More Comp Plan elements ready to go

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By Jenna McKenna

Cedar Key City Commission had to tread some old ground on the way to clearing the rest of the Conservation and Coastal Element and Future Land Use Element for transmittal to DCA.

The commission had examined those two contentions elements line-by-line, starting at a meeting two weeks ago, in the presence of a very few fiercely interested citizens.

CitizenBob Treat, who argued at the last meeting that the revised Conservation and Future Land Use elements were less protective than the existing ones, took one last swing at an item in Conservation that particularly disturbed him - the striking of language that categorically prohibited the removal of mangroves, and the substitution of language allowing their removal only with a permit.

"When you say a permit is required, that means you go to the Army Corps and get a permit," he argued. "Their ratio of allowing permits is about 12,000 to 1 - they never deny a permit. I just don't think that's a sufficient bulwark."

Commissioner Pat O'Neal reminded Treat that, because the state of Florida has taken over protection of mangroves, the city is no longer permitted to have more restrictive language than state law. Treat subsided, unhappily.

Citizen Bill Delaino was unhappy with language in the Conservation element that called for, in addition to the 50-foot coastal construction setback, the consideration of an additional 10-foot setback if "water-dependent vegetation" is found on the site.

"I understand we need something to keep people from building right into the marsh," he said, but added his fear that a site might not have significant wetlands but might have enough distribution of water-dependent vegetation to take away all buildable area.

Commissioner Scott Dennison was also concerned with language in that paragraph, noting the word "may" in the "may be required" phrase could put the city in a defensive position if landowners were unhappy with the outcome of their vegetation surveys.

Mayor Heath Davis first addressed Delaino, explaining that the language was necessary because of the prior habit of laying foundations "right up to the edge of the marsh," as he said. "We just can't have that any more."

He then explained "may" to Dennison, saying that in a case where the landowner found his whole property "gobbled up" by setbacks for isolated water-dependent vegetation, "that's a case where we can step in and maybe help the property owner out," as with a variance.

Planner Gail Easley chimed in, "This is one situation where the "may" makes the language less restrictive, rather than more so."

At Delaino's insistence, and that of Commissioner Gene Hodges, the board went round and round on seawalls again, too. City Attorney David Coffey joined the meeting, bringing clarifying language to the seawall chapter.

Where the passage had read "The use of seawalls or bulkheads shall be limited to the protection of existing endangered structures," Coffey substituted the phrase "vertical coastal armoring" for "seawalls or bulkheads." He explained that this was language used by the state of Florida, which describes a 75 percent grade or a slope of 4:1 as being sufficiently vertical to require fencing in such an application as a roadside retention area.

"So it's a familiar measurement; it's recognizable."

Delaino continued to argue that hardened vertical seawalls were, in many cases, the only effective application against wave action, and Davis agreed with him, partially.

"The problem is, Mr. Bill, they're too effective," he said. "Name me one seawall around here that doesn't have a dumptruck load of fill behind it. You can't, because they're not natural."

Delaino protested that it was the landowner's right to protect his property from erosion, whether or not it had a structure on it, and Davis pointed out that, "Islands are natural - they adjust. That's the price of living on an island. We're the ones that invented property lines. We need to adjust, too."

Commissioner Sue Colson explained to Delaino that the way property owners usually handle the problem is to build a structure first, then apply for a seawall.

"They usually get it, too."

Neither Delaino nor Hodges would be persuaded that any shoreline protection methods other than hardened seawalls were effective against wave action; both described examples where even riprap underlaid with cloth was carried away. Colson and Davis, who have explored a variety of energy-dispersing solutions for G Street and other applications, continued to disagree.

In the end, the language restricting seawalls remained, augmented by Coffey's clarification.

In other comp plan action, the planners changed residential density allowance in the Future Land Use Element from 14 per acre to 4.9, and grandfathered existing higher density uses.

Commissioners asked planners to further clarify mapping of certain conservation lands, because on the colored maps, two types of conservation lands are indistinguishable by color.

Planners integrated building code height restrictions directly into the Future Land Use Element, eliminating the need for building officers to interpret.

Finally, planners corrected some property use descriptions on the land use maps. Easley said that ongoing reproduction of the color maps had led to their degradation, causing confusion.

"Some properties that have existing commercial applications (are properly designated commercial) appear on the map as residential," she said. "That has been corrected."

Treat had prepared an extensive presentation on issues with the Conservation and Coastal Element, which he said was obviated by the commission's strict examination. The commission agreed to attach his notes to the official minutes, and Easley offered him an address to forward his notes to DCA in conjunction with the amendments to Cedar Key's comprehensive plan so that, as Treat said, "They can hear from a citizen."

Planner Laura Diedenbach will review proposed changes and bring them back for a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 6, when the commission will hear the revised wording and vote on sending the amendments to Tallahassee. The commission will then begin to review amendments to other elements.