CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commissioners chose to defer a Nov. 28 public hearing on the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program until the last regularly scheduled meeting of the year.

The Commission is expected to consider the matter at its Dec. 12 meeting. The public hearing portion of the meeting will start at 6 p.m. in the fifth floor Assembly Room of the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.

Vice-Chair Ken Welch, acting as chair Nov. 28 as Chair Janet Long was absent, recommended postponing the hearing due to new information that had been submitted by members of the PACE industry. In addition, two commissioners were absent, Long and Karen Seel.

Commissioner Charlie Justice suggested that commissioners consider the commercial side of the program only since the new information pertained to the residential part. He was unsure that issues with the residential program could be resolved before Dec. 12.

Commissioners have been talking about PACE since 2011. In 2013, the commission agreed to negotiate with a single provider for a commercial-only program. However, in May 2016, the commission terminated negotiations and rejected all proposals due to a growing number of concerns.

In May of this year, commissioners scheduled a work session to discuss PACE again. Staff outlined a number of benefits of a countywide ordinance during a May 18 workshop, such as providing minimum standards and limitations for a PACE program, the ability to modify the program through an amendment, as well as providing for consumer protections. Municipalities that didn’t want to implement the program would be able to opt-out.

Staff recommended starting with a commercial-only program, but commissioners preferred including residential too. PACE providers say the most popular use of PACE financing is for wind mitigation, which can save on insurance costs by making improvements to roofs, windows, doors and garage doors. Air conditioning systems are the second most popular improvement.

The PACE program provides help for commercial and residential property owners in need of financing for wind resistance, energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements. The financing is done through a special assessment, which becomes part of the property tax bill.

PACE liens receive priority over mortgage payments, which is a problem for some mortgage lenders, including two government loan programs, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Local Realtors oppose the program.

Commissioners considered the PACE program again during an Aug. 15 meeting and were unable to resolve differences between what the county would like and what PACE providers considered doable. The commission directed staff to meet with all the stakeholders to address the issues.

The commission wanted an ordinance that would provide for a countywide program, which would allow municipalities to opt out. The program would serve residential and non-residential properties. It would provide consumer protections similar to those for mortgages and no prepayment penalties would be allowed for residential assessments.

Staff invited participants from all PACE providers in the state and others interested in the ordinance to attend a PACE Stakeholder Forum on Oct. 4, which was attended by 13, not including county staff.

As a result of that meeting, staff removed references to the Truth in Lending Act from the ordinance. PACE providers say TILA does not apply to them. Staff also removed restrictions on prepayment penalties for non-residential assessments.

In addition, the proposed ordinance was modified to make online monitory mandatory for solar systems, unless the owner rejected in writing. Financial requirements would be tied to Fair Market Value rather than property appraiser’s Just Value. “Eligible measures” could be set for “third party experts,” and reporting requirements were reduced.

Zoning and land use changes

In other business during the public hearing segment of the meeting, the commission unanimously approved two zoning and land use changes.

Commissioners said yes to a request from Mike’s Haines Road Holdings LLC and Dale Mastry LLC for a zone change from R-4, one, two and three family residential, to C-2, general retail commercial and limited services on 0.31 acre, and a land use change from residential low medium to commercial general on five parcels totaling 0.61 acre located near the southwest corner of 54th Avenue North and Haines Road North in Lealman.

Existing structures on the parcels include two single-family homes, a duplex and a tavern. The owner wants to combine these five parcels with two additional parcels to the east for redevelopment of retail commercial.

The second request approved was from Clay & Pam LLC from a land use change from residential medium to employment and a zoning change from one, two and three family residential to M-1-CO, light manufacturing and industry-conditional overlay on 0.8 acre located 135 feet north of the northeast corner of the Florida Avenue and Ninth Street intersection in Palm Harbor.

According to a report from the Local Planning Agency, the area is a portion of a larger 2-acre parcel that extends to the north and east. The applicants also own the property to the north, which contains an auto collision repair business.

The area under consideration for an amendment has been used for vehicle storage and as a staging area for the auto repair facility; however, it is not allowed by the existing R-4 zoning district. The requested M-1-CO district would permit such uses, which the applicants wish to continue.

The conditional overlay limits the use of the site to the storage and processing of vehicles for repair and restoration or disposal after collisions, the storage of inventory and materials necessary for repair or restoration. It also allows storage for vehicles utilized for law enforcement purposes, for vehicles removed from properties under contract, from vehicles removed from roadways after collision, restoration and outdoor storage of customer vehicles, trailers and vessels of all types and classes towed onto or delivered to the property for public/governmental purposes and private parties.

County Planning Department staff recommended two additional conditions, no vehicle stacking and no storage of RVs or boats, to which the applicant agreed.

Lastly, the commission unanimously approved an amendment to code governing Human Relations and membership on the County Council for Persons with Disabilities to prevent possible violations of the Sunshine Law.

Countywide Planning Authority

Sitting as the Countywide Planning Authority, commissioners unanimously approved three Countywide Plan Map amendments during the public hearing segment.

The first amended 1.75 acres at 10476 131st St. N. in unincorporated Largo from residential low medium to public/semi-public. The property is currently being used as an assisted living facility. The owner wants to expand from 24 beds to 65 beds.

The second amendment was for 0.45 acre on the east side of Keystone Road about 160 feet southwest of Meyer Lane in Tarpon Springs from residential low medium and residential medium to office. The property is currently vacant. The proposed use is for an office with access off the adjacent property.

The third approval amended 0.74 acre at 1255 Belcher Road in unincorporated Clearwater from office to retail and services. The property is the site of a former bank and has an existing building being used as an insurance office. The proposed use is for a car wash. Welch expressed concern about the hours the business could operate, especially if the owner sells the business.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at webmaster@tbnweekly.com.