January Council – Has Peace Returned to the Gardens?

NOTE: Video of this meeting has been provided by Steve Tarr. See part 1, part 2 and Video Discussion

By a 4-1 vote, the City Council last night closed the door on a baseball stadium at the 117th street location. Councilman Joe Russo, in a much anticipated move, proffered the motion to stop all work on the site plans, to assist the county in searching for alternate locations, and to require that if a similar proposal ever comes back to the city, that it should come to the council first – in full view of the residents.

Joe Russo

In a well crafted explanation for the move, Mr. Russo referred to his request several months ago that a detailed proposal by the teams be presented for evaluation. Since none has been forthcoming, it is time to move on and let the residents of Bent Tree, Shady Lakes, Old Palm and the other neighborhoods in the vicinity get on with their lives.

Introduced during the “Items of Resident Interest” section of the agenda which is usually filled with lists of council members personal activities and other trivia, the motion was made and carried with little council discussion, or prior comments from the public. When residents were allowed to speak, much of the thunder was gone, including the comments by Old Palm resident and former Economic Council Chairman Larry Brown whose text was published yesterday on the Palm Beach Post website. Most applauded the move but used their time to get in a few licks about the process and to call for the repeal of Ordinance 16 (uplands set-aside exemption for government owned land), which opponents claim was passed to enable the stadium. Shady Lakes resident Vito DeFrancesco proposed that repeal would be evidence of “good faith” on the part of the council. PGA Corridor Association co-founder Tom Cairnes dissented, saying the city was missing out on an opportunity. When he added that it was the residents close by who were the biggest losers as their children will not be able to utilize the practice fields, there were jeers heard from the red-shirted residents.

David Levy

The lone dissenter, David Levy, who was Mayor when the proposal was first brought to the city over 18 months ago, did not explain his vote from the dais, but told us during the break that he objected to closing the door on something that hasn’t yet been fully described. Agreeing that the matter could have been handled better, he thought that many of the residents concerns with the site could have been addressed to their satisfaction if discussed in a less political environment. The confidential disclosure rules under which the city was bound had limited the options for engaging with residents. In any case, he supports the decision of the Council and would oppose the project if it was brought back to them.

Present in the audience were the three challengers in the March Council elections, at least one of which was prompted to run on the stadium issue alone. The issue had the potential to bring a lot of new participants into the normally low-turnout election, and time will tell whether they are still engaged two months hence. Although the issue is resolved for now, the conditions that led to the dispute in the first place are still lingering and issues of honesty and transparency could still dog the incumbents.

In other Council actions, Ordinance 19 (the companion to 16 which exempts uplands set-asides for government land under some circumstances) was passed 5-0, as were Ordinances 1 (routine budget adjustments), 4, 6 and 7 (approving the Gables PCD on Northlake near the turnpike).

Resolution 5, approving a change to the setbacks in the part of Bent Tree that adjoins Shady Lakes brought comments from residents that the 50 foot ‘opaque buffer’ requirement has been ignored by Bent Tree property owners for years and the HOA has no teeth to enforce it. The ordinance, which would allow building into the current setback area is contingent on correction of the buffer issues and passed 4-1 (Russo voting no).

A discussion of televising future council meetings returned to staff for more information. The consensus was that live television would not be affordable or needed, but a webcam and archival video may make sense. Staff presented a survey of systems in Boynton, Riviera Beach and Delray as examples.

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