Pariser: Palmetto Bay = Compassion-Free Zone

by SDM

For those who missed it, Vice Mayor Pariser replied to a Soapbox Letter by Susan Ludovici. SDM posted Ludovici’s letter along with some commentary here. Ludovici’s key point was that “the village is losing its sense of community, its heart, its compassion.” Following is Pariser’s compassion-free response, which entirely supports and justifies Ludovici’s concerns:

VARIANCE REQUEST WAS HANDLED FAIRLY

In response to the letter concerning the Palmetto Bay Village Council’s denial of a lot-coverage variance for the proposed new construction of a single-family residence on a vacant lot, the writer failed to state that the village’s variance ordinance requires the Council to apply a pure hardship standard. The pure hardship standard allows a variance on lot coverage only if the physical attributes of the land would make it a hardship for the owner to use the lot for any proposed structure. The pure hardship standard was approved by the Village Council after public hearing years ago, and the standard does not allow a personal or financial hardship to be a factor in the grant of a variance.

The reason the pure hardship standard was adopted by the village, was to treat all residents equally under the same standard, in order to avoid inconsistent variance decisions by council members to subjectively choose which residents’ personal or financial hardship should have greater weight than others. The pure hardship standard evens the variance application process for all residents using an objective standard to be used by an individual in performing due diligence in determining whether to purchase or how to build on a particular lot in the village.

In the public hearing before the council discussed in the Soapbox letter, the applicant/owner was asked if the professionals he employed in the purchase and proposed design of the residential compound ever advised him before he purchased the lot and plans that a variance for such a large design would be required. Unfortunately, the applicant responded that he was never advised of the variance requirement. The council asked the applicant if he would modify his application by downsizing the lot coverage for the extensive pool, patio, garage, guest house and main house to accommodate his proposed use; however, the applicant replied that he would not vary the original design. The public hearing was then opened for public comment, and other residents spoke to the council’s legal obligation to apply the hardship variance standard to this application, whereupon the variance request was denied by the council.

Brian W. Pariser, Vice Mayor, Palmetto Bay

(First published in the Miami Herald Neighbors, April 1, 2012, p. 30SE.)

SDM now will deconstruct this letter for those who don’t follow these issues so closely.

Nothing the Vice Mayor says is untrue, but what he fails to say speaks volumes. It is true that Palmetto Bay has what the Vice Mayor calls a “pure hardship” standard for approving variance. What he doesn’t say is that this standard is stricter than what is applied in the county and in many cities. He also doesn’t mention that Concilman Fiore proposed a friendlier standard so that the village council would have some leeway when facing these tough decisions. (Clearly the applicant at issue would have had to re-apply under the Fiore standard had it passed, but the issue was moot after the Vice Mayor helped kill Fiore’s measure.)

So what you have in Palmetto Bay is a village council that adopted a needlessly rigid policy in the guise of fairness, which allows them to claim that all residents are treated equally – but which in practice really means callously and indifferently.

Take the example, which SDM covered in SDM is so proud! The applicant’s child has a serious disease and uses a wheelchair. The applicant wanted more room for his large family, who collectively care for this special-needs child. (Under the compassion-free Pariser formulation, this family’s health tragedy becomes merely “the proposed use.” Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?)

Bottom line: The council left itself no mechanism to give this family relief from what are essentially subjective constraints.

Most Palmetto Bay residents probably have no idea whether the village’s variance standard, which is a legal abstraction, could affect them so let SDM offer another example which might.

On tonight’s agenda (April 2, 2012), the council will probably adopt a new regulatory scheme it calls the “Landscape Mitigation Program.” If your property was required to install a number of trees or shrubs but you had insufficient space to comply, you could ask for a variance. Unfortunately, because the village variance standard is “pure,” meaning the property’s characteristics alone must occasion the variance, you will be denied. Fortunately – at least for village coffers –  in this example the variance is for landscaping, so the helpful village tax masters will offer you an “out” by taking more of your hard-earned money to pay into a landscape mitigation bank.

See how all this works together? First, your council creates a hyper-restrictive development standard (i.e., landscape coverage requirements, maximum lot coverage, etc.). Next, they impose a harsh variance standard. And finally, they either deny your request for compassion outright or tax you more for the privilege of being a village property owner. And from what SDM is hearing, more restrictive regulations are on the way. Hooray!

In SDM’s cynical view, Vice Mayor Pariser, who is up for re-election this fall is doing village residents a big favor. Village voters need to know just how cold, calculating and inhospitable the council has become and Vice Mayor Pariser is helping them see the light.

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