Lox Council Postpones Shift Of Local Planning Agency Duties

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council last week postponed approval of an ordinance that would revert the duties of the Local Planning Agency from the council back to the Loxahatchee Groves Planning & Zoning Committee.

The July 9 postponement was the result of a 2-2 stalemate with Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia and Councilwoman Lisa El-Ramey opposed to the change. Mayor Robert Shorr and Councilwoman Laura Danowski voted for the ordinance, and Vice Mayor Dave DeMarois was absent.

In 2018, the council took over the Local Planning Agency’s role in an effort to both have more control over development requests and streamline the process.

Planning consultant Jim Fleischmann explained that the Local Planning Agency is required by the state to review proposed comprehensive plan land use amendments for the town.

Mayor Robert Shorr said the item had been discussed at a previous meeting and the council had made minor changes.

“The change streamlines the process,” Shorr said. “After we approve it, it had to go back to the P&Z, and then it comes back to us, so it’s putting a delay in some of the projects potentially. It was all discussed at the last meeting.”

Maniglia, however, objected to the change, which would reverse a change made more than a year ago.

“If we send it back to P&Z, it’s going to cost us more money in planning because it’s going to come back to us anyway,” Maniglia said.

“You need to understand the timeline,” Shorr said.

“I do understand the timeline,” Maniglia said. “This was done for a reason.”

“It made sense when we went over it last meeting,” Shorr said. “An extra meeting with the LPA delays the project.”

Fleischmann said the job of the LPA is traditionally to make recommendations to the council.

“The way it stands right now, the council is the local planning agency, and we’ve had only one instance where that’s occurred,” Fleischmann said. “Up until last year, the Planning & Zoning Committee was the Local Planning Agency. Ordinance 2018-03 reversed that and took that responsibility away from P&Z and assigned it to [the council], so that we would have a Local Planning Agency meeting the same night as the council meeting, followed by the first reading of the ordinance.”

Fleischmann said that the ordinance would then go to the Planning & Zoning Committee to review land use and zoning for the change before the comp plan change came back to the council for final approval.

“Rather than make the approval of a land use designation by the council with no input by P&Z, then P&Z has to deal with the fact that the land use change has already been made with no input from them,” Fleischmann said, adding that having the Planning & Zoning Committee review the proposed land use amendment allows a separate public hearing outside of the council meeting.

“The only extra expenditure in my mind would be to pay for my time to attend the Planning & Zoning meeting,” Fleischmann said. “There’s public hearing requirements, sign posting requirements, staff reports. All of that has got to be done regardless of who the LPA is.”

Shorr said that with the current situation of the council giving prior comp plan approval, then the application going to P&Z and returning to council for final approval potentially adds a month or two to the approval process, but Fleischmann disagreed, explaining that three approvals must be given regardless of the order, and P&Z sitting as the LPA can devote more time to the request.

“With a full agenda, I don’t believe the council can devote the proper amount of time to do all three of those things,” Fleischmann said. “It just makes more sense to me to send it to the Planning & Zoning Committee so they can take the time and have a specific agenda where they can spend a lot of time on it. All land use plan amendments are big deals, and not something in my mind, where all those things should be addressed in one council meeting where there are 10 or 15 things on the same agenda.”

Maniglia said that an application that the council would reject anyway could be quashed early in the process.

“We can just nip it in the bud if it’s something that the town is not going to [approve],” she said. “Otherwise, they’re taking Mr. Fleischmann’s time, they’re taking the time on the meetings. I would suggest, if you guys are not sure about this, let’s leave it the way it is. It will come to us, and we will decide that this is not the right thing to do, but it has been streamlined. Also, the problem is that they kept bringing stuff back to us that we kept saying ‘no.’ I think we should experience this before we change it.”

Danowski said selecting someone to serve on P&Z was her most difficult committee appointment, “in the sense of finding somebody qualified, knowledgeable, willing, familiar, versed in the vocabulary, and I have 100 percent confidence in my committee pick to be way more qualified at this than me. I am more than OK with letting P&Z become the LPA.”

Maniglia said she also had confidence in the committee but felt having them review the application was an additional expense and makes the process longer.

Fleischmann pointed out that his expense is recovered from the applicant.

“When I go to any of those meetings related to land use plan amendments, zoning, site plan, it’s the applicant paying for my time, not the town,” Fleischmann said.

Danowski made a motion to approve the ordinance as written, and Shorr seconded the motion, which stalemated 2-2.

El-Ramey initially asked if she could abstain from voting. When she was told that she could not, she decided to side with Maniglia because she would like to see it discussed at another meeting.

“I would like Mr. Fleischmann to give the pros and cons… and why one way is better for us, and vice versa,” she said.

Fleischmann said he would include that information in his progress report at next month’s meeting.