News-Sun photo by CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY Yudith Fernandez (center), an Avon Park Main Street property owner who has been struggling to open a boarding house for migrant workers under the federal H2A program, listens as the city blames the county for her delays.
published: Friday, January 04, 2013
Avon Park takes back P & Z duties
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
AVON PARK -- With a flu-produced sound track of sniffles, wheezes and hacking coughs, the city council got right down to business Wednesday morning, after Brenda Gray, Terry Heston and newcomer Garrett Anderson were sworn in as city councilors, and Gray reappointed deputy mayor.
The city's first item of important business during the special meeting was to consider terminating the inter-local agreement between the city and the county's planning and development services department.
For almost two years now, the city has contracted with the county to provide basic day-to-day planning and zoning services, meaning working with residents. The agreement provided substantial savings for Avon Park.
Wednesday morning, City Manager Julian Deleon told the council the city was in a position to provide those services again. He felt this was important, he added, because he was unhappy with the work the county had done for the city.
For example, Deleon said, the county's Department of Planning and Development Services had made significant mistakes regarding memos sent to Yudith Fernandez, a business woman in Avon Park who has been attempting for months to open a boarding house at 1 W. Main St.
Fernandez was given three different opinions by the county in three different letters sent over three months, Deleon said. "This is just not right," he said, "to make three changes in three months' time. We're giving this a high priority. The city attorney and I are going to look hard. We're not satisfied (the property owner was fairly treated)."
Deleon added that Fernandez had gone out in November and bought property to provide what she thought was mandated parking space, only to be told by the county in December that there are no parking requirements.
City Councilor Parke Sutherland agreed with Deleon that something had to be done. "It is important to get the right answer and get it quickly, pronto," Sutherland said. He recommended an outside expert be brought in to review the situation.
For her part, Fernandez spoke angrily and at length about the struggle the last several months have been for her, and how frustrated she's become. She said she and her children were in poor health because of the stress. She added she now believes "there was no good faith" during the process.
Mayor Sharon Schuler promised Fernandez the city would review her situation. "We will get some answers," Schuler said. "We know you folks were led incorrectly down the path. Please just bear with the city a little longer."
The complaint against the county caught Mark Hill, director of the development services department, by surprise, Hill said in a Dec. 31, 2012 memo to County Administrator June Fisher regarding Deleon's concerns.
"We were both surprised and shocked by the intensity of his criticisms ... because we have had an excellent working relationship with Mr. Deleon and other members of the city staff for years ... (no one) has ever questioned or contradicted any one of our dozens of interpretations of the Avon Park Unified Land Development Code," Hill said, defending his staff's efforts.
He added, however, "I can amicably accept Mr. Deleon's recommendation to cancel the Interlocal Agreement between the city and the county for planning and zoning services."
The city council agreed to dissolve the agreement with the county. It further agreed to renew a contract with the Central Florida Regional Planning Council to help with tougher P & Z issues; hire a part-time expert to answer day-to-day questions; and look into contracting with a specialist for the occasional highly complex situation.
Deleon told the council the money saved from the canceled interlocal agreement meant the city had the funds to move the process back in-house.
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