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A bit more learning curve

PETER O’CONNOR
Guest Columnist
opinion@lbknews.coms

On the 21st of June the Town Commission adds a special meeting to the scheduled workshop. This is to meet several deadlines, maybe all self-imposed. The main task was to pass on second reading Ordinance 2012-06, Comprehensive Plan Amendments.

I had to witness this one.

This ordinance is the grand result of two years work. The commission ran the risk of not getting it done; close call here. As I reported earlier the interested parties all left early from the June meeting. (Perhaps they really don’t know what is going on. They would not be alone.) After a rather ham-handed start, commissioners had removed again the Whitney Plaza overlay. This was ostensibly to permit its professional design. The two dueling factions could stand back — having brought their positions to the fore — jobs well done so far. Maybe, just maybe, the town manager and planning director might get a hold of this one before real damage is done.

They didn’t, setting the stage for the 11th-hour action at this special meeting.

And so the high drama continued at two on a Thursday afternoon. I noticed that most of the ‘suits’ were absent. The agenda for the special meeting had but one item, the Comp Plan Amendments. This is “the” big item culminating two years work since the Longboat Key Club application days. This might be the long way around, but it is a way, and here we were on the brink of success. That pesky attempt to snatch failure from the claws of victory appears to have been disposed of in the ensuing weeks. The original overlay was back in the ordinance text. I noticed a statement projected on the chamber screen, which claimed that ORD 2012-06 was the result of 22 public hearings from November 2010 to May 2012. The screen further noted for all to see that the ‘proposed’ amendments to the Comprehensive Plan are to create a Town Center area (oh?) and a Whitney Beach Overlay category. I guess that’s the story, and they’re sticking to it. Time to move ahead.

I thought that the quality of this day’s events in the commission chamber far surpassed those we witnessed during the May and June commission meetings. I have reported on those two events earlier. Today things were almost civil. I hope the new push for civility will continue. I did take some notes during those short afternoon happenings. My thoughts from that scribbling…

Interestingly, at least to this non-planning pro, was the absence of any reference –absent the words projected on the screen — to the actual amendments to the town’s Comprehensive Plan. But then these might have been covered adequately during first reading. Maybe; I thought I saw some classic misdirection here. Nobody mentioned the lack of interest. The suits were content. They understood the importance.

The new planning director, Robin Meyer, dove right into the overlay discussion. He noted that this was a unique overlay relying on the underlying zoning categories with a needed zoning ordinance to follow. Don’t they all? Meyer emphasized that no change in building heights are included. This may have satisfied the anti-hotel crowd.

The same Meyer, in his initial performance, said that he “would be reluctant to stand in the way of progress.” He correctly reads the mood of government here now. I’ll say no more on this subject.

Several speakers rose to oppose the ‘original’ overlay concept now reinserted in the ordinance on the table. Larry Grossman says no concept plan here, overlay is unique — it doesn’t do much — so why have it?

Gene Jaleski says (in his allotted three minutes) that overlay created by staff; reviewed by PZB, which has no expertise on land use; large percentage of populace present; he wants an overlay, just not this one; expects the town to be more proactive; this overlay doesn’t help anyone; suggests use our almost here new planning consultant.

Craig Walters asks that the commission not adopt the Whitney Beach overlay. The well-spoken Village resident calls for delay for better study and plan. Mayor Jim Brown, in the chair, studiously handled the stopwatch. He seemed intent on commenting on several speakers’ comments.

I counted only two speakers in favor of the overlay as now included in the ordinance on the table today. Madelyn Spoll asks for passage of the Comprehensive Plan amendments with the overlay. She defends the Revitalization Taskforce work.

A little later Mayor Emeritus George Spoll adds that Village residents have proposed these changes; overlay includes area of GMD and Broadway. Spoll urges adoption, as well as adoption of the Comprehensive Plan amendments. The Spolls get it. They alone spoke of the more important decision before the omission. Experience does count.

In answer to a question from the floor about whether the town could take back rights granted today in the overlay, Meyer opines that “we are not granting anything” so they have nothing. Town attorney mentions the state’s Harris Act, no follow-up.

After a few posturing statements by commissioners the entire Ordinance 2012-06 is passed on second reading by a vote of 6-0. It goes now to Tallahassee for mandatory state review. The seminal work of this commission has now been completed. I must commend them all and the staff, which pulled this off for them, for their determination and singleness of purpose. These are formidable adversaries to be taken seriously by all.

 

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