New Madeira commissioners prompt spirited discussion of environmental concerns

Mayor John Hendricks presents a plaque to Helen “Happy” Price recognizing her two years of service on the Madeira Beach City Commission.

MADEIRA BEACH — In their first city commission meeting since the March 15 election, newly elected commissioners Ray Kerr and David Tagliarini were already having an impact.

The new commissioners were expected to be less favorable to development than Commissioners Nancy Hodges and Helen “Happy” Price, whom they replaced, and more focused on issues such as the environmental or infrastructure impact of actions taken. That change showed up early when several ordinances relating to Impervious Surface Ratio, or ISR, came up for approval. ISR refers to the portion of land covered by buildings or hard surfaces vs. open land where water sinks into the ground rather than running off into waterways to pollute the environment or increasing flooding.

The city’s Planning Commission and city staff had recommended an ISR of .85 impervious to .15 open space as a reasonable number for John’s Pass Village, the area under consideration. Laws affecting development there are very important, as the Village is the county’s Number 1 tourist attraction and a major source of income for the city.

But Tagliarini wanted a .70 ISR, which he said was recommended by experts such as the EPA and the United States Geographical Survey as best for the environment.

“We have to start thinking about ISRs in terms of soil erosion,” Tagliarini said. “We’re proposing a change to the code which would allow an increase to the Impervious Surface Ratio.”

He noted St. Pete Beach has a citywide ISR of .70.

“We have to stop adding to the problem with our new construction,” Tagliarini added. “If we have an opportunity to improve the health of our biosystem, this would be the time to do it.”

Kerr took the approach that there needs to be more discussion on the ISR before voting on the proposed ordinances. He made the motion on one of the ordinances up for first reading, saying he moved for approval of the ordinance with Section 5 relating to ISR deleted. He also wanted voting to be postponed on an ordinance that was up for second reading that included the .85 ISR.

There were nine ordinances on the agenda, all proposed by the planning department. Most of them included multiple changes, affecting different parts of the code book, with many of the changes “housekeeping,” to keep the code consistent or make corrections. Most of the attention was focused on the five ordinances that included the .85 ISR provision.

Planning Director Linda Portal, who attended the meeting via telephone, said the .85 ratio was reasonable for the John’s Pass Village zoning districts under consideration.

“A lot of the buildings down there are already at 100 percent Impervious Surface Ratio, so requiring them to go to .85 would require them to come up with some open space and green space if they redevelop,” Portal said. “It would be very difficult to come up with 30 percent (open space) if we went to .70 right on the boardwalk, because there’s not much land there.”

She added that “this isn’t an attempt to do something really drastic that nobody had ever really thought about” and said the city has done communitywide planning processes before – something that was taken into consideration when the current amendments to code were proposed.

Portal said the changes are intended to create or recreate the environment of the dense urban village that exists at John’s Pass.

Among the three longer-serving commissioners, there was support for the ordinances as written.

“We’re trying to help the businesses in the village so that they can rebuild,” Mayor John Hendricks said.

To Tagliarini Hendricks said, “You’ve got to get pragmatic and realize we can’t do things certain ways just because we don’t like it personally.”

Tagliarini responded that he based his decisions on studied science. “These are not just (personal) preferences,” he said.

Commissioner Doug Andrews made the point that the city is employing professionals who have recommended the proposed changes.

“Some careful consideration went into these plans,” Andrews said.

Showing strong support for the .85 ISR, Commissioner Dave Hutson voted “no” on the ordinance that was modified to exclude the ISR, because he wanted to vote for the .85 ratio.

All of the ordinances passed on first reading, with Tagliarini and sometimes Kerr voting “no” on the ones that include the ISR ratio. The commission agreed to discuss the issue at the next workshop. Then the proposed ordinances will be brought up for second reading at the next regular commission meeting.

It is possible to make changes to the ordinances on second reading, if three or more commissioners agree to do it. That appears unlikely, but the newly elected commissioners clearly want to be heard and have an impact on decisions that are made.

Planning Commission appointment

Five residents applied for the open seat on the Planning Commission, created when Kerr left that board to become District 2 commissioner.

After marking their ballots, two people were tied with two votes each. They were Helen “Happy” Price, who lost her commission seat to Tagliarini in the recent election, and Chuck Dillon, who lost his commission race with Kerr by only two votes.

Upon re-voting, Dillon won the Planning Commission appointment 3 to 2, with votes from Tagliarini, Kerr and Hutson. Hendricks and Andrews voted for Price.