Homestead City Council reluctantly advanced a general zoning change to 41.6 acres on Farm Life School Road at its meeting on Wednesday February 22.
Voting 4 to 3 to allow an R3 zoning change for “Southwind”, Council closely questioned the impact of that change. R3 zoning permits multiple residential units, a request staff found appropriate for the area. City Code permits eight units per acre under that designation, potentially permitting about 320 additional units.
The property is located to the west of Farm Life School Road, north of Mowry Drive and the turnpike.
Developer Jason Bass pointed out surrounding apartment units to the north, west and south. He also said this was a first step, as traffic studies are extremely expensive and hard to justify without proper zoning in place.
“I’m not comfortable without seeing plans as we’re oversaturated with traffic there,” said Councilman Jon Burgess. “There is no mass transit, no sidewalks, that road is terribly crowded.”
Councilman Stephen Shelley agreed with the decision to build affordable housing but also was concerned about the development’s impact. He asked about using a PUD (planned urban development) scheme, a point also raised by Mayor Jeff Porter. City staff said PUDs were generally used for intensive mixed use, commercial development.
When a site plan is next submitted, staff said the property would go through a concurrency analysis including traffic density and intensity, water and sewer use, and other infrastructure analysis.
Councilman Larry Roth found the safety of residents most important as was controlling growth and crowding. “We need more information to make an informed decision,” he said.
Farm Life School Road narrows from four lanes to two approaching a small bridge over a canal on the property’s north border, before widening again. A resident of Granada Estates located there commented that it can take fifteen minutes in the morning to exit with a right-hand turn due to traffic.
Staff said traffic mitigation would be figured at about nine trips per unit per day or roughly 2700 daily trips into the local neighborhood, a very significant impact. It seems likely that new traffic lanes, lights and other very expensive infrastructure would be an appropriate requirement for the site, according to staff.
Installation of a traffic light at the Mowry Drive intersection would have to go through the County approval process.
The City Attorney cautioned Council that absent restrictive covenants on the deed, a concept site plan would not insure actual building as an owner could sell the property at any time and plans could change.
“I caution that we trusted traffic engineering plans in the past that turned out to be failures,” said Councilman Burgess.
Voting No on the zoning request were Roth, Burgess and Shelley. Mayor Porter said he was voting Yes only to advance the item to second reading. He agreed that the traffic issue was critical in answering Council’s questions before any final zoning approval.
Further on the agenda, after brief discussion, Council unanimously approved adding $3,865,000 to the City budget from a HUD loan for use in planning the new cyber-library.
Three agenda items advanced the planning for the new multi-model transportation center – the likely site of a cyber-library as part of a downtown entertainment area.
Council approved an extension to the 2010 Arts, Entertainment & Antiques District designation to include the area of the multi-modal center to the south and west of Mowry Street.
A new subarea was added to existing zoning and planning to incorporate the multi-modal center as an “overlay district”. Finally, the Southwest Neighborhood Master Plan (SWMP) was amended to incorporate the new mixed use subarea zoning for the downtown. Councilman Jimmie Williams voted No on both issues.
“I don’t share the same enthusiasm as the rest of Council for these changes to the Southwest plan,” said Councilman Williams. “There has been no conversation about that entire plan as I requested.”
Councilman Shelley echoed those comments. “We’re patchworking the SWMP which hasn’t been effective,” he said. “We have to move forward tonight but nothing was enforced in the original plan.”
“I was excited to see a conversation slated on the Southwest,” said Councilman Roth. “Nothing new has been done in that area for 20 years.”
“I understand my colleague’s frustration,” said Councilwoman Patricia Fairclough. “Council must commit to a meeting, so let’s calendar that topic.”
Mayor Porter proposed a one issue workshop to talk about the Southwest plan as the consensus of Council.
In other business, Council approved financed equipment purchases, a landscape maintenance contract that included alleyways, and accepted a one year moratorium on medical marijuana facilities.
Council talked about the issue of old alleyways and the railroad bed on the City’s west side at earlier meetings. They agreed to assume control to clean-up those areas and to avoid the rights-of-way lapsing to adjacent properties, approving a binding resolution unanimously.
Council also approved the firm Raymond James & Associates as underwriter for the bonds from the City’s transportation system sales surtax revenue.
A contract with ENCO was approved to provide an after-hours call center for the city’s electric utility. Councilman Shelley asked about any quality control system in place and Councilman Williams drilled down on the details of customer treatment. Utility staff explained the system proposed to provide necessary services at a cost-effective rate.
Council was asked to waive City fees for certain non-profit usage of City property. The Salvation Army request was denied because no one was present to answer questions about the event. A request for City funding for a Haitian Flag Day event was deferred as Councilwoman Fairclough committed to assisting the organizers in finding contributions for the proposed May 13 event.