Monday, March 31, 2014

The Short History of ... Harbor Island Parking

Part of a series on the history of the current problems in North Bay Village
 Part 2:  The Short History of ... Harbor Island Parking

Harbor Island is one of three designated neighborhoods in North Bay Village with its unique coding for multifamily housing and hotels.  Whereas the North Bay Island neighborhood is designated solely for single family homes, and Treasure Island for a mix of single family homes, multifamily buildings and commercial, Harbor Island is closest to the reality of North Bay Village as the most densely packed municipality in Florida.   

As far back as the 1960's, when Harbor Island was mostly low rise garden apartments with a large hotel, a spa and several nightclubs, there has always been a parking problem.  As the neighborhood has transformed to mostly high rise residential buildings, the parking issue has become more visible and more urgent.   But here's the thing nobody talks about.  

The parking issue is almost exclusively caused by one building - 7904 West Drive.  The building has had many lives - a hotel, then a rental complex and finally a condo.  And even though as an older condo it does not have the same stringent requirements for onsite parking as other buildings, the building was and still is responsible for providing up to 160 off street spaces.   

Things got complicated.  The zoning for the building is useless.  The south side is zoned as pure residential and the north side as commercial / residential, meaning that the first floor shops on the south side are not strictly legal.   No other building I can find is zoned like this.  

This led to a dispute with the owner of the penthouse unit, who wants to use the space commercially and can't.  It is zoned straight down the middle of the unit and only allows residential in half.   Well the same owner also owned the parking lot used by the other residents.  When the residents fought him on his zoning change request, he decided not to rent to the building association anymore, meaning that their cars all wound up on the street.   

The owner is not popular with the Mayor's Positivity Club so they have continued to hold his unit hostage while decrying his unwillingness to give away the lot for free.   He's not moving on the subject.  The residents won't move from their position.  The city can start fining them for not having parking but they won't since the Mayor and her cabal dislike the parking lot owner.  The commission won't hear the changes requested and the Harbor Island residents have no extra parking at all.  

Just another day in North Bay Village Crazy™.

Kevin Vericker
March 31, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Short History of... Traffic Enforcement

Part of a series on the history of the current problems in North Bay Village
 Part 1 can be found here:  The Short History of ... Traffic Enforcement
When I moved to North Bay Village in 1998, the first thing people told me was "don't speed - you'll get a ticket."  North Bay Village had a decades long reputation as being tough on speeders and traffic offenders.   

Not so much anymore.  In fact, our police chief told the commission this month that the police had written a total of 21 tickets in the previous month.  

But we see the traffic going by very fast on the causeway.  I'm usually the slowest car on there and I'm doing the limit.  So how did we go from a place reputed for its tough standards to the wild west we have now?  

Well, about three years ago, when the PD still enforced the speed limits, somebody who got a ticket didn't think he was actually speeding and so he challenged the ticket.  As part of the challenge, he request the calibration logs for the radar used and lo and behold, North Bay Village had not calibrated the radar for several years.  The ticket was thrown out and so were many others.  Because the PD didn't do the calibration.

The chief did not address the problem that the radar was not being properly calibrated and instead of fixing the procedures that overlooked the proper calibration, the PD just stood down and cut back the traffic patrols.   Also, nobody gets tickets for red light infractions anymore either.  

Now with 20% of our sworn officers on disability or medical restrictions, the chief says there is not enough staffing to enforce the traffic laws. 

That's not the full story though.  There is a part time officer being trained in traffic enforcement and Chief Daniels thinks that at some indefinite point in the future, the NBV PD might be able to enforce the laws on the causeway.  And that's good enough for the commission.  

Kevin Vericker
March 23, 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Separation of Powers and Influence

Frank Rollason, NBV Manager, decided that the commission cannot be trusted to get the unfiltered advice of the Planning & Zoning Board and so stood up to tell them and the village staff that regardless of how they voted last night, he would be making the recommendations to the commission.  

There is a request for a cosmetic variance from a homeowner regarding some new construction.  It looks small and reasonable but  it does not comply with code.  P&Z can recommend for or against  the variance.  It goes to the commission and they decide, taking the advice into account but not bound by it.  

The village planners recommended against approval.  As the board opened discussion on the item, a time when the public and board might explore the  reasons for this recommendation, Rollason came to the podium and told the board that he would be recommending approval of the variance to the commission.   

That was out of line.  The planner reports to the village manager and when the boss contradicts his employees in public, the smart employee shuts up.  Who wants to lose their job over a stairway?   

The board itself is well aware that the village manager has gone after other board members personally for failing to please him and while I don't think they were intimidated by him, his actions shut down meaningful discussion.  They will never know why the planner recommended against approval.  

In our poor form of local government, most of the power lies with the village manager.  The idea is that the commission hires a village manager as the CEO and lets him run it.  There are certain issues that are reserved for the commission e.g. zoning and taxes as well as general legislation.  The commission appoints boards to advise them on zoning, taxes and policy.  These boards are independent of the village manager. 

Frank Rollason has decided to blow that off.  He took apart two boards, Business Development and Youth Services, because... well, he doesn't explain.   Last night at Planning & Zoning, he sent a clear message that he runs that one as well.  

Rollason should pay more attention to his job and less to being the big shot where he doesn't belong.  Maybe if he did, we wouldn't have had three tries to get the budget legal and he would have given the commissioners the true cost of expanding the village hall.  

Kevin Vericker
March 19, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Village Hall On The Move

Tuesday night, the commission approved an additional $9,000 per year to rent the ground floor of the building at 1666 JFK Causeway to use as a meeting space, rather than continue at the school for the commission meetings and P&Z.   

Except it was not $9,000.  It is a cool $49,000 per year.  The Village Manager inadvertently double counted a $40,000 estimated savings on the rent and presented the items as having a net cost change of $9,000 more per year.   

Since the village uses the space at the school about 6 hours per month and then about 4 hours per month for the P&Z, this comes out to about $400 per hour additional to have a slightly more convenient place to meet. 

The main reasons given for moving where that the chairs were too hard in the school auditorium (they are) and that residents don't attend because it's for some reason more difficult to go to the school (doubtful).  

The option of spending say $3,000 and donating improved seating to the school and actually asking the residents why they don't come were not considered.  

Since the resolution was reached with the oral assurance that it was $9,000, even though the written support said $49,000 savings, there is a question if the resolution is legal.  

There's a lot could be done with $49,000 - Pay the PAL finally, or use it to fund a parking study for Harbor Island, or develop a comprehensive PR strategy to attract residents to the boards and meetings, or to fund the reserve.  

But instead it will be spent on making the commissioners slightly more comfortable six hours a month.  Comfort costs.  

Kevin Vericker
March 16, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

Has The Commission Just Given Up?

Reviewing the agenda for tomorrow night, it jumps out that almost all matters not related to real estate development are in the consent agenda, a part of the agenda which typically contains items so obvious that the commission doesn't need to consider them for discussion.  These might include routine resolutions to extend a contract or recognition of certain national issues like "Support An Athlete Day."  This month however the consent agenda includes:
  • The appointment of a permanent building official by entering into a contractual relationship with a third party.  
  • The appointment of a public works director by entering into a contractual relationship with a third party. 
  • Changing the insurance program to allow elected officials to participate at their own expense in the village's health plan.  
  • Renting yet another piece of real estate for our commission.  
  • Funding a health program for the school.  
Now each of these proposals has its merits, except for renting new commission space for our permanently temporary village hall, but each of them should be discussed and understood by the commission.   Trying to jam them through as a consent agenda contravenes the purpose of the commission to act as the board of this village.   We'll see how it goes tomorrow.  

In that same spirit, you might notice that except for P&Z, there is no board activity to report on and nothing on the calendar for this month.   

No Meetings At All
This is all bad.  No discussions.  No commiunity.  No events.   It's like we don't have a government at all.  

Kevin Vericker
March 10, 2014

Sunday, March 2, 2014

What Happens When The Citizens and The Government Pull Together To Solve A Problem?

Good things happen.  Recently I wrote about the issue presented when a proposed building met the opposition of nearby residents.  Normally, this would be a bloody fight leaving both sides weakened and nobody happy.  But sometimes, it works the right way and that's noteworthy.  

In this case, the Planning & Zoning Board did exactly what they are supposed to do - evaluate the requests for compliance, understand the reasoning behind variance requests and consider the impact on the community.  In January, the only thing that was clear was that the impact would be big on the residents of the Lexi if the proposed condo hotel was granted all the variances the developer requested.  

And instead of assuming the government knows best, Rey Trujillo, the chair of P&Z requested that the developer and the Lexi work together to come up with a plan that would work for each.  And remarkably, they did.  

There were several components to this working right.  

P&Z had to recognize that they don't have all the answers.  P&Z Chair Trujillo did that.   

The residents had to be clear and informed about the impact and willing to do the work.  The Lexi Board, in particular Tony Eng and Sam Zamacona, did exactly that and were able to present their concerns eloquently and with data.  

The developer needed to understand that he is part of the community and approach the concerns intelligently and flexibly.   

In the end, that's what happened.  The proposal is far from perfect and I understand the reasoning of the two P&Z members who voted against the plan.  But the process worked when leadership (P&Z) and community interests worked together with good intentions.  It's encouraging.  

The Harbor Island Parking issue has reached a tipping point.  Everyone agrees the fundamental problem is more cars than available parking.   The people at the Harbor Island meeting last Wednesday night showed that they have the right stuff.  They were prepared with data and ideas worth considering.  

The city administration needs to take a lesson from how the condo hotel issue was resolved.  Understand that there is no perfect solution and actively engage the local residents in finding a good solution.  Let the residents lead on the parking problem and see what solutions emerge.  I'm pretty sure the result will be a darn sight better than what we've seen so far.  

Kevin Vericker
March 2, 2014