Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Three Pronged Test (Redux)

Yet another link added, "The Three Pronged Test." Thanks again to Bob Kelly for remembering this handy test for initiatives that come before local governmental legislative bodies.

All too often in the past we have seen items presented as "housekeeping" ordinances, or items presented with a sense of urgency that defies the fact that no one seems to be sponsoring them!

We've always been wary of changes to regulations that might take away the few protections that regular people enjoy with regard to their residences, especially (but by no means limited to) Old Town in Key West.

And we remember how almost all the standards for variances simply disappeared from the city codes a few short years ago, supposedly from a printing error. In short there has been an "urge" originating we know not where, to re-do the variance system, whether it's to divvy up variances into "big" and "small" sizes, and let the Board of Adjustment handle the "big" ones, while the "small" ones can be handled "over a handshake behind closed doors" (as one real estate entrepreneur put it a few years ago).

So now comes a plan (which looks to be by and large a "done deal," so we can only hope for the best here) to turn the variance granting authority over to the city planning board. How does this plan do when the Three Pronged Test is applied?

Bear in mind two things here. Similar plans have been deep-sixed in the past because the public insisted on having these decisions in the hands of elected officials rather than appointees. And in other areas, variances are just that, a rare and seldom granted variance to the land development regulations, granted only when the applicant can prove a hardship--not as a matter of course, or convenience. Here in Key West a few years ago one builder was advertising on his vehicle, "We do Variances!" On to the test:

1. Who wants it and why?
Obviously in this case the city commission. It's a lot of work and a lot of sitting through long meetings. (Some say that way back when some officeholders supplemented their incomes through this activity. This being 2008, we'll dismiss such talk as anecdotal.)

2. How does it benefit our Key West community?
Well, it may actually help speed up the process. Since each commissioner will now appoint a planning board member, rather than have the mayor appoint all (with the usually pro forma consent of the commission), there will still be some degree of public accountability.

3. What about negative consequences and what could we do to mitigate them?
The answer to this might lie in the small print of this ordinance. Unless someone has the time and resources to take a close look, and to come up with a reasonable critique, there is no advantage in expressing an opinion.

Unless there is something more than what we see on the face of it, this new method of granting (what should be) rare variances seems acceptable. It would be comforting to know exactly who on the commission is sponsoring it, and a few more reasons why it will benefit our community.

PS: It's not really a new issue. Look at what happened to these poor saps a few years ago. They left and put their house on the market; it finally sold a couple of years later. Click Here.


Anonymous said...

It was actually sponsored by the City Manager, at the behest of the Planning Board itself. At least that's the way I heard it.

One "bad consequence" (depending on your point of view) is that now, when the planning board turns down a variance, the next step is the courts (rather than a chance to convince the Commission, wearing their Board of Adjustment hats). For "little guy" issues, that could tend to stiffle their chances...

Concerned Neighbor said...

Thanks for that information.
As far as the "little guys" having to get a lawyer, it was ever thus.
Our friends in the Meadows were too cheap to hire one, even to get an opinion. At the least, they could have stalled the work until they left for the summer, rather than hearing the "dunk, dunk, dunk" of a nail gun 12 inches from their living space from 8 till 5 that year! So it went....Cheers!

Anonymous said...

"Behest of the Planning Board itself"? Now, are there any members of that board for whom this new deal would be an advantage? Anybody hooked in with redevelopment, builder, architect, or what? Of course they would have to recuse themselves if one of their own deals came up. Just asking.
--One who's seen it, Anon for this

john mertz said...

One more comment, as I look back over this. This new plan may be OK, especially as each commissioner will be choosing one planning board member from each district.
But as far as the three-pronged concept goes, WHO (meaning which ELECTED official) is sponsoring any legislation up for a vote.
There has been too much semi-anonymous activity, credited to unknown entities, including "behests" on the part of non-elected officials.