City of Stuart

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 City of Stuart

COMMISSION MEETING FEB 27, 2024

During her remarks, Commissioner Clarke made a motion for the city to purchase two tables for the NAACP Freedom Fund Gala. Each commissioner will receive two free tickets to attend, and staff will receive the other table. I was happy to see the commission this week only doled out $2400 of taxpayer dollars to a private organization.

When I was a commissioner, the city never bought my tickets to attend the banquet. I would have found it highly unethical if they had. This is a fundraiser for a private organization. Is the city going to buy tickets for Pinot & Picasso, the Helping People Succeed event? How about other nonprofits?

 

The motion was seconded by Commissioner McDonald. The vote was 5-0. Vice-Mayor Rich said he was purchasing his own tickets so that his two could be given to staff. It is a slightly more ethical stand but even Rich voted to give away tax dollars. The only difference between him and the other four was that he wouldn’t have a direct benefit.

By giving themselves the money to attend a private affair, they are indirectly raising their salary by the cost of the two tickets. Is this a gift that should be reported? Whatever it is, it isn’t ethical or proper and it should be remembered by the citizens.

A resident of East Stuart complained that he had to pay a fee to move ahead with the abandonment of a right of way. Commissioner Collins jumped all over it and said the owner didn’t have to pay the fee even though the amount is stated in the code that Collins had voted for.

I was told by staff that this owner had received the lot in exchange for a different vacant parcel over 30 years ago so that pipes could be laid. In fact, he not only received the lot, but the city also built his house for free. Why did Collins feel compelled to waive a fee that others have paid?

 

Last week, I paid a fee to the city for a new water tap for the meter on my property. Should it be waived for me? Fees cannot be waived for some and not for others. So much for this commission being good shepherds of the people’s tax dollars. Services cost money even if it is just the paperwork involved in staff time.

If a commissioner needs a ticket to go to a dance, let the tax dollars of the guy from Cleveland Avenue pay for it. If my friend on Lake Street asks, we waive the fee that is in the code. Yet the guy on another block gets to pay for it. In the past few weeks, this commission has really shown that they are not very good at governance and being fair in their dealings with all their constituents.

Though there still isn’t any formal announcement, Brightline has made it known that they have picked Stuart for their first Treasure Coast stop. It should come as no surprise to those who read this publication as I believed that it would be located here.

The Stuart/Martin County RFP submission may have looked as if the two entities had worked together. The funding piece is still far from settled between the county and the city. In fact, the county looks as if they are fighting the wars of the 1990s again. That is the time they looked upon the city as an enemy. Look for our story in this edition about what comes next.

Green Mills Group made an unsolicited offer to the city to build what they are calling affordable housing on the 3.5 acres where the city garage on MLK is currently. Building affordable housing is all that Green Mills does. They have 11 completed communities and 5 others now underway.

Vice-Mayor Rich has spearheaded the effort to bring them here. From the very beginning of his election, he has expressed interest in having this type of housing in Stuart. Now he has found a company that could pull it off if the city becomes a willing financial partner in the endeavor.

The preliminary plan is to build 130 mostly one-bedroom units of 600 sq feet each. It will be four stories but with only three stories facing Martin Luther King Blvd with 142 surface parking spaces. By using subsidies, they are trying to have units rent for 80% of the AMI (Average Median Income) but residents will pay according to their income. They are committing to marketing to locals at first. Larger units can be made available if Stuart subsidizes them.

They will make a lease payment to the city at groundbreaking of around $6,000 per unit with a lease term to obtain financing. The city will waive impact fees and utility connection fees plus other possible waivers. The city will also give other tax abatements. There will be a local (the city) financial match of $340,000 to $460,000 per phase. Depending on the tenant AMI, rent for a one-bedroom unit can go from $476 to $1271 per month.

McDonald said the city has not yet decided to move the garage. Rich stated the city is preparing plans for a new garage site by the new water plant. Both have a point. While the city has not made the final determination, it is likely they will be moving. To remain on site, they will need to spend several million dollars on a new facility.

Clarke made a motion for City Manager Mortell to do an analysis and come back with an evaluation of the offer to place on the agenda for a vote. Rich seconded. It passed 3-2 with Collins and McDonald voting in opposition.

You can see the full proposal here 

Can the city use affordable housing…sure it can. Yet there are several problems with this proposal. The City of Stuart is a town of 17,000 people. Many homeowners pay no taxes except for the fire fee. This is a valuable piece of property, especially now that the Brightline station will be across the street. McDonald was correct when he said that this site could be suitable for an office building or a corporate headquarters at some point. Can Stuart afford to take advantage of this offer?

 

While the offer states that they will market the property locally at first, after an initial period it will go on to a much larger market. Stuart will end up with people from Miami to Orlando. How does it help Stuart residents to take a multimillion-dollar property off the tax rolls, spend several million dollars in hard and soft costs, and fill it with those who don’t currently live here.

I saw Martin County Commissioner Ed Ciampi in the audience. I didn’t hear him speak or pledge any county money. Martin County has had an Affordable Housing Committee for years. They have built no housing. That is in spite of a budget that is more than ten times the city.

There is a more suitable site for housing in the city. The old Taylor property on East 10th Street is more than appropriate. The city has many thousands of dollars of liens on the property now and it is sitting there accruing more by the day. That would be a great place for the Green Mills Group to build two story garden apartments.

The city could foreclose and then give the property to Green Mills. No other funding would be necessary from the city except perhaps some waiving of fees. Green Mills would have to pay no ground rent. The project would be much more in keeping with the neighborhood instead of 4 story buildings which Rich ran against developing any more of such projects. There could even be a carveout for a grocery store again on the property.

So why is this property lying essentially abandoned? Because the commission does not have the foresight or the moxie to foreclose on a property that is blighted. The city garage property site is isolated since it will have as its neighbors the Boys and Girls Club, the Brightline Station, Stuart Middle School and the ball fields. It is not a real neighborhood.

On East 10th Street, there is a community center next door and all of the East Stuart neighborhood which is primarily residential and low density surrounding the site. It will act as a stabilizing force in the neighborhood. I can even see the city running a tram to the site. It is a win across the board.

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