Commission to discuss building moratorium and gas stations signs
Another relatively light agenda awaits the Safety Harbor City Commission when it meets on March 4, but two items – a proposed moratorium on downtown buildings higher than 40 feet and lifting restrictions on gas station signs – have been popular topics on social media this year.
Monday’s meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Here is the link to the agenda, with additional material, known as “backup,” available via the hyperlink on each item: http://safetyharbor.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=6&event_id=1664.
Moratorium on Buildings Taller Than 40 Feet
Commissioner Nancy Besore has led a charge to reduce the height of new buildings in the city’s Community Town Center zone, a small and largely developed section of downtown from the Safety Harbor Resort Spa to 3rd Avenue, from 45 feet to 35 feet. That process, which, if ultimately approved by Commission, is expected to take more than eight months to work its way through all necessary approvals, including that of the Pinellas County Commission, is ongoing and not at issue Monday night. However, as part of those discussions, Commissioners expressed an interest in seeing language that would prevent landowners in the affected zone from building higher than 40 feet until the proposed height-reduction changes get final approval or are no longer under consideration.
The proposed moratorium would prevent the construction of any buildings not already approved taller than 40 feet or more than three stories until Dec. 31 or until the new height restrictions are approved, whichever comes first.
The city’s Planning & Zoning Board voted 6-0 to recommend denial of the moratorium, saying it is inconsistent with the city’s Downtown Master Plan, that there was no “urgent need” for it, that it would lower property values and questioning the legality of using it for this purpose. The board also recommended that property owners in the affected zone be contacted by mail about the proposed changes.
This will be the first of two hearings before the Commission on the issue.
Gas Station Signage
For the past several years, the Florida Legislature has been vigorous in approving so-called “pre-emption” laws, which strip cities of power to regulate certain items and industries on its own, leaving those decisions in the hands of state legislators instead. Some of those laws have restricted cities’ ability to regulate medical marijuana, guns and cellular towers, and this is another example. In 2018, the Legislature forbid cities from enacting regulations that limit the ability of gas stations to, among other things, use LED signs to advertise their prices. While this is a public meeting, and Commissioners and the public are free to express their opinions, Commission’s hands are tied on the issue and it will need to amend the city’s Comprehensive Zoning and Land Development Code to conform with the new state restrictions.
ALSO ON THE AGENDA …
Key presentation to Debbie White: Former Safety Harbor City Commissioner Debbie White was recently named “Ms. Clearwater” by the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce for her many civic endeavors in northern Pinellas County over more than 30 years. She’ll be presented with a plaque and a key to the city.
Motorcycle sales request: Safety Harbor Powersports LLC is requesting permission to sell motorcycles inside its showroom at 915 Harbor Lake Drive, Suite B. No motorcycles will be displayed outside. This will be a “quasi-judicial” hearing, and may mimic aspects of a courtroom process, including the applicant, city staff and anyone who proves they have “affected party” status will be sworn in, provide evidence and be able to cross-examine, if desired.
Finance Advisory Committee appointment: There is a vacancy on the committee that reviews the city’s budget and makes recommendations to the Commission. David Fellows is the alternate and applications have been received from Ray Welch and Christos Politis.
Consent agenda: Items expected to have little debate, such as approval of the last meeting’s minutes and most contracts, are included en masse in the consent agenda, though any Commissioner can ask for any item to be considered separately. This meeting’s consent agenda includes replacement of carpet at the library, renewal of an agreement with ESPO Productions to produce video of City Commission meetings, approval for the fire department to conduct training in Tarpon Springs and approval of a contract for employee performance appraisals.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
Attend the meeting: The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 750 Main St. Meetings typically run from 1.5 to three hours. Residents are given the opportunity to speak on all agenda items, except for presentations and consent agenda items. Come forward when asked by the mayor, state your name and address, and you’ll be given three minutes to address the Commission. For any issues not on the agenda, or any item that is on the consent agenda, residents get three minutes to speak at the beginning of the meeting during “Audience to be Heard.”
Watch from home: Meetings are live-streamed to the city’s website at http://cityofsafetyharbor.com/557/Streaming-Media. The following day, a video of the meeting is posted for residents to watch.
Contact your Commissioners in advance by leaving them a message at City Hall at (727) 724-1555 or emailing them:
Mayor Joe Ayoub – email@example.com
Vice Mayor Carlos Diaz – firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Cliff Merz – email@example.com
Commissioner Andy Zodrow – firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Nancy Besore – email@example.com
It would be a big mistake to enact a building moratorium against only a few downtown property owners, without the city being in a true crisis or emergency situation. This is an improper use of our city’s “police powers” because is discriminatory in its effect as it takes away a select few owners’ property rights, without sufficient cause. There is also no urgent need to lower any building height by 10 feet, especially when other buildings in the same general location have already built up to 45 feet. Also, artificially shrinking the size of buildings in our downtown area near the new condo tower will only make the condo tower stick out more. Our goal should be to help blend the new condo tower in with our city’s other downtown buildings and shrinking additional new buildings by 10 feet near the condo tower will only do the opposite.
Since we enacted our current master plan, Safety Harbor has thrived like never before. We have never been a more attractive city, there has never been more demand to live here, and real estate values have never been higher. Why would we want to change such a successful master plan that our city has? The City Commission should take the advice to our Planning and Zoning Board who voted unanimously to reject this building moratorium and recommended that we stick to our successful master plan.
Also, we should be encouraging the full development of our downtown as outlined in the city’s current master plan. This will increase our tax base and reduce the tax burden of our residents. Reducing the building height for these affected properties will only serve to reduce our future tax base.
Also, the downtown lots that this building moratorium is targeting will be developed someday. Our city government should not be creating an adversarial relationship with these important property owners. What is eventually developed on these downtown properties will greatly affect the future look of our city. We should be reaching out to these property owners to see what their intentions are regarding the redevelopment of their properties. We need to work with these property owners in a proactive and productive manner in order to get the style, character, and type of building that the city envisions for its downtown.
Finally, this improper moratorium will be challenged in the Florida courts and our city will waste a lot of taxpayer money defending this case. A moratorium will also bring a lot of unwanted negative publicity to our city. For all of these reasons, everyone should be encouraging our city commissioners to vote “No” on this proposed moratorium and reject any of these changes to our city’s master plan.
The City’s 2007 VISION PLAN is the guiding document for height and other development regulations on the books. If the current City Commission wants to go in a different direction than residents asked for in 2007, they should REVISIT THE VISION to determine if it’s still relevant to the community.
A community vision should be updated AT LEAST EVERY 10 YEARS to account for population change and emerging issues and opportunities. WE ARE NOT THE SAME COMMUNITY TODAY that we were 12 years ago. For example, since 2009 in SH, 6,078 people moved into the housing unit they live in now (Source: 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, US Census Bureau). That means approximately 35% of current residents would not have had the opportunity to participate in the visioning process that led to the City’s 2007 Vision Plan and current development rules. Also consider the young adults who live in SH that were likely too young in 2007 to participate in the visioning process. Currently, about 12% of the SH population is age 20 to 34 (2,026 persons). Those young adults were between the ages 8 and 22 in 2007.
Just because a City Commissioner makes a campaign promise that resonates with some voters doesn’t mean they can rightly dismiss a former City Commission’s commitment to all residents to establish and implement a community vision. A COMMUNITY VISION IS MEANT TO TRANSCEND POLITICAL CYCLES. That’s pretty much why communities take the time and energy to do them. Aren’t we tired of the constant doing and undoing of things by the City Commission after every election? Spinning our wheels is very unproductive and the lost opportunity to accomplish truly important things is disheartening.
To the City Commission, I urge you not to undo our vision-based development regulations until we have had a robust community conversation about where our downtown stands now and what is should be like in the next 10-20 years (with great images this time please). #planning #leadership #consensus #success