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.
Palm Beach County, breathing a collective sigh of relief, is scaling back emergency operations after its brush with Hurricane Matthew caused minimal damage.
“It’s been busy,” County Mayor Mary Lou Berger said during a press conference Friday at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. “It’s been interesting. It’s been annoying. It’s been exciting. But we have gotten through this.”
All evacuees can return, and the county is under no warnings or other advisories, County Administrator Verdenia Baker said.
An assessment found no damage to county structures or assets. About 38,750 people in the county lost power. FPL said it expects to restore power to all customers by Saturday.
Power outages or internal malfunctions have knocked out 20 to 30 traffic signals. The county urges residents to treat intersections with non-working traffic signals as a four-way stop.
Intracoastal bridges remain closed to boat traffic but are open to motorists.
Some 7,560 people sought refuge from Hurricane Matthew at the county’s 13 shelters, with 184 people staying at the special needs shelter at the South Florida Fairgrounds.
The pet-friendly shelter at West Boynton Recreation Center reached full capacity, with 245 people and 200 animals.
County staffers fielded 5,289 calls from residents who had questions about everything from warnings to road closures.
The Emergency Operation Center, where some county staff have stayed overnight monitoring the storm, will scale back its operations at 5 p.m. but will remain at an elevated level of readiness until Saturday afternoon or longer if needed.
County officials were ready for questions about whether they acted too aggressively given the muted impacts of the storm.
Baker said she would not change the county’s actions and warnings. Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson agreed.
“If folks have doubts whether we made the right decision, they just need to look up the coast a little and see what damage the storm is doing,” Johnson said.
After a briefing at the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center Monday, Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians to remain vigilant as Hurricane Matthew bears down on Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba.
“If Matthew impacts Florida, the destruction will be catastrophic, and you will need to be prepared,” Scott said.
Matthew’s projected path initially had the storm staying well west of Florida’s coast, but recent updates now take the storm closer, heightening concerns about effects from a storm packing 140 mile per hour winds.
“These storms can change at the last minute,” Scott said. “They can change directions. They can get stronger.”
Scott met with a range of county officials, including county commissioners, County Administrator Verdenia Baker, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and Superintendent Robert Avossa. The governor, who has declared a state of emergency for every county and put the Florida National Guard on alert, praised Palm Beach County’s elected officials and emergency personnel, saying they work well together.
Much of Scott’s focus, however, was on urging Floridians to get prepared for the possibility that the storm could change direction and bring its drenching rains and devastating winds to the Sunshine State.
He said residents should be prepared to take care of their own needs for three days, as storm damage could make it impossible for emergency personnel to reach some areas.
Scott also underscored the importance of heeding warnings from emergency officials. With the storm still hundreds of miles west of Florida, no school closings have been announced, nor have any evacuation orders been issued. But that could change if the storm’s path changes.
Residents should evacuate if ordered to do so, Scott said.
“You must leave before it’s too late,” Scott said. “We can rebuild a home. We can rebuild a business, but we can not rebuild your life. Do not ignore the direction of local officials. This is serious, and your safety depends on you being prepared.”
In addition to warning Floridians about Hurricane Matthew, the governor reminded residents about an ongoing threat – standing water, which serves as breeding pools for mosquitoes that could carry the Zika virus.
With Matthew expected to bring heavy rains to the state, Scott asked residents to act now to get rid of standing water.
“Get rid of standing water,” Scott said. “Wear bug repellent. Wear protective clothing. We’ve got to continue to fight Zika.”
Palm Beach County’s Department of Economic Sustainability has joined forces with the Palm Beach County Housing Authority and a private developer to renovate Covenant Villas, a 144-unit complex in Belle Glade.
The goal is to boost the number of affordable housing units in Belle Glade, one of the poorest communities in the county.
Covenant Villas was built in 1989 and, according to a county press release, is “in need of significant repairs.”
Only 40 percent of the complex is occupied.
The Housing Trust Group is the private developer working with various government entities to upgrade the complex, purchased for $22.3 million through low-income housing tax credits.
Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, whose district includes Belle Glade, praised efforts to purchase and renovate the complex.
“It is a testament to the proactive approach Palm Beach County takes to protect and grow affordable, safe, and healthy housing stock in the Glades,” she said.
Total property values in Palm Beach County are estimated to have risen 7.85 percent from 2015 to 2016, the county property appraiser said Friday.
That number is higher than the initial estimate, issued in late April, of a 6.6 percent increase. And the new estimate places the county at $164.5 billion, near its all-time high, reached in 2007 at the height of the boom.
The property appraiser’s April 29 estimate was that countywide taxable value grew from $152.6 billion on the first day of 2015 to $162.6 billion on the first day of 2016.
It hit a historic high of $169.5 billion in 2007 before falling to a 10-year low of $124.4 billion three years later as a result of the 2008 housing market crash and recession.
Taxable property value is based on real and tangible property values as of Jan. 1 each year. The county, its municipalities and other taxing authorities use estimates to project how much money they can expect to receive from property taxes in the coming year and to set their tax rates and budgets.
Seated side-by-side during a political forum Tuesday night, Shelley Vana and Dorothy Jacks made their pitch to be Palm Beach County’s next property appraiser.
Vana, a county commissioner and former state legislator, and Jacks, the chief deputy property appraiser, clashed on what they would bring to the office.
Jacks said she understands the technical nuances of the job. Vana said the office is a political one that is best led by someone who has served in elected office.
The candidates, both Democrats, are seeking to succeed Gary Nikolits, who is retiring after 24 years as property appraiser. The primary election will be held on August 30.
With about 70 people looking on at the South County Civic Center, Vana and Jacks returned to that theme of leadership again and again.
“It is a very technical job,” Jacks said, adding that, in her, “you will have an expert at the top. You won’t have a politician but an expert leading the staff.”
Earlier, during her introductory remarks, Vana had laid out her credentials.
“You have two very good candidates here,” she said. “One has been an employee and one has been in leadership. In this office, you need a solid leader who sets the tone. You’re electing a Lee Iococca, not someone who screws in the screws.”
Jacks took that jab in stride. Indeed, much of the forum, sponsored by the Democratic Club of Boca Raton and Delray Beach, focused on technical aspects of the office.
The candidates were asked about the prospect of raising the county’s sales tax to pay for upgrades to roads, bridges, schools and county buildings.
Vana, who has supported the county’s plan to raise the sales tax, said she favors a mix of taxes. Jacks said she would first want to study how the county is spending money it already has before determining whether a sales tax increase is a good idea.
The candidates emphasized their endorsements. Vana noted that she is backed by state Reps. Dave Kerner and Irv Slossberg and a slew of other elected officials. Jacks said 18 property appraisers across the state have endorsed her, as have two of Vana’s colleagues on the county commission, Priscilla Taylor and Paulette Burdick.
While the candidates sparred on what they would bring to the office, each said they won’t be attacking each other on more personal terms, a point highlighted as the forum was ended when Jacks offer Vana a sip from her water bottle.
“Dorothy just shared her water with me,” Vana said. “And I wasn’t afraid to drink it.”
Fane Lozman, who fought the city of Riviera Beach all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, now is suing it over his address.
Lozman famously beat the city when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it wrongfully seized his two-story floating home, saying just because something floats doesn’t necessarily make it a boat. Now, in a suit filed Feb. 12 in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, Lozman alleges the city is trying to punish hm for his victory.
The suit, which Lozman filed without an attorney, demands a judge order the city to assign street addresses for the five Singer Island lots of what he calls his “Renegade” complex. Without one, his suit says, his location can’t be entered into the city’s police and fire dispatch system. He said he called dispatchers once and spent several minutes trying to explain his location; “when seconds count, this needless delay could result in serious injury or death,” his suit says.
Lozman also demanded the city be stopped from abandoning a public road near his property, an act he said would remove his access to the beach and ocean, just 50 feet away. He said the property “has a vested right for the last ninety-two (92) years.”
The suit claimed city Building Official Peter Ringle and Community Development Director Mary McKinney both have told Lozman his properties never will be issued an address. It said the county’s property appraiser’s office wrote the city calling for the address designation, concurring that it’s mandatory for 911 service, and also saying the appraiser needs an address to mail its notice of proposed taxes. But, the suit said, the city has ignored the calls.
Neither Ringle, McKinney or Riviera Beach City Attorney Pamala Ryan could immediately be reached Tuesday.
Last week, besides the Riviera Beach suit, Lozman and another regular at Palm Beach County Commission meetings, Alex Larson, sued the city over time allotted for public comment on the commission’s “consent agenda.”