PBC angered by House passage of expanded homestead exemption

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County officials reacted with anger Wednesday to the passage in the Florida House of Representatives of a joint resolution that would allow voters to decide if they want to expand the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000.

The expansion plan, approved on a vote of 81-35, must be approved by three-fifths of the Senate and then by 60 percent of voters before it could become law on January 1, 2019.

County officials argue that the expanded exemption will suck at least $29 million from its budget. The overall impact on area governments is more than $70 million, they say.

“I’m disgusted that the House leadership would think this is a tax cut for the people,” Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said. “This is a tax shift.”

PBC rejects Iota Carol development project

Palm Beach County commissioners voted 5-2 Wednesday to reject an application for comprehensive plan changes to accommodate the Iota Carol development project.

Wednesday’s vote kills the proposed project, which called for 1,030 homes on 1,288 acres west of The Acreage. In rejecting the project, the commission – with a new chair and two new commissioners – broke sharply from its pro-development stance of recent years

Residents near the proposed project complained about the additional traffic it would cause. Commissioners shared those concerns.

Tiny houses considered in addressing big problem in PBC

Darrin and Jodi Swank’s 520-square foot house in Loxahatchee. (Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post)

The scarcity of affordable housing in Palm Beach County is a big problem. One county commissioner thinks tiny houses could be, well, at least a tiny part of the solution.

Earlier this week, as county commissioners were getting an update on redevelopment efforts in the Westgate/Belvedere Homes community, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay offered a suggestion: Why not allow tiny houses to be built there?

Tiny houses – the subject of HGTV’s Tiny House Builders show – are an increasingly popular choice for some who want to reduce their impact on the environment, save money and push back against over-consumption.

“Perhaps we could look at some pilot language,” McKinlay said.

There was no vote on the idea, but no one spoke in opposition to it, either. The Westgate Belvedere Homes Community Redevelopment Agency is looking into it, as is county staff.

Commissioners had just finished getting an overview of the county’s workforce housing program and lamented, again, the dearth of affordable housing.

Tiny houses could be an option for single people or young families, McKinlay said, adding that Leon County has already begun approving plans for tiny houses there.

“Maybe we could look at them for an example,” she said.

Darrin and Jodi Swank are raising their three children in a 520-square foot house in Loxahatchee.

“It’s five people in one little house,” Jodi Swank told The Palm Beach Post in July. “We try to live simple. And we’ve loved it.”

PBC wants Trump administration policy change on animal breeders

Palm Beach County is expected to discuss a resolution Tuesday calling on the Trump administration to resume posting information on animal breeders who violate standards monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In an effort to shut down so-called pet mills, which critics contend house and breed animals in inhumane conditions, the county banned the sale of puppies and kittens at new pet stores. But existing pet stores were allowed to continue selling the animals as long as they were obtained from breeders who are licensed and not in violation of USDA standards.

» Trump administration’s policy change undercuts county puppy-sales law

In February, however, the USDA under the Trump administration removed from its website information on breeders with violations. That means neither the county nor pet stores know which breeders have violations.

The USDA change, along with concerns about the treatment of animals at Star Pups in Royal Palm Beach, has led to calls for the county to revisit its policy of allowing existing pet stores to sell puppies and kittens.

County gets favorable ruling in push to extend SR7

Palm Beach County won a big battle in the fight to extend State Road 7 Friday when Administrative Law Judge Bram Carter found that the county had followed all applicable permitting criteria and is entitled to an environmental resource permit.

The county has pushed to extend State Road 7 north to Northlake Boulevard, but the city of West Palm Beach has pushed back, arguing that the extension threatens the Grassy Waters Preserve, a 24-square mile marsh that is the source of its drinking water.

Carter’s recommended order is a major victory for the county.

“The project would not adversely impact public health, safety, and welfare associated with the city’s public water supply in the water catchment area because the project would have no effect on the city’s water supply operations,” the judge wrote. “In addition, there are reasonable protective measures to prevent a spill from entering the city’s public water supply.”

All parties now have 15 days to petition the South Florida Water Management District with errors they believe Carter committed in the order.

If SFWMD agrees that an error has been made, the erroneous portion of Carter’s order will not be followed.

But in an email to county officials, Assistant County Attorney Kim Phan pointed out that un-ringing the bell Carter just struck is no small task.

“An agency’s ability to reject any portion of a recommended order is very limited to conclusions of law and interpretation of administrative rules,” Phan wrote. “Also, the agency may not reject or modify the findings of fact unless it was not based on competent substantial evidence on the proceedings (or) did not comply with essential requirements of law.”

WPB concerns slow work on Seminole Pratt Whitney expansion

Minto’s Westlake Community Center on Seminole Pratt Whitney Road across from Seminole Ridge High School in Westlake. (Allen Eyestone /The Palm Beach Post)

Construction in Palm Beach County’s newest city, Westlake, will add more cars in the coming years to already over-burdened Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.

That’s why the Seminole Improvement District, which oversees road and sewer services in Westlake, wants to widen the road.

But the city of West Palm Beach, mindful of not running afoul of state law giving it control of a part of the M-Canal and a nearby water catchment area, has not issued a license so the bridge over the canal can be widened.

The county has already signed off on the widening project, and Minto Communities, the developer building Westlake, has already agreed to help pay for it.

The dispute with West Palm Beach, however, has slowed work on the project, increasing fears of the type of traffic snarls preservationists warned against when they opposed large-scale development in the area.

A city official says she’s confident the dispute can be worked out. Th Seminole Improvement District has triggered a state-mandated mediation process, which must be pursued before the parties can file suit against one another.

PBC being asked for 27 acres of park land for sports fields

PBC Commissioner Hal Valeche

Palm Beach Shores Mayor Myra Koutzen has written to County Commissioner Hal Valeche to express her support for a plan to build sports fields on 27 acres of the North County District Park.

Koutzen notes that Palm Beach Gardens wants to use some of its money from the one-cent sales tax increase to build sports fields on park land, which is located in Valeche’s district.

“As a small community with very limited public space, our residents have particular need of the types of recreational space proposed for that area of the North County District Park,” Koutzen wrote in am email to Valeche. “We are particularly appreciative that Palm Beach Gardens opens their facilities to residents of neighboring communities such as ours. This proposal would support their ability to continue to provide this access in the future.”

Gator takes a siesta in Pine Glades Natural Area

Good thing he wasn’t in Big Cypress National Preserve.

No pythons were in sight (nor was intrepid Palm Beach Post reporter Joe Capozzi) Wednesday when this small alligator swam up to greet a reporter who had ventured out to the Pine Glades Natural Area in Jupiter for a story.

Said reporter remained safely on a deck overlooking the gator’s watery haunt. After swimming to a spot near the base of the deck, the gator, about four feet long, remained still near the surface of the water for the duration of the reporter’s stay.

Guess he just wanted to say hello.

PBC residents get chance to weigh in on state constitution

Should Florida’s constitution be amended? How should it be amended?

Palm Beach County residents will have a chance to weigh in on that statewide discussion on April 7, when the Constitution Commission swings through the county to get input.

The commission, which hears testimony, performs research and identifies important issues, will hold a public hearing at Florida Atlantic University’s Stadium Recruiting Room at 777 Glades Road in Boca Raton from 9 a.m. to noon. The meeting is free and open to the public.

The commission meets once every 20 years and travels around the state to get input from residents.

Another way for Palm Beach County to pay for Trump visits?

Another weekend. Another visit by President Donald Trump. And now, another idea about how to cover the escalating costs of those trips to Palm Beach County.

Commissioner Steven Abrams has asked County Attorney Denise Nieman and County Administrator Verdenia Baker to look into using bed tax revenue to defray the cost of assisting with security and managing road closures during the president’s trips to his Mar-a-Lago mansion on Palm Beach.

President Donald Trump’s motorcade leaves Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach Saturday afternoon, March 18, 2017. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: President Donald Trump in Palm Beach stories, photos, videos

Last month, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw estimated those costs had already reached $1.4 million.

Bradshaw and other county officials have asked the federal government for reimbursement, but, so far, those pleas have been unheeded.

Abrams

Commissioner Dave Kerner floated the idea last week of imposing a special tax on Mar-a-Lago’s owner – Trump – that would be linked to the cost of providing roadway management and additional security during the president’s trips here.

» Official: Tax Mar-a-Lago owner to help pay for cost of Trump visits

Kerner was quoted in The Washington Post today noting that the same law enforcement resources needed during Trump trips are the same ones that are needed to combat the growing opioid and heroin epidemic.

“Those are real issues: keeping cops off the street and diminishing our opioid epidemic response,” Kerner told The Washington Post.

While Kerner’s idea would shift the cost of Trump-related expenses to Trump, bed tax money would come from the county’s tourists.

That money is currently used for other county purposes.

READ MORE HERE.