Light-up McIntosh December 15
Light-up McIntosh will begin at the Civic Center at 6:30 p.m. The event will host Santa Clause and an area choir from six local churches will sing.
11.12.06 -- REPORT: Unraveling the past, Struggles over ordinances illuminate divisions in new council
Sunday, November 12, 2006
By CHER PHILLIPS
One of the emerging patterns in the council meetings involve home ownership rights versus the citizen board ordinances that shape two distinct aspects of the community: the Tree ordinance currently under revision and the Historic Ordinance passed last summer.
McIntosh is known for its historic district and the sprawling live oaks with draping moss that create the canopy that envelops the town. In 1983, the town filed an application with U.S. Department of Interior for placement on the historic register. Two years later, the application was accepted and historic district was created. Part of being on the register means governing appropriateness in the historic district.
At the town council meeting Thursday night, the council unanimously voted to apply to become a Tree City U.S.A. McIntosh already meets most of the criteria to becoming a Tree City, including having a committee or board in place to protect the trees in the community.
But the price for both the preservation of the historic district and the tree canopy require ordinances on the part of the town of McIntosh to maintain these qualities in the town. Shaping those ordinances has been a point of contention in the community in the past six months.
As the new council settles in, the first signs of tension among the council member are becoming apparent as the council argues property rights versus preservation. The lines are even being drawn over who should have what say in what part of the running of the town.
Bringing back the past: the Historic ordinance
Councilman Howard Walkup added the historic ordinance to the town’s agenda last Thursday and made a motion to repeal the recently passed historic preservation ordinance. He said that he wanted to reconsider the resolution since it passed under a great deal of protest with “all but two or three people opposing it.”
Though the council did not support repealing the ordinance last week, they did agree to research it and discuss changes at the next meeting.
In June, the council passed ordinance 151 before a packed Civic Center. Residents got up and walked out of the meeting, calling out to council members that they didn’t listen to their residents. Several weeks later, 166 residents came out to vote in a special election that would limit expansion of the historic district with 148 voting yes to limit future expansion of the district and 12 voting to allow it.
For an ordinance to become law, it must be approved by the council on the first reading, then noticed in the newspaper and read into the record and passed again. In May, Mayor Marsha Strange asked council members before they voted if they thought they should read the proposed law first but the council approved it without evening reading the 27-page ordinance.
“To me, that’s not right,” Strange said to the council Thursday night. “And that’s what I would like to recommend to the council. If you have not read this word for word, take it home and study it and then let’s discuss it because I feel like it’s so important. We’ve gotten into it now, if there are corrections that need to be made, it needs to be done.”
At that meeting, June Glass, resident and member of the historic preservation board, told the mayor that since she didn’t live in the historic district, she shouldn’t have a say about the ordinance.
“No, but I own two of the homes in it,” Strange said. “I live right next door to it and I am concerned about it.”
The idea of where a resident lives determining what that person has a say in is a recurring issue that also came up as the town struggled over a proposed community redevelopment agency. Residents who didn’t live in the proposed area who were protesting it had been told by council members their voice didn’t count.
Glass brought up the same thought when she was describing the meeting in which the historic ordinance was passed.
“I’d like to say one thing,” Glass said. “Most of the people, I would say 99 percent, actually 100 percent, of the people who spoke against that ordinance did not live in the historic district. For those of us who do, we pretty much like it.”
“That’s not what I heard,” Walkup said.
Council President Frank Ciotti, who owns a home in the historic district, was on the council that initially passed the ordinance this summer.
“When we had 60 people in this room and everybody was hollering and screaming, it was because of rumors and innuendos,” Ciotti said. “I can forgive and change the color of paint, change the color of a tin roof. That’s the only thing wrong with this document. Nobody that was here, less than a few people, read the document completely to understand it. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into this document. People in the historic area should be the ones talking.”
Councilman Lee Deaderick said that he disagreed with some points in the historic ordinance. He didn’t think that homes in the historic district that were not on the historic register should have to apply for certificates of appropriateness. He also thought the ordinance was too punitive.
“I don’t see any help, help, help in these documents but don’t, don’t, don’t and can’t can’t can’t,” Deaderick said.
But Glass told him the board does serve to answer questions residents have.
Walkup however had a problem not only with the new ordinance but how it was enforced.
“Part of the problem about this ordinance is the fanaticism about enforcing it,” Walkup said. He gave three examples. The Smith-Hendersons who live in the house with the Great-Wall-of-McIntosh on U.S. 441 wanted to put aluminum frame windows on their home but the historic board insisted on wood frame, even though the house already had aluminum frame windows.
He also mentioned the arguments that erupted over Randy Brown, who also lives on U.S. 441, who was given a certificate of appropriateness for a dark gray metal roof over the preferred tin-colored tin roof, as the current ordinance now requires.
While Walkup and Deaderick argued that the ordinance was too strong, others disagree.
Glass said that while researching the current ordinance, they realized that McIntosh’s ordinance could be stronger.
Sportsman’s Cove owner Casey Girardin pointed out to council members that during the June meeting her lawyer Sam Mutch made the point that as the new ordinance was written, he would bring Carvel ice cream into the historic district and there wasn’t anything the council could do about it.
“The ordinance we had before was vague. We looked at ordinances all over the country and we’re weak. We’re not nearly as strong as most of the others,” Glass said.
Unlike the unpopular CRA resolution that the council unanimously repealed, the council will look into the historic ordinance to consider what parts of it they will ring the issue back up.
“They worked on this document, they suffered over it,” Ciotti said. “It was not just thrown together.”
But even that tempered adjustment didn’t suit Glass.
“We’re asking you to leave our ordinance alone.” Glass said.
Hanging up the future: the Tree Ordinance
While the council is struggling over how to look back into the historic ordinance, they are stonewalled with the proposed Tree Ordinance and have been since July. Some council members want to see less emphasis on public meetings and others flat out view the ordinance as mechanism for negating ownership rights.
During Thursday’s meeting, Walkup made a last minute change to the meeting agenda, adding the tree ordinance to it. Ciotti said Sean Dowie, the Tree committee chairman, had been trying to get ahold of the council members before that night’s meeting. Dowie had another meeting Thursday and could not make it.
Despite Dowie’s absence, Walkup brought up several issues he’d like changed in the proposed tree ordinance.
The first change Walkup wanted to make was to pull the from the section three a requirement that requests for approval have to be in a public meeting.
The proposed tree ordinance reads: “Committee members shall, at a Public meeting, issue a permit to kill, remove or destroy a tree in the following instance.”
Walkup said he wanted that line removed.
“I think that would hamstring the committee and delay approval of a permit,” Walkup said. “I think the public meeting ought to be deleted from that.”
He suggested that the committee instead pass the approval process along, with each person signing it.
Ciotti questioned whether that method would be properly noticed but Walkup said this is how “it’s always been done in the past.”
Yet McIntosh’s Land Development Code 5.08.02 carries the same language word for word as the proposed ordinance – that permits should be issued at a public meeting.
Further, Florida’s “Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual” says on page 1 that Florida’s Sunshine law applies to “any board or commission of any state agency or authority or of any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision.”
In other words, the Tree committee, like the other citizen boards are subject to the Sunshine Law and their decision making process would have to follow the same open meeting requirements as other public boards.
Most of Walkup’s changes to the ordinance were cosmetic. He said he would like to see changes in how many trees are required to replace a removed tree. He also questioned the
protection of the Crepe Mrytle because it is technically not a tree.
Councilwoman Eva Jo Callahan clarified this point and said that the mention of the Crepe Myrtle is because Fred DelRusso has one in his yard that is so large it has garnered national recognition.
But Lee Deaderick had a problem with the Tree Ordinance that ran deeper than other council members’ concerns.
Deaderick started a practice Thursday night of quoting U.S. founding fathers.
He began with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “I’m not a friend of very energetic government, it’s always oppressive.”
“And I think this whole thing right here smells of oppressive government,” Deaderick said. “I understand completely the concept of protecting the beauty of the town, as I’ve discussed this with Sean heatedly. I don’t think there is a problem. If there was, there wouldn’t be no 100-year-old trees he’s trying to protect or they would have been cut down before we had a tree ordinance in 1992.”
Deaderick said he doesn’t think that an ordinance is necessary. He would like to see only the trees on the town’s right of ways protected and then if people want to protect individual trees, they could put them on the town register.
“Then the rest of us will be free to do what we want with our property that we pay taxes on and not have to have committee meetings and not have to have anything in public meetings and accomplish the goal without having to violate people’s personal freedoms,” Deaderick said. “I can’t imagine why they would want to take stuff from people and not give any back.”
He also added that the ordinance still had sycamore trees in it, which were widely considered to be “pest trees.”
Not all the council members agree with him. Ciotti gave specific examples of reasons why the town has a tree ordinance.
“I was here in 1982 when they moved the bank in and cut down the most beautiful oak tree you ever saw and there wasn’t a thing we could do about it,” Ciotti said.
“As well as it should be, it was their property,” Deaderick said.
“But still, we need to protect our trees. I know it’s great to have rights of the owner, and we could do deed restrictions,” Ciotti said.
He explained an example saying suppose Del Russo sold his house with the restriction that the Crepe Myrtle not be cut down. Then the next owner could easily appeal the council and that council might say he can cut down whatever he wants.
“You think trees are more important than people’s rights?” Deaderick asked Ciotti.
Ciotti stopped and said, “Hmmmmmm.”
But Deaderick pressed the point and pushed him.
“That’s what you just told me. Trees are more important than people’s property owner rights,” Deaderick said.
“I think in this particular situation, yes,” Ciotti said.
“Well, it’s nice to know where you stand,” Deaderick said.
“If we had deed restrictions, all it would take is a bottle of roundup and he could say the tree’s dead and that wouldn’t save anything,” Glass said.
Glass said that they needed to increase the fines for cutting down the oak trees because that’s what they were really trying to protect.
Eva Jo Callahan tried to explain that if she cut down the two trees in her yard it would drastically change the look of the whole neighborhood.
“What you’re saying is that it’s your opinion that trees are beautiful. It might be a widely held opinion, but its nothing but an opinion,” Deaderick said. “You’re saying its our right to predetermine what people do with the things that they buy.”
Callahan told him no, but that the council has a responsibility to explain why things are the way they are.
“You’re talking about taking somebody’s right for what they pay taxes on for an opinion of what looks good. If you’re from Arizona, you might think that desert looks good.” Deaderick said.
“Then, move to Arizona,” Callahan said.
The council members decided to table the discussion and ask Dowie to make the proposed changes to the ordinance. Callahan asked Deaderick if he would draft a tree ordinance like the kind of tree ordinance he’d like to see since little about the town’s current ordinance or the proposed ordinance seemed to suit him.
“It’s a hard position but people’s property rights are worth protecting,” Deaderick said.
posted by Cher @ 5:47 PM,
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Editor and Publisher:
I'm Cher From McIntosh, FL I'm a graduate student at the University of Florida working on a master's degree in Mass Communication. While I was finishing my undergrad degree in journalism last year, I reported on McIntosh, Fla. for an in-depth reporting class. I figured that the reporting and the public record files should go somewhere people can access them. Reporters don't report to keep the information they find to themselves. Some of that reporting is included here in a forum that allows response. McIntosh suffers because with no news coverage, the local government and the rumor mill have too much potential to run rampant over residents. I moved to McIntosh in the fall of 1999. My profile
About This Blog
The primary purpose of this blog is to accurately reflect what happens in town public meetings and dispel rumors. I record the meetings and make them available for download. One of the goals of this blog is to offer residents a place to voice opinions. The comments, views and opinions expressed there are not necessarily those of the editor.