Years ago, I attended the Aqua by the Bay hearings where I was introduced to a typical MO: A corporation requests a special exception which is not supposed to have a negative impact, but it usually does. It’s a trade-off. A site plan is approved that disturbs the public and/or environment to the benefit of a private entity.
Many experienced people like Joe McClash and Jane von Hahmann spoke with great detail showing how the request did not comply with the comp plan or code. It was said that their $25 drawing was even more detailed than the applicant’s. The county chambers were overflowing. However, as we well know, the county approved the plan anyway.
Subsequently, the corporation bulldozed a conservation area and backpedaled on a stipulation giving the public a checkpoint on progress. Issues related to a retaining wall and mangrove trimmings ensued. It was only through the persistence of environmental groups that prompted DEP intervention. But the damage was already done.
Within a 900-foot radius in Holmes Beach between city hall and city center, minimally, there have been special exceptions in Resolutions 14-04, 16-07, 17-03, 22-08, and a settlement in the residential zone. In addition, during a recent site plan review, it was discovered that there had been egregious unacknowledged special exceptions over the years. Honoring and allowing special exceptions while saying that you are adhering to the code seems like an oxymoron.
It is these repeated approvals of special exceptions and the unaddressed violations which chip away at the intended city character which is well outlined in the comprehensive plan and code.
Lack of space is a common denominator of many of our city issues, and it is the density related to these special exceptions that is creating a negative impact. There will be a trade-off; testimonials are abundant from residents who have moved, as well as the dwindling few who remain.
Residents are not asking for special exceptions when they desire a normal quality of life that is promised in the code. We ask city leaders to please have vision and preserve the unique Island character.