Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Committee hammers planning department

ISLAMORADA -- A committee appointed by the Village Council in February to make suggestions on ways to improve Islamorada's planning review process has delivered a scathing report on the Planning Department.

Reading from the report at the Village Council meeting last week, Islamorada's ad-hoc planning services committee Chairman Don Horton sounded off on what the committee concluded is an onerous planning process overseen by impolite staff.

The planning department, which has a full-time staff of six plus Village Manager Ed Koconis, who also holds the planning director portfolio, is larger than like-sized Florida cities, the committee said, and should be pared down. They concluded that Koconis should be replaced as planning director; some 58 provisions in the village land development regulations should be changed; interpretations of the code by the planning director should be written and catalogued for later reference by the public and planners; code enforcement of unpermitted building activity should be proactive rather than reactive; the village's Local Planning Agency should be restyled as a Planning Commission and given authority to make decisions rather than merely recommendations; and permitting decisions based upon personal opinion, or handed down as retribution, should not be tolerated.

"This committee recommends that management teach or have staff taught how to handle delicate situations and how not to be rude or considered rude," Horton said at the April 25 meeting.

Asked after the meeting for a response to the report, Koconis declined to comment.

The Village Council created the ad-hoc planning services committee as part of an effort to reduce red tape on basic permits and to find other potential efficiencies in the planning process. The committee's five members include Horton, a consultant who represents property owners going through the permitting process; Brett Ekblom, head of Islamorada-based Native Construction; electrical contractor Ken Gentes; local architect Dave Boerner; and Roger Young, owner of the Islamorada Brick Company.

Boerner said the make-up of the committee, with all five members being associated with the building industry, is proper.

"Do you want to take a barber to interpret issues with planning and building permits?" he asked rhetorically.

The Village Council is scheduled to discuss the report at its May 9 meeting. The ad-hoc committee is slated to be dissolved on that day as well. However, the committee has recommended that the council create a similar body to follow up on the recommendations in their report.

Also at last week's meeting, the council gave unanimous preliminary approval to an ordinance that would require lenders to register foreclosure properties with the village. The registration fee would cost $200. The intent of the ordinance is to make it easier for the village to deal with distressed properties that have been allowed to become an eyesore.

Also last week, the council scheduled a workshop for June 4 to discuss the future of the village attorney's office. The council is debating whether to replace the Coral Gables-based Weiss Serota law firm with an in-house attorney.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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