Errors force Mar Vista do-over

The Town of Longboat Key abandoned last week its protractor-based system of calculating distances for public noticing after several property owners failed to receive notice of a Mar Vista expansion. A graphical interface system, show above, is now in place.

Editor & Publisher

A site plan expansion for the Mar Vista restaurant will have to start all over again at the Planning and Zoning Board on Longboat Key after a resident complained and staff confirmed that public noticing requirements failed to meet legal muster and due process of affected residents has been violated.

In fact, the Town had been using a 30-year–old method of a pencil and elementary school type of protractor estimating the required 500-foot public noticing distance from the subject property, the Mar Vista. The problem is the Town’s protractor method missed about 10 affected owners when it came to noticing the Town Commission hearing last week.

Then staff looked into the noticing of affected properties for the previous Planning and Zoning board action. That too did not meet legal muster for an entirely different reason.

For the Planning and Zoning hearing, the applicant received its list of affected property owners from the Town. But instead of providing the list of properties within 500 feet, the Town provided a general contact list for “parties on Longboat interested in development issues” that has no relation to any distance from the Mar Vista. In short, the wrong notices were sent out to the wrong universe of people. That fact alone prompted Town Manager Dave Bullock to send out a memo to the Town Commission on May 23 explaining, “Because the Public Notices sent out for the Planning and Zoning Board meeting on April 16, 2013 were not sent to the abutting property owners, the Site Plan was not properly noticed as required by the Zoning Code. As a result of improper notice, the Mar Vista Restaurant must properly re-notice the surrounding properties and hold a public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Board. Once the Planning and Zoning Board holds a public hearing and makes a recommendation to the Town Commission, then the Commission will need to rehear the Site Plan application at a properly noticed public hearing and render a decision on the application.”

In other words, the Mar Vista is back at the beginning of the process and must submit all over again the same or, if it chooses, a modified site plan.

The site plan application that is now null calls for the expansion of the restaurant, located at 760 Broadway, by 11 seats and also allowed for the renovation of the Jordan House and its conversion to be used as a meeting space, for weddings and other engagements.

That expansion was initially approved by the Town Commission on May 6, yet within days dozens of letters protesting the action and a petition opposing the measure pitted surrounding residents against owner Ed Chiles.

The cacophony focused on requesting one of the Commissioners who approved the site plan to “reconsider” his vote. And that Commissioner was Phill Younger.

But Chiles, sensing the unsettledness over the plan, asked the Commission prior to last Monday’s meeting to hold a formal public hearing and reconsideration of the issue where all opponents could be heard.

And the Commission last Monday agreed to reconsider the issue at its next opportunity but only after the Town Attorney investigated and concluded if all prior ‘noticing’ requirements had been met.


Protracted problem

The issue of noticing neighbors is one of due process and is afforded by Florida law. The Town ensures compliance with the mandate of public property noticing by requiring applicants to mail via certified letter to all properties within 500 feet of a subject property. And the standard is 500 feet from the nearest edge of the subject property to the nearest edge of the affected property. The old protractor method only gauged distance from the center of the parcel where the protractor needle was placed.

Planning and Zoning Director Robin Meyer said he was aware of the protractor method and “had not seen that in 30 years and I was going to address that in time.”

Meyer said resident and former Commissioner Gene Jaleski “pointed out that our measurements were wrong, and he was right.”

Robin said staff has been asked to look at the chronology of previous approvals at Mar Vista under the rubric of noticing requirements.

Asked if the Town could face any liability if past decisions that were contentious were not property noticed, Town Manager Dave Bullock said he was unsure and was right now focused on getting the Mar Vista issue resolved and having a better noticing method in place. Bullock explained the issue in a May 23 memo to the Commission.

“At the May 20, 2013 Commission Workshop Meeting regarding the Site Plan approval for the Mar Vista Restaurant, there were a number of issues raised regarding the Town’s notification process. Staff has looked into these issues and reviewed our current process.  As a result of review of this process, it appears that the Towns system has the potential for errors and that errors occurred and therefore the existing system needs to be replaced,” wrote Bullock.


Method changed

Bullock said that to solve this issue, staff would now be utilizing a newly updated Geographic Information System (GIS)  made available to the Town by Manatee County. Bullock added that GIS is used by most jurisdictions in the state and nation and “has been proven to be reliable.”

Bullock said to ensure the applicant mails correctly, the Town will be changing its procedures to require the applicant to provide staff with a list of the properties they mailed to and the method of mailing (certified or first class) they used immediately after they mail the notices rather than waiting for the information to be provided at a public hearing (which had been the previous procedure).

Bullock said a review of the mailing conducted by the representatives for the Mar Vista Restaurant revealed that the applicant did not properly mail out the notices prior to the Planning and Zoning Board public hearing. Properties that should have received notification by Certified Mail (properties located within 500 feet of the proposed Site Plan) were not sent at all. Instead, the applicant mailed notices to interested parties who had previously requested notification on all Town actions.

Bullock said that the Town will from now on require documentation of the mailing earlier in the process and staff will conduct a review to insure that all mailings meet the requirements of the Town Zoning Code.


Chiles must decide…

In many regards, the issue is in owner Ed Chiles’ court. He can simply re-notice and reapply and go before the Planning and Zoning board at its next available meeting on June 18.

Chiles may opt to bifurcate the application with the Jordan House separated into a separate application and his request for the restaurant expansion of 11 seats, which is what Chiles originally requested before adding the Jordan House on as an amendment.

In either case, the Commission will not be able to consider the issue at its June meeting, which is held the first Monday of the month and is prior to the Planning and Zoning hearing.

Commissioner Jack Duncan, who alone with Pat Zunz was opposed to the amended expansion plan, said the Town should have a procedural process that invokes in it that the applicant must meet all the requirements of state and local law before staff considers it.

Duncan added that the noticing issue, “Makes everyone look procedurally incompetent,” and he holds the town attorney and department heads accountable.

Duncan said that when the Planning and Zoning board receives an application or a proposal from staff, they have to have faith they have done their job.

“I am looking to the town attorney to make sure the application is ultimately compliant,” said Duncan. “The planning director and town attorney.”

“How can we have a system that is inaccurate, inefficient and defective?” asked Duncan.

Duncan said he will be looking for counsel to come back to the Commission to “give us complete legal assessment of the process when the Mar Vista application arrived and where we are right now. I think we can do that by the October meeting. I will have a major problem with anything short of that,” Duncan added.

As for Jaleski, who alleged to the town the “improper” noticing, the issue is one of preserving residential property values.

“At this juncture,” wrote Jaleski following the news of the Town’s failure to comply with law, “Chiles probably has no legal standing since the town had no legal power to pass a resolution in the first place, given its failure in due process. …It is almost certain that previous expansions at the Mar Vista have also been illegal for the same failure to notify nearby property owners. I have never received notice and I live 346 feet away from the Mar Vista. The town might want to review their previous actions there. Personally I believe that the amount of allowed commercial tourism at the Mar Vista already affects the value of my property.”


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1 Response for “Errors force Mar Vista do-over”

  1. William Kary says:

    “Makes everyone look procedurally incompetent”. So what else is new. Jaleski got something right…

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