Potential Progress for Seven50 Opposition
The American Coalition for Property Rights (ac4pr.org), with some help from members of the Palm Beach County Tea Party, has been able to convince three County Commissions (St. Lucie, Martin and Indian River) to ‘opt out’ of Seven50 – the HUD funded regional plan that sets out a progressive vision for “seven counties, 50 years”. Now their sights are set on Palm Beach County.
Predicting significant population growth in South Florida over that time frame along with rising sea levels and constraints on natural resources, the Seven50 plan sees public transportation, high density housing situated close to transit corridors, and restrictions on private land use as the solution. Implementation would involve changes in zoning regulations, and adoption of a regional blueprint which would supersede today’s system of county and municipal land use rules.
Fearing loss of local control and influence by property owners and other citizens, opponents of the plan have been asking county governments to “opt out” of the Seven50 MOU (“memo of understanding”) which they signed in 2010. Our three northern neighbors acquiesced, but so far Palm Beach County has not been willing to accept the premise that any of their authority would be preempted by the plan, nor do they feel bound to implement any of its provisions. Commissioner Hal Valeche, certainly not a proponent of the “New Urbanism”, does not see Seven50 as anything more than a federally funded study that lays out some proposals – that the county can accept or reject (or ignore) at their leisure.
Phyllis Frey, a leader in this fight, along with Mel Grossman, president of PBCTP, arranged for interested citizens to come to the February 4th Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting, to speak “off agenda” during the “Matters by the Public” session.
The 80 or so activists wore red shirts in support of the 15 or so who spoke, and the speakers covered a range of issues, from the impacts to Home Rule, development density concerns, the relationship to UN Agenda 21 and other topics.
For the most part, the session was cordial, and the Commissioners made comments and suggestions, although it was clear none of them saw any reason to “opt out”. There was a little bit of drama, as leader Mel Grossman was thrown out of the meeting room by an overzealous deputy. (see sidebar). In the Sun-Sentinel (“SFL Tea Party Leader Ejected from PBC Commission Meeting) and the PB Post (“About 80 seven/50 opponents pack palm beach county commission“) that part was the lead.
Drama notwithstanding, potential progress was made in the meeting. Seeking a way to address the concerns – namely that home rule would be compromised or that the county would be compelled to implement the seven50 plan, Commissioner Steven Abrams suggested that the County Attorney draft an addendum to the agreement(s) with the Seven50 committee, clarifying that nothing in those agreements in any way compromises our Home Rule or otherwise overrides the County’s planning and zoning. The addendum would be signed by both the BCC and Seven50 officials. The rest of the BCC agreed and County Attorney Denise Nieman said she would return at the next BCC meeting on March 11th. After the meeting, Ms. Nieman spoke with members of the public – including Mel and Phyllis. The latter plan to work with Ms. Nieman’s team to see if the proposed wording would satisfy their concerns.
All should recognize however, that whenever government grants are accepted, there are strings attached. And having an addendum or an opt-out, no matter how it is worded, does not relieve interested citizens from having to continue to monitor various development projects from appearing on Consent Agendas for passage without discussion. Also – most if not all on our County Commission, are in support of the goals of Seven50 and other regional planning initiatives – and one shouldn’t just assume that all regional planning is good or bad. As citizens, it is up to us to watch what is going on, hold our elected officials accountable, speak out, educate others and vote!