Fort Pierce Commission vote divided over lack of previously requested onsite bed & breakfast manager

FORT PIERCE – The City Commission struggled May 6 with a recommendation from the Planning Board to approve a conditional use for a bed & breakfast to operate on Indian River Drive without an onsite property manager but ultimately voted 3-2 to accept the recommendation and approve the project.

Planner Brandon C. Creagan reminded commissioners they had previously approved the proposed B&B in late 2017 prior to the developer deciding to build a 272-square-foot addition to the rear of one of the buildings at 515 S. Indian River Drive. Current regulations permit B&Bs in the C-1 Commercial Zone only as a conditional use, so the plan to add a bathroom compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act triggered a new conditional use requirement.

“The resubmittal of this application is to change the project to a conditional use with new construction,” he said. “This small expansion is required to satisfy a required federal and state-mandated ADA requirements for the bathrooms. This request will also allow the rear of the building on the site to be utilized as a manager’s quarters and/or rooms for the bed & breakfast.”

The actual controversy began when Commissioner Rufus Alexander asked for clarification on the and/or clause, which Mr. Creagan said resulted from a change in the requirements the Planning Board made as part of its unanimous approval April 9. The previous rendition of the proposal commissioners approved a year and a half ago required a resident property manager, but the volunteer board members deemed that not necessary.

“We’re giving the option of the applicants using it as a manager’s quarters or as part of the bed & breakfast,” the latter explained. “At the Planning Board meeting, it was decided they could have a property manager offsite as long as they were somewhere in St. Lucie County.”

Commissioner Thomas Perona initially expressed opposition to the change.

“I just thought it was odd to not have somebody there for management that could handle and look after the place while it had some occupancy,” he said. “We’ve stayed in a lot of them all over the world really, and everybody has had somebody on premise that, if something happened in the night or whatever, you had some form of a management staff there to help with solutions.”

David Cleveland, a planning consultant for the B&B developer Crownman LLC, explained how the change became incorporated into the conditions of approval.

“That question was raised at the Planning Board, and we felt that by more narrowly limiting the manager to residing within St. Lucie County, we had immediate access to that management,” he said. “We all agreed as long as the manager resided within St. Lucie County, that was [considered] accessible.”

Indian River Drive resident Ronald Lyman was one of only three public speakers to comment on the proposal, admitting that he’d previously supported the project but had since changed his mind after the Planning Board reworded the conditions. He also worries about future plans the developer may have.

“As you know, we were originally in favor of the proposed B&B in our neighborhood,” he said. “However, what we observed regarding the structure to be the B&B since 2017 is not consistent with the building being renovated for such a use. We did not realize the applicants did not intent to immediately move forward with remodeling the B&B but instead were finalizing their site plans to apply for a rezoning from C-1 to PD [planned development]. We’re okay with C-1, [but] we’re not okay with PD. This site plan included a 500-capacity event pavilion to be located within a 100 feet of our bedroom window.”

When Mayor Linda Hudson inquired about such an event venue, the consultant emphasized it was not part of the current discussion.

“That is a proposed Phase 2 of the project,” Mr. Cleveland explained. “Right now, what we ‘re dealing with is the bed & breakfast piece of the project.”

In response to further questioning by Mayor Hudson, Mr. Creagan insisted the notion of changing the zoning to PD was not currently on the table.

“There could be plans for the future, but right now the Planning Department does not have any active applications for a planned development,” he said.

Commissioner Reginald Sessions also reminded his fellow commissioners of the legal limitations of the specific public hearing on the matter.

“For all practical purposes, we’re considering a quasi-judicial hearing, [and] we can only deal with what’s presently in front of us as opposed to what’s anticipated,” he said.

Mr. Lyman then hinted he might be swayed to support the project again if the Commission reinserted the resident manager requirement into the conditions. Another public speaker, Rick Reed, complained, however, that Mr. Lyman had also opposed the Indian River Villas luxury condo development that he’s helping to develop and believes the city should take its hands off the matter.

“The one thing I can say is that last speaker was also in opposition to everything we were doing and to us utilizing our property that we pay taxes for,” he said. “Allow these people to utilize their property -- this is good for Fort Pierce. Now, whether they need a manager onsite, let the private sector dictate that.”

Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson wanted to make a motion for approval of the project but was interrupted by Commissioner Perona, who said he felt compelled by his promise as a commissioner to “protect the neighborhood.”

“So right now -- I’m not sworn to this -- but I’d feel a lot more comfortable that they have an onsite manager,” he insisted. “It helps with an immediate response, and you don’t have to worry about neighbors calling in and complaining.”

Mayor Hudson also initially concurred with the onsite manager idea.

“I too have stayed in bed & breakfasts and I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t have somebody there to deal with any kind of issues,” she explained. “You wouldn’t expect the guests to deal with it. Somebody on staff is got to have some kind of responsibility for the management of it. Do they have to be there 24 hours? I don’t know, but I think I would prefer that myself too.”

Commissioner Johnson then emphasized he had spoken to both the developer and the complaining neighbor but didn’t want to tell the former how to run his business.

“I was torn when I had the conversation with the Lymans and I understand the idea, and I was torn when I talked with the owners because we did talk about having an onsite [manager],” he said. “To me that’s part of the business model -- that’s just what it should be -- but I don’t want to dictate business models.”

“We’re micromanaging, perhaps,” Mayor Hudson agreed, as she began to demonstrate a shift in her viewpoint.

Commissioner Sessions said he understood the adjacent property owner’s concerns but insisted the project did not conflict with the current zoning or surrounding neighborhood and appeared, at least initially, to accept the Planning Board’s recommended change.

“It’s a bed & breakfast, but when you look at what’s adjacent to it immediately to the south, it’s commercial apartments,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Lymans are adjacent to it, but it’s in the Downtown area, so it somewhat fits into the scheme of what we’re trying to do. As far as the onsite manager’s concerned, not necessarily 24 hours, but an accessible site manager for purposes of managing the property.”

Commissioner Sessions then made a motion to follow staff’s recommendation, which was not seconded immediately but rather followed by a lengthy discussion on whether he really wanted an onsite manager or an accessible one. Mayor Hudson then changed her stance on the issue.

“By saying somebody has to be living there, we’re telling them how to manage their business,” she explained. “So, I think I understand the change in [condition] number three and I’m comfortable with the change.”

Commissioner Perona then reminded his fellow commissioners that Commissioner Sessions’ motion needed to be seconded, and City Clerk Linda Cox asked for clarification on the motion since the motion used both the onsite and accessible terms.

“Your motion is we’re going to go with the five conditions only number three is going to require an onsite property manager?” she asked.

Commissioner Sessions answered affirmatively and then Commissioner Alexander seconded the motion because he wanted an onsite property manager. Commissioner Johnson then expressed opposition to that, which prompted another round of discussions that ended with the motioning commissioner asking Ms. Cox to read back his motion to the Board.

“So, we’re going to vote to approve the conditional use with the five staff conditions only number three is going to require an onsite property manager,” she said. “That was your motion?”

Mayor Hudson then appeared to help Commissioner Sessions with the answer.

“A property manager accessible at all times and that’s not necessarily onsite,” she said.

When Ms. Cox explained that would be exactly as the Planning Board recommended, Commissioner Alexander became frustrated and rescinded his second. Commissioner Johnson subsequently seconded the motion, and Commissioner Perona attempted to explain his change of heart, emphasizing the need for consistency in the city’s B&B rules.

“These are things that I would like to have a discussion with the Commission on to make sure that we have gone over all this stuff and set it up,” he said. “I don’t want to weigh down the developer now in the minutia of all this. I would have preferred the onsite manager, but I understand the consensus is moving the other way.”

During the subsequent 3-2 vote, both Commissioner Alexander and Sessions dissented, which appeared to confuse Commissioner Johnson since he’d seconded Commissioner Session’s motion.

“Weren’t you in favor of the conditions.” he asked.

When Commissioner Sessions answered affirmatively, Commissioner Johnson continued his questioning.

“Okay, I’m confused on procedure: Did you vote no or yes?” he asked

“I voted no,” Commissioner Sessions answered, offering no further explanation.

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