Commissioners divided over calls for postponement to educate North Sewall’s Point Road property owner

SEWALL’S POINT – The majority of the Town Commission here voted Sept. 27 to approval a Zoning in Progress that will put all development applications on hold for at least 120 days while an outside consultant updates the town’s land development regulations to ensure alignment with the Comprehensive Plan.

Town Manager Robert Daniels provided commissioners an extensive overview of how a ZIP works while explaining that the LDRs were not analyzed by Land Planner Bonnie Landry after completing her work on the Comp Plan as he’s previously seen done in other communities.

“You want to make sure that you don’t do something that’s contrary to your Comprehensive Plan,” he said. “The land development regulations should match what you’ve decided to do in your Comp Plan, and that really gives you the ordinance that governs what you can and cannot do. Originally when we looked at doing the Comp Plan and the LDRs, they were together in the Request for Proposals, but because of the cost concerns, it was split up at that time.”

Mr. Daniels then described how he came up with his timeframe for pausing developmental applications during the ZIP.

“Generally, you’ll do a Zoning in Progress so it kind of holds up any action,” he explained. “They [developers] can still make an application, but the actual decision-making process isn’t done until that Zoning in Progress is done. The maximum amount of time is usually 180 days. We’re looking at roughly 90 days, [but] the problem we have is the holidays towards the end of December. That’s why I asked for 120 days with the hope that we’ll get it done sooner because I don’t want to hold up any progress.”

Mr. Daniels concluded his introduction by highlighting the recent sale of an eight-acre property off North Sewall’s Point Road that served as both the impetus for the request and the debate before the Commission that evening.

“I actually had a conversation with the gentleman that purchased the parcel that is of concern,” he said. “His intention is to subdivide it into two parcels, both of them going from east to west and both of being just under four acres. He’s a builder who’s used to Zoning in Progress from his experience in Jupiter Island. Obviously, he’d like to get in and do something, but he understands the process and what we’re doing. Again, we don’t have an application. [and] we don’t have any information other than the sketch and a copy of the email explaining what his project is.”

Commissioner James Campo launched the Board discussion immediately afterward, expressing frustration that an adjacent property owner had urged the Commission during its Sept. 20 Final Budget Hearing to expedite the ZIP due to the new owner’s plans for the property.

“I called Bob [Daniels] because I’m very concerned the way that this came up,” he said. “I thought it was a heck of a way to welcome someone into the neighborhood to put together basically a freeze-up of his private property rights. I was concerned that a neighbor came to a budget meeting – which was not meant to conduct normal business – and inserted a concern about the new owner. So, our first inkling is to slam on the brakes with any possible development.”

Commissioner Campo insinuated that passing a Zoning in Progress without including the property owner in the discussion could put the Town of Sewall’s Point in a precarious situation similar to when the City of Stuart was successfully sued by the Lake Point Corporation.

“This is hot potato stuff when you talk about a moratorium,” he continued. “You don’t want to bring this up at a public meeting that’s intended for the budget and have it not adequately screened by the person that’s going to be affected the most. I think we should give Bob a couple of weeks to work through this with this contractor to make sure we’re all on the same page. When you start infringing on someone’s use of their private property, it can result in a lot of damage, and I don’t want to be a part of that.”

Commissioner Frank Fender acknowledged that Commissioner Campo had hit on some “hot button issues” but insisted the idea of rewriting the land development regulations had not just come to light.

“This discussion we’re having here has been going on for as long as the Comp Plan’s been under development,” he said. “You’re bringing up a concept of slow growth, versus no growth, versus fast growth and aligning it to the Lake Point issue. We’re not stopping anybody from doing anything here the way I understand it; we’re just saying let’s have 120 days so somebody’s not pushing something in under the wire. I absolutely want the developer to be able to develop.”

Vice-Mayor Dave Kurzman concurred, emphasizing his desire to continue focusing on improving the town’s stormwater flow, which is addressed in the recent Comp plan revisions.

“This has been out there for quite a while, [and] the Comp Plan we’ve been working on for a while,” he said. “Our biggest issue is flooding – that’s why we’re buying property right now – and this will actually protect the area from flooding. Underneath the old rules, he could flood the daylights out of us. It’s not just one neighbor, but many neighbors who were nervous about this. I just think this is ready to go, and I don’t see any reason we shouldn’t approve this tonight.”

Commissioner Campo then found an ally in Commissioner Kajia Mayfield.

 “I hadn’t heard of this before,” she said of the current debate over the new property owner. “We had the budget, we had this meeting [and] it was a lot I was trying to understand in all of it. I do agree it was rushed. I would support putting it off because I don’t feel totally prepared to make a decision like this that could impact a property owner. A hundred and twenty days is a long time in the real estate market.”

Taking her support as a sign of potential success, Commissioner Campo made a motion to table the Rezoning in Progress, which was seconded by Commissioner Mayfield. That was followed by much more Board discussion, as well as input from Town Attorney Glen Torcivia.

“There’s nothing illegal about doing this – Zonings in Progress are done often,” he said. “This is a resolution that you can change at any time. On the one hand, Commissioner Campo is suggesting you postpone starting this for two weeks. You could just as easily rescind this two weeks from now, six weeks from now or eight weeks from now. It’s really a discretionary decision.”

After Mr. Torcivia’s comment, Mayor John Tompeck asked Ms. Landry to provide her professional opinion on Zonings in progress.

“The Zoning in Progress is a typical planning function,” she said. “If you identify something about your LDR that needs to change, what you don’t want is to have the LDR being drafted and this [current] one in place, and somebody puts an application in right in the middle. Then there’s a conflict between what’s being drafted and what’s approved and the Comprehensive Plan and the LDR. That actually puts you in a more vulnerable position legally than not doing the Zoning in Progress.”

The Board then voted Commissioner Campo’s motion, which failed 2-3, with Mayor Tompeck, Vice-Mayor Kurzman and Commissioner Fender dissenting. Vice-Mayor Kurzman, in turn, made a motion to approve the ZIP, which was seconded by Commissioner Fender and passed 3-2, with Commissioners Campo and Mayfield dissenting.

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