Some of the decisions by the 2012 county commission majority that resulted in land-owner lawsuits boggle the mind, as well as seriously dent taxpayer funds. They once denied approval of a mandatory rezoning in defiance of our Comprehensive Growth Management Plan rules.
Yes, that property owner filed an expensive lawsuit against the county, which was later settled out of court in favor of the property owner. (The result is construction of the Sheridan assisted living facility and residential project near Seabranch Boulevard in Hobe Sound.)
So, what does “mandatory rezoning” mean?
It is one of the simpler final site plan applications to process by the county's Growth Management Department. In fact, those developers get a discounted price on their application fee, because the development already meets all the requirements of the Comp Plan.
The mandatory rezoning, however, still requires public hearings before both the Local Planning Agency and the Board of County Commissioners.
Yet, if it's “mandatory,” why do we need public hearings, which typically allow public input and the right of the LPA and county commission to reject the zoning?
The answer goes back to 1967.
At that time, the county adopted its original zoning regulations, which had been developed, as needed, primarily by a county commission-appointed, all-volunteer planning and zoning committee – names familiar to many of us – Andy Pittman, Timer Powers, Bill Owens, Frank Wacha Sr., and others.
When the county's state-mandated Land Development Regulations (LDRs) and Comprehensive Growth Management Plan were adopted in 1982, those original zoning regulations were carried over to Article 3 of the LDRs, Zoning Districts.
It's not hard to imagine that the uses allowed for a parcel of land in Martin County more than 50 years ago could seldom be applied today.
Therefore, when a 1967 zoning district is inconsistent with the county's current Comp Plan and its Future Land Use Map, it is classified as a Category “C” zoning district that remains in effect until a development requires a rezoning to a Category A (current zoning district).
Category A zoning districts reflect the changes to existing structures and permitted uses on the property.
Since Category C zones are in conflict with the Comp Plan, they are considered “mandatory” rezonings, because a new zoning classification is required prior to a development's approval to bring the zoning up to date and to comply with our Comp Plan.
The decision as to what is the most appropriate zoning for a parcel of land lies with the experienced planners of the county's Growth Management Department.
Most frequently, the need for the rezoning is obvious to most of us, such as the commercial areas along Federal Highway that remain categorized as rural; however, Growth Management planners will look at the Future Land Use Map in the Comp Plan for guidance, and at the various zonings on the properties surrounding the parcel being rezoned to make their determination.
At times, more than one zoning classification may be appropriate. The Growth Management staff will explain and differentiate among the uses allowed by each classification. The planners work with the developer, but they do not work for the developer.
Their final decision goes before the LPA and the county commission, and they must be able to justify their conclusions. On rare occasions, the developer will disagree with the Growth Management planners.
The public hearings then allow the developer to state his or her case to the county commission and provide an opportunity for public comment that may affect minor differences in the type of zoning to be applied.
For instance, more than half a dozen different types of residential zoning can be chosen, based on the updated use planned for the property; however, that decision does not belong to the county staff, the property owner or the developer.
The final decision lies solely with the county commission; however, their power is limited to deciding only the type of zoning classification. They do not have the authority to reject the rezoning altogether, thus preventing construction, which the 2012 commission majority had attempted.
We have confidence that our current commission will follow the rules, will listen carefully to the county's planners, and will make justifiable decisions -- avoiding yet one more unnecessary expense on the backs of county taxpayers.