already own one. From not being allowed downtown to having them parked on Martin Luther King Drive, where you would pick them up, it seems impractical.
Sometimes Stuart forgets how small we are. How all the cool things may be great in Miami but just do not work here. We have tried valet parking. We have a golf cart ordinance that allows for golf carts on City streets after going through an inspection and having insurance. I don’t remember the last time I saw one downtown.
The City Commission needs to stop trying to be cool and instead concentrate on more important things.
Stuart Latest News From The September 20, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETINGS SEPTEMBER 14, 2020
The Commission passed next year’s budget. They will have another and final budget meeting on September 28th.
During public comment, someone bemoaned that our “quaint seaside community” was being developed on its fringes with new apartments. Stuart should not be annexing into the City these tracts of land, she claimed. The commenter does not understand that is exactly why annexation is in Florida statute.
As development occurs, it can be sprawl or it can be what Stuart has done over the past few years. There are 1000 people moving to Florida a day. You cannot put up a fence or close your borders to the rest of America. There are now 330 million Americans and Florida has 21.5 million of them which is 2 million more than New York State.
The only way that Martin County farmland and ranch land can be saved is by more urbanization not less. The idea that the only way to live is in a home on one acre is unsustainable. That promotes sprawl and the destruction of open area for very low density and expensive housing. That is why the only hope not to become Broward is to allow multifamily development in municipalities.
Counties were never meant to provide services like fire, water, garbage collection, or parks. When an area had enough people that supported having those services, it was supposed to become a municipality. On your tax bill in unincorporated Martin County, there are lines for MSTUs which stands for Municipal Service Taxing Units. Taxes to pay for those services are a complete bastardization of our model of government. Unincorporated Martin County should not have condos or multi-family rental housing, it should be contained within municipalities.
] COURTESY OF DWELL
When property owners/developers ask to be incorporated into Stuart so that they can build one of those apartment communities, that is what the legislature had designed. In the next three years, we will have a million more Floridians. There can be “sprawl” to accommodate them or a plan for doing so. Without a plan and urbanization, farmland will become tract housing because the land will be too expensive for the owners not to sell out.
Once again, Stuart will be turned into one big traffic jam to accommodate the 47th Stuart Boat Show. Dixie highway will be closed, including the Old Roosevelt Bridge, from January 12th through January 18th.
The show has all the right intentions. They will have police. Buses to take people from the show on closed Dixie Highway to the parking lot at the airport. Martin County does have boat builders and brokers, so it does help the local economy, I guess. But, to what extent is a question I have had for years.
Sales tax collected at the show go to the locality where the boat is registered. Generally, sales taxes that are collected in Martin County and Stuart are sent to Tallahassee which keeps over 90%. The County eventually receives a check for about 8% and Stuart receives about 10% of that amount.
When Meier asked the show’s organizer to give a breakdown about how much money it generates, the organizers could not. Practically speaking, though, if you come to the show located north of the bridge, park at Witham Field and take a bus from there to the show, you are not eating Downtown.
The result is that we will continue to inconvenience residents and businesses for a week and have no idea if it is economically worth it. It is the kind of fuzzy-headed-thinking that Stuart is known for. The government and Commission like the “rah rah” but no analyzing is done to see whether there is a benefit. Of course, it passed unanimously.
WHAT IS HISTORIC
For some time now, people have called the old Walton Building historic. And why is that? It was built as the construction office for Sam Walton back in the 1920s. Some of its uses were as a hair salon, take out restaurant, and office supply store. The 450 sq ft building is in horrible shape.
The applicant wants to move the building from a city-owned lot to 209 Albany. He is not proposing to make it look as it did in the 1920s. There will be no museum and the public will not be allowed inside to look at a reproduction of Sam’s office.
The building will look much as it did before the move from where Azul stands now in 2016. It will be a takeout restaurant with a big walk-in freezer off the back. Very modern air conditioning will also be in visible sight. An “architectural gem” reminiscent of a take-out shack anywhere in America whether built in the 1920s or yesterday.
There are no architectural historical features that would warrant saving. It will look nothing like the office that Walton used for his company when he built the Lyric. Stuart has sentimental attachment to the old not the historical. The building is going to be used for a fast-food stand.
It does not conform to the master plan devised for Joan Jefferson Way where the lot will be located. Except for Meier, the Commission did not even mention the plan that the City paid thousands to have done. In fact, nowhere in the staff’s presentation did they even cite the plan or show a drawing of what should be approved.
If you have a plan, it needs to be followed. Colorado Avenue has had a plan for decades and not one project was approved that conforms to that plan. With much fanfare, the City created an arts district known as the Creek. What has changed to make it more of an arts district? The Arts Council wants to relocate to the old high school building which is another example of early 20th century nostalgia but not historic. That building is nowhere near the vaunted arts district.
The Commission approved moving the building to the location 3-2 with Meier and Matheson dissenting.
Bridgeview Apartments was approved on 2nd reading. The Commission did allow for the boardwalk to come back in at no more than 6 feet in width.
The Lone Palm development on Martin Luther King Blvd changed once more from 5 homes, two of which were duplexes, to 6 single family homes. The duplexes which were on MLK would have had 4 units total with two driveways on 75-foot-wide lots. Now there will be three homes with three driveways on 50-foot-wide lots. The developer has that as of right so no change in zoning. It will not be anywhere near as nice but the Hartmans, who are the developers, said that is what the neighbors wanted.
Sailfish Cove on Seminole was approved with a discussion having to do with the streets-cape. The CRA is planning to ask for a grant to redo the entire block. It probably will not happen until after the project is completed. Because they need to have parking to obtain their C/O, the developer must put in 4 parking spaces in front of the building. Without knowing the final City plan, the developer cannot know what to do. A compromise was reached that if the City has not done its work prior to December 2021, then the developer can complete his project without City interference.
All three items passed 5-0.
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.
How many parking spaces is in a lot? That is a difficult question to answer if you ask the owner of 209 S. Albany Avenue, Mark Brechbill. During the 15-minute discussion, I heard 33, 32, 3 and 22. The real number is important in determining what is going to be done.
Mark Brechbill owns the 450 square foot building that once sat where part of Azul is located today. The building was originally constructed to be the office of the man who built the Lyric Theater. It has been the home of several different businesses including a beauty salon. The building was last used for a failed hamburger joint named 33 Degrees.
Some consider it historic, so Mr. Brechbill moved it to a City-owned property several years ago to preserve it. It has sat there for the past several years subject to vandalism and deterioration. Mr. Brechbill’s plan calls for it to be placed on the Albany Avenue parking lot and then operated as a takeout food business.
The reason the number of parking spaces is important is because the lot is tied to the office building across the street. The City Attorney stated if this development order were approved as written, then the office building would not be in compliance with the code. Hence the need for accuracy in the number of spaces and how it is approved.
But there are other problems that need variances such as stated in the agenda item:
- To allow the building to be set back from the front property line to allow for a brick paver
patio with seating,
- For the front building façade to make up less than 80% of the lot width,
- To forego the requirement for the minimum building of two stories, and
- To forego the requirement for arcades or glazed openings and balconies along the street
There is also a requirement in the CRA to have a public art component for a Major Urban Code Exception or to donate 1% of the construction costs to the City’s public art fund. It is estimated that, in this case, the donation would be $300. Brechbill asked that this be waived.
When it came before the CRB (of which I am a member), I was willing to move this project forward and allow variances for the 4 items. I did so mainly because I did not think it would happen given this applicant’s record of following through. My vote became a no when he refused to comply with the public art requirement of $300. While I would not expect him to have much of an art component in a project this size, the $300 could go to help with the next public mural within the CRA. I thought it was petty of him. It was approved by the CRB 3-2.
I was glad to hear that Mayor Meier was unhappy with granting the variances because it did not conform with the Joan Jefferson Gateway Plan that the Commission has enacted. It was decided that before this can go forward, the parking issue must be resolved. It will come back at the next meeting.
There has been an undeveloped piece of property on Palm Beach Road between Martin Luther King and 6th Street forever. It is .72 acres and was originally platted as 50 foot lots for single family homes. The developer, the Hartman Family, are some of the original developers of homes in East Stuart going back over a hundred years. Using the platted lots, there could be 6 single family homes.
Hartman has proposed a UPUD consisting of two duplexes on 75 foot lots on Martin Luther King Blvd. and 3 single family homes on 6th street. The property is within the CRA. Originally, the UPUD was requesting that the zoning used would be Urban Neighborhood. That zoning applies in the Potsdam area a mile away. Some members of the CRB including myself thought using that designation would be spot zoning.
In my opinion, the project is an attractive and needed infill development. It was suggested that the better zoning to use would be the East Stuart zoning overlay which would allow the development as a UPUD. The overlay stops a block from the parcel. It should have logically extended the boundary to Palm Beach Road.
As with almost any new development, the neighbors are against it. The existing dwellings on Martin Luther King in that area are 75-foot lots and single-family homes. The two duplexes will be on 75-foot lots. The City Commission has been encouraging the building of more than one unit per lot to increase housing in the City. The duplexes have one driveway per building and there is an area where the cars do not stack and can easily turn around.
Florida building codes make new construction costly. The available building lots in the City are scarce and expensive. It is not possible to build homes “reasonably” without having some density. Some fear that the duplexes will have irresponsible renters. Yet when the person buying them is paying around $300,000, I just do not think that is going to occur.
The Commission unanimously approved the project.
To see both staff and applicant’s presentations go here
The property on Seminole Street a few steps from the Boathouse has been a vacant lot for a few years now. There was a previous approved plan for condominiums that were never built. This now has new owners who will be building more apartments on less of a building footprint than the failed project. There is also commercial space that has been added.
The units are less expensive and are rentals which, in my opinion, is a much more doable project. It is attractive and more in line with Stuart than the glitzier version before. I hope they are built but I am not so sure that it will happen in this market. It was approved 5-0.
To see the entire presentation including floor and sit plans go here
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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:
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
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.
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:
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:
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
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:
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:
Mr. Fry’s Letter:
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:
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:
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.
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:
Baron’s Presentation can be found at:
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:
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.
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:
UPDATE: THE GOVERNOR HAS SUSPENDED THE NEED TO HAVE A PHYSICAL QUORUM. YOU CAN READ THE EXECUTIVE ORDER HERE:
FROM THE MARCH 8, 2020 EDITION
COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 24, 2020
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.
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.
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:
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
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:
Stuart Latest News
JANUARY 26 2020 EDITION
COMMISSION WORKSHOP JAN 13, 2020
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Stuart Latest News From The May 9, 2021 Edition