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Intensity discussion gets intense
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INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – The City Commission met Tuesday night to set next year’s millage rate and adjudicate four variance cases. Commissioners also were scheduled to discuss and clarify the term intensity during a work session following the regular meeting. Two previously scheduled discussions on that issue have been canceled by commissioners.

However, the topic of intensity and the attendant controversy arose with the first variance case on the agenda. That case, a request for about 4 feet of variance to the minimum 25-foot front setback requirement, was brought by William and Judith Prentice to allow construction of an entryway and garage addition at their 21st Avenue residence. The Board of Adjustment had unanimously voted against the request on July 6 in part because the Prentices have room in the rear of their property to make changes.

According to city community development director Pete Pensa, the case would require a “supermajority” of commission votes for approval. The Prentices request would be considered an increase in intensity because the volume or bulk of the structure of the building would be increased, said Pensa.

Commissioners, particularly Vice Mayor Bill Ockunzzi, have been unhappy with city staff interpretation of intensity since it became one of four criteria that could trigger a supermajority vote on variance requests. Ockunzzi authored the charter amendment with the new language that passed overwhelmingly in March.

Ockunzzi said he thought Pensa’s interpretation of intensity was “purposely punitive.”

Pensa reiterated his concern that there would be potential for an increase in intensity because even though the Prentices don’t plan further remodeling, the next owner may feel differently. Variances transfer with the property, so it would be possible for that next owner to increase the size of the building on the property without a variance.

Ockunzzi called Pensa’s “hypothetical concern” for increase in intensity “ludicrous.”

Commissioner Jim Palamara offered an amendment whereby the Prentices would give up their right for any possible future expansion to the rear of their structure to eliminate the supermajority approval requirement.

Mayor Bob DiNicola immediately voiced objection to the commission asking the Prentices to trade up their developmental rights. The city attorney also expressed concern about the applicants giving up rights solely to circumvent the supermajority requirement.

Commissioner Jeremiah Carmody questioned whether the Prentices expanded property would be more intense than a two story building over parking built within allowable setbacks.

“Is this a more intense use? I would say no,” said Carmody.

Pensa reiterated that it was the potential increase in intensity that caused concern.

Palamara offered another amendment that if the building were ever torn down then the front and rear setbacks would revert to their original locations. When the role was called, the Prentices received approval for their variance, 3-2, with DiNicola and Commissioner R.B. Johnson voting nay.

Much later in the evening, when it was almost time for the workshop session on intensity, Palamara asked to be excused due to an early commitment the next day. Rather than postpone the intensity discussion again, commissioners agreed to ask city staff to draft an ordinance implementing the new charter language.

The ordinance is to be based on the six-page policy proposal Ockunzzi prepared on behalf of the Citizens for Better Development during the petition drive for the new charter amendment.

Commissioners approved a preliminary millage rate of 2.2132 for 2005. This millage rate, 7.5 percent lower than last year, is the rate that will be included in TRIM notices sent out by the county Property Appraiser by July 27. As budget discussions proceed, the millage rate can be lowered further, but cannot be raised.
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