Palmetto Bay: Paradise (Point) Lost

by SDM

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..”

– John Milton, Paradise Lost

After watching Monday night’s Palmetto Bay zoning hearing, SDM woke this morning thinking of that old television show Name That Tune. Remember it? If you answered yes then SDM is sorry to say that you are officially old.

For those youngsters reading this blog, Name That Tune was a game show where contestants would bid on how few notes they needed to name the tune the host would play. The trick was that they had to bid before they could hear the music.

Human nature being what it is, many contestants let their competitiveness outrun their rational minds. They would keep bidding down the number of notes until some poor sucker had to name that tune in an impossible 3 notes.

Of course, the show wasn’t going to give them Deep Purple’s riff from Smoke on the Water either. (Youngsters: Click on the link and wait about 3 minutes until Smoke starts. Only then will you understand your parents.)

The lesson is that when a future challenge is an unknown, you shouldn’t bid yourself into a position where you have no chance to meet the challenge.

On Monday night, the council reaped the harvest of the bidders who preceded them.

In 2009, the council adopted two code provisions – one inadvertent and one intentional – that came into play such that nearly all of the homes at the end of Paradise Point are forever in jeopardy. SDM will attempt to explain in simple terms what the council did.

The applicant property owner purchased a lot between two homes, both of which are between 43 and 45 feet high. These heights are common in this small neighborhood because the owners want to be high enough to see over the mangroves. The applicant asked that his home be permitted to rise to the same height as his neighbors.

The problem was that the village modified – perhaps inadvertently – its land development regulations in 2009 so that the maximum height permitted in the zoning category for these homes is 35 feet. Thus, the applicant had to request a variance to build to the 45 feet his neighbors enjoy.

But, as the opposing neighbor next door argued through her lawyer, the village’s variance standard is a strict one – perhaps the strictest in the county. In true name-that-tune fashion, the 2009 council had bid up the variance standard making Palmetto Bay a place where “hardship” is almost impossible to show. Without a showing of a hardship not caused by the applicant, the council can’t grant a variance.

The village’s planning and zoning director threaded the needle in his staff analysis and recommended approval of the variance claiming incomprehensibly that the property owner somehow did not cause the hardship. Ultimately, at the urging of the Mayor, the council approved the variance.

SDM agrees that the property owner should be able to build to the same height as his neighbors. But, the legal path the council followed to granting the variance is destined to cause needless controversy down the road unless the code is fixed.

You see, now that the height maximum in Paradise Point is 35 feet, properties destroyed more than 50% cannot be  legally be rebuilt to 45 feet – and, here’s the rub – except for Monday night’s applicant because he has a variance! All of his neighbors – who once had variances under the county code – lost those rights in 2009 when the village changed its zoning code.

If any of this sounds familiar to you then you deserve an SDM gold star. The exact circumstances that have screwed Paradise Point homeowners will screw all the churches and schools in Palmetto Bay if they have to rebuild after a hurricane or a fire.

Oh, think twice. It’s just another day for you and me in Paradise.

– Phil Collins

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