TREASURE ISLAND – City commissioners voted unanimously March 4 to table the first reading on the proposed North End Planned Development ordinance until a legal opinion can be obtained on Treasure Islands’s charter mandate requiring a referendum for changes in land development regulations.
The draft ordinance targets an area along John’s Pass owned by Homeowners Choice Inc./Greenleaf Capital LLC where Gator’s Café now operates. If passed, it would allow the site to be planned, developed, operated and maintained according to an approved development plan.
City leaders have long sought a redevelopment of
the area and the construction of a major resort facility. Greenleaf Capital has not submitted plans but has indicated it is interested in developing such a project.
One of the principal parts of the ordinance is the process for changes in height and density. The area is currently zoned Commercial General and would likely be rezoned Resort Facilities High. Both designations allow for a maximum height of five stories above one level of parking and a maximum density of 50 tourist units per acre.
Increases in either height or density would require approval by voters. Therein lies the problem, according to City Attorney Maura Kiefer.
Kiefer said the city could be in violation of Florida House Bill 537, a growth management law also known as the Anti-Referendum Act, which prohibits referendums in regard to development orders, changes in comprehensive plan or changes in the land use map.
The question is whether a height or density change would qualify as a development order under House Bill 537. If so, the city could be open to a lawsuit.
Should the issue go to a vote and residents turn down a request for changes, the city could be in line for a lawsuit from the landowners. Should the issue pass, someone could bring a lawsuit challenging the legality of the referendum based on House Bill 537.
The city is basically caught between a rock and a hard place, Mayor Bob Minning said.
With that in mind, Kiefer proposed hiring Boca Raton attorney Charlie Siemon for a legal opinion, which commissioners hope to have by their April 1 meeting. Commissioners agreed and voted 4-1 to get the legal opinion.
Siemon was the lead attorney for the city of Boca Raton in Archstone Palmetto Park vs. the city of Boca Raton, which dealt with issues involving House Bill 537. Siemon is considered the foremost authority on House Bill 537 since it was passed by the Florida Legislature last June and has appellate court experience with the legislation.
“I would like to see us table this ordinance until we get our legal opinion,” said Commissioner Alan Bildz.
“I agree,” said Commissioner Phil Collins. “It’s a moot point until we get our opinion.”
Earlier in the discussion, Brent Von Horn, assistant general counsel for Greenleaf Capital, spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance.
“Not developing is costing residents now and will continue to cost them,” Von Horn told commissioners and about 50 residents in the audience. “Development means a better Treasure Island for everyone. The key is to make sure it’s done well. That’s what the city is trying to do with this PD ordinance by encouraging property owners to be creative and provide economic benefits to the community.”
Von Horn pointed to a pair of recent polls by the city’s Vision Committee that shows a clear interest by residents for “a world class resort.”
“That kind of development will benefit every person who lives here to greatly increase tax revenues, more jobs and increase economic vitality,” he said. “We anticipate millions of dollars in increased tax revenue for the city and less tax increases for (residents).”
Von Horn said there was a misunderstanding by residents that the ordinance would mean height and density increases.
“This ordinance does not account for any extra height or density,” he said. “What this ordinance does do is to allow property owners to present creative ideas and concepts to the city to review. The purpose is to provide flexibility in the planning and construction of projects.”
If the site retains its current Commercial General or is changed to Resort Facilities High, the maximum height would be five stories above one level of parking. The maximum density would be 50 tourist dwelling units per acre.
However, if Greenleaf or any other landowner within the development district proposes an increase in either height or density, it would have to be approved by voters – if the city determines that avenue is still legal.