RPB Code Changes Will Improve Transparency And Enforcement

At the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission on Monday, Dec. 19, Royal Palm Beach Village Attorney Jennifer Ashton explained the purpose of several proposed amendments to the code of ordinances intended to improve transparency and enforcement.

“It amends the types of public notices that are required before a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting,” Ashton said. “The list was limited. We are adding more items that need to be advertised. Most specifically, we are adding that site plans need to be advertised. The thought process is everything else is advertised, so the public should get a full picture of what is coming before you.”

A second change gives the Planning & Zoning Commission advisory authority over all landscape waivers and sign variances.

“As of right now, when a site plan comes before you, this body has to assume that the landscape waivers and sign variances have already been granted. Now you will have an opportunity to review those things and make recommendations to the council on both of those items,” she said.

Ashton said there are also changes to make the code applicable to different types of structures.

“This board is going to be providing recommendations to the council and give architectural and aesthetic review on all developments in the village except for single-family developments under three units, so now it is consistent throughout the ordinance,” she said.

Commission Chair Jackie Larson favored the changes.

“We need all the transparency we can get,” she said. “I think we do a fairly good job in advertising, anyway, and still we get people saying, ‘I didn’t know that was coming.’ You can only do so much, but at least we’re doing one more step. The public deserves the right to know what’s going on.”

Commissioner Richard Becher made a motion to recommend approval of amendments on public notice of site plans, preliminary plats, sign variances and landscape waivers, which carried 5-0.

In other business, the commission recommended approval of an ordinance that would amend the code to rename the village’s Technical Review Committee process as the technical staff review process.

Ashton said as long as she has been with the village, the TRC has never functioned as a committee.

“It was a misnomer. It should have never been called [a committee], and it actually lended some public confusion, thinking that those meetings were open to the public, which they are not,” she said. “We are renaming the actual staff review process to make it consistent with what it actually does.”

Another amendment stipulates what happens when a violation of a condition of approval is ignored.

“You’re having, especially recently, some issues with property owners violating conditions of approval that were in their site plans, and our code didn’t give us a specific remedy for that,” Ashton said. “Now there’s a specific remedy. There are multiple remedies, actually. It can result in a code enforcement proceeding. It can result in a building official taking action, possibly revoking a permit or certificate of occupancy, or it can result in the most dramatic cases with legal action. So, we are giving the village specific remedies in the event we have a violator.”

As with the previous ordinance, the second ordinance also expands the types of public notices that are done prior to village council meetings. “Now we are going to be doing the 10-day legal ad and the 300-foot notices for site plans, which we were not doing before,” Ashton said.

It also provides that there will be an automatic withdrawal of land development applications due to inactivity.

“One of the problems we have been having is that people will be cited for a code enforcement violation, and their remedy is to go get a variance for architectural approval or whatever it will be,” she said. “They will file a TRC application, then they won’t do anything. They won’t come to the meetings. They won’t finish their applications. They’re using it as a way to delay the code enforcement process, so we needed something in there to say if you don’t do anything, your application is going to be automatically withdrawn and you’re going right back to code enforcement.”

The amendments also provide an expiration for architectural approvals that are granted by the Planning & Zoning Commission if they are not utilized within one year.

“You’ll see throughout our code that site plan variances and landscape waivers all have to be used within a one-year time frame, or they expire. There is an opportunity to get extensions, but the applicant has to ask for those,” she said. “We have nothing similar with architectural approvals [granted by the Planning & Zoning Commission]. We were running into a situation where these architectural approvals would be out there indefinitely, and they weren’t being utilized… We just wanted to clarify that architectural approvals granted will have the same expiration of one year that all other approvals have.”

Larson also liked this amendment.

“Consistency is good,” she said. “The one thing I was curious on was that I know there have been loopholes in the code enforcement that have been frustrating both for staff and for both sides. The way I read this is it’s mostly for commercial issues. Does it extend to residential code enforcement issues also, to close up those loopholes?”

Ashton said they have had issues in residential neighborhoods where people have built structures within setbacks that they get cited by code enforcement and violators come in and do the bare minimum, pay a fee and let it sit.

“The more recent examples have been commercial, but there are a few that are residential as well,” Ashton said.

Commissioner Michael Axelberd made a motion to recommend approval, which carried 5-0.