Our Town with William Kelly: State legislation clouds potential zoning action

William Kelly  |  Our Council  |  Our Town  |  May 9, 2023

At its meeting on Tuesday, May 9, the Town Council may consider pausing some residential construction projects while zoning rules are being reviewed for a possible overhaul.

A zoning-in-progress resolution, which would place a temporary hold on residential development applications, is listed on the meeting agenda for discussion at 2 p.m.

But Council President Margaret Zeidman said Monday the council will decide shortly after the meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. whether to defer consideration of the resolution.

The council decided in April to put zoning-in-progress on its May 9 meeting agenda. But Zeidman said new legislation, adopted by both houses of the Florida Legislature, has since come to light. The legislation, known as SB 250, appears to be intended to protect the property rights of homeowners in areas impacted by hurricanes Nicole and Ian last year.

SB 250 would prohibit any county or municipality within 100 miles of where Hurricane Ian or Hurricane Nicole made landfall from adopting more restrictive amendments to its land development regulations, or more burdensome procedures for obtaining a development permit, before Oct. 1, 2024.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is widely expected to sign the legislation, which would then take effect July 1.

Palm Beach would fall under the new law because Hurricane Ian hit Hutchinson Island, which is 81 miles from Palm Beach, Zeidman said.

SB 250 could be at odds with the zoning-in-progress resolution which would, upon approval by the council, apply to all residential properties within the R-B Zoning District, which reaches from the North End to Midtown.

A zoning-in-progress declaration legally enables a local government to place a temporary hold on development permits while it is working toward amending its zoning rules, which govern development characteristics including maximum building height, floor elevation, setbacks, maximum lot coverage and more.

The prospect of a zoning-in-progress declaration has touched off concern among some homeowners worried that it might lower the value of their property or make it harder to sell, Zeidman said.

But Zeidman said other residents, concerned about the impact that intensive residential redevelopment is having on the town, have been asking the council to consider zoning-in-progress since last fall. The matter has become more pressing now that seasonal residents are preparing to leave for the summer.

“It’s really a resident-driven discussion item that needs to be on the meeting agenda before people leave,” Zeidman said last week.

Palm Beach is working with a team of consultants to modernize its zoning code, which officials have described as a patchwork of confusing and inconsistent amendments. The code, which was created in the 1970s, was not written to protect against the development pressures facing the town today, consultants said at a public zoning workshop held in town last summer.

Many residents have expressed concern that the wave of new construction on the island is altering the appearance and feel of established neighborhoods. Older, smaller single-family houses are being razed and replaced with larger and taller dwellings.

Part of the trend is a desire for more living space. But property owners are also contending with new FEMA regulations that require them to build the ground floor at a higher elevation, Zeidman said. That often means adding fill to the lot, which can cause drainage problems or make a new house seem to loom over neighboring homes.

“There has been a public outcry,” Zeidman said. “Building height and mass are the causes of the problem that people, pretty uniformly, identify. Zoning-in-progress pauses the problem until we know what we think should be done.”

If adopted by the council, a zoning-in-progress resolution for all properties within the R-B residential zoning district would take effect immediately and continue for six months. During that period, the town would not accept applications for new construction. Previously accepted applications would continue to move through development review and be eligible for approval under existing zoning rules.

Waivers could be requested and considered by the council for routine maintenance work and hurricane preparedness projects, such as roof, door or window replacements. Waivers also could be considered for some interior work projects, but exterior demolitions and floor-area additions would not be eligible for waivers.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council will consider:

+ A resolution that would establish the town’s strategic plan mission statement, vision statement and strategic priorities.

+ Acceptance of a $50,000 donation from the Palm Beach Police and Fire Foundation, to be dedicated to the Police Department’s townwide camera surveillance program.

In addition, the council will hear:

+ An annual report from Dan Stanton, chairman of the town’s Retirement Board of Trustees, scheduled for 10 a.m.

+ A presentation from Michael Meekins, executive director of the Port of Palm Beach, scheduled for 10:30 a.m.

+ A legislative update, set for 11 a.m., from lobbyist Mat Forest.

+ An update from Town Engineer Patricia Strayer on the progress of the townwide utility undergrounding project.


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