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City Council Seeks Less Residential Density, More Open Space

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Posted: Friday, November 17, 2017 12:15 am | Updated: 8:15 am, Mon Nov 20, 2017.

A five-member Homestead Council took up the issue of the permitted concentration of residential building in the City.  

First raised in July, the question was whether the City Code’s use of gross density or net density would be more beneficial.  

Councilman Jon Burgess who first raised the issue thought only land that you could build on should be counted for number of units allowed, which is net density.  Staff admitted the Code usage of the terms was confusing.

   Councilman Burgess asked about the process for changing the Code to net density.  The City Attorney’s office explained it added about a month and a half to the usual process of Code amendment.  The reason is the requirement that land use changes go to the state for review forty-five days prior to the second reading of those ordinance changes.  The attorney recommended adopting a building moratorium to protect the City while the change was considered. 

   Mayor Jeff Porter cautioned against taking action first with a moratorium. 

   “When we talk residential density, we usually mean the UDB (Urban Development Boundary) and the undeveloped land to the east,” he said.  “But the entire west side is looking for investment and development.  With a moratorium, it will negatively impact business in the whole City.  Let’s be very careful.”

   Councilman Larry Roth said there was no definition of mixed use in the Code which also concerned Councilman Elvis Maldonado.  Councilman Roth said he needed solid numbers on what was supposed to be accomplished before making any decision. 

   Mayor Porter directed staff to redraft the development ordinances changing gross to net density for residential development and bring it back to Council. Councilman Burgess asked the City Attorney’s office to include ideas on what Council could do to lower density with revisions to the Code.

Council also discussed revisions to the open space requirement for Planned Unit Developments (PUD) in Homestead.  The rule is that no more than eighty percent of water bodies count toward the minimum usable recreation open space requirement. 

   Staff proposed lowering that percentage to twenty percent.  The idea was raised at a COW meeting in 2014 and passed by the Planning and Zoning Board in 2015 by a vote of four to one. 

   The rule only applies to twenty acres or more so staff said not much City land would be affected.  The Mayor pointed out that water retention in ponds was regulated in other ways.  Staff said there was no requirement for any lake, that the rule concerned storm water runoff and drainage calculations, and the real issue was lack of open recreation fields. 

   Councilman Burgess said his goal was to close loopholes where open water counted for open land and deprived neighborhoods of intended recreation areas.  Councilman Roth said the point was protecting what little was left of the City’s land before it’s developed. 

   After discussion, staff was directed to consider zero percent for water bodies counting toward usable open space and to bring those changes to the City’s master plan back to Council. 

   Three items on Council’s agenda concerned issues relevant to the City’s operation of its electric service.  First, Vero Beach’s electric company is being sold where the City has three power project contracts.  The sale requires all nineteen cities with power contracts to consent to the sale and waive their rights.  The cities are assured replacement power will come from another supplier.  The City Manager told Council there would be a final chance to approve a new agreement.  Council approved the release unanimously.

   A second issue was renewal of the energy conservation consulting services that offer free energy surveys to residential customers and some small businesses.  The cost is $80,000 for each of three years.  Council approved the new contract.

A final electrical issue was Homestead’s participation in the solar energy project through the Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA).  By joining the agreement to add ten percent solar power, a total of twenty-five percent of Homestead’s power would be from renewal sources.    

   Currently, Homestead’s electric costs run $70 per megawatt/hour (MWhr); the solar project intends to offer power at about $38 per MWhr. 

Councilman Maldonado asked if the threshold for solar usage could increase above the twenty-five percent renewal source goal.  Staff explained the most cost-efficient use of solar was about ten percent of the total because of the need for back-up – solar doesn’t produce at night or when it rains. 

   Council voted to join the FMPA contract provided the energy cost were no more than $40 per MWhr.  The contract’s terms are guaranteed through July 1, 2020. 

   In other business, Council agreed to purchase a new IBM mainfame with a service contract for $145,000 financed for five years, to buy a new Ford F-250 replacing a 2004 truck for $43,603, and to accept a $5,000 matching grant for audio enhancement equipment at the Seminole Theatre.  

   Council also approved a separate fund for disabled parking fines, monies to be used for accessibility improvements. 

Two requests for waiver of fees were approved for the use of Roscoe Warren Park, $625 for the Athletic Sports Foundation Sickle Cell run on December 2, and $410 for the MAST Academy student Field Day set for March 22. 

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