published: Thursday, March 28, 2013
Swamp Hammock plan still alive
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING -- As expected, it was another marathon night meeting for Highlands County commissioners Tuesday evening but at the end of better than four hours of discussion, there still seems to be confusion as to exactly what motion was passed in regard to the Swamp Hammock Outdoor Recreation Club.
"I am going to have to review it again," said Jeff Kennedy of Swamp Hammock.
It appeared that commissioners moved to deny a requested zoning change and instead allow the Swamp Hammock group to apply for a special event permit, something which does not exist in Highlands County. However, in making the motion, Commissioner Ron Handley also mentioned a temporary use permit.
"There is a huge difference between a special events and a temporary use permit," Kennedy said.
Following three hours of testimony from lawyers and citizens representing both proponents and opponents of the recreational facility off Margurite Road, commissioners took a break to work on a 38th condition for approval -- insurance indemnification for the neighboring landowners. County Attorney Ross MacBeth began to formulate the provision and continued with the project as the meeting continued.
As discussion ensued about that and other conditions, Commissioner Jim Brooks made a motion to deny the request altogether. Commission Chairman Jack Richie passed the gavel to Vice-Chairman Greg Harris and offered a second, launching into a long, sometimes disjointed explanation of his vote against the facility, citing television reports about a similar facility in Charlotte County known as the Redneck Yacht Club.
The story that Richie cited outlined such things as stripper poles, fights, drugs and underage drinking.
"We will have the same problems here and I will not be a part of it," said Richie.
Brooks' motion failed on a 3-2 vote.
That was followed by remarks from Harris, who gave an impassioned defense of the Swamp Hammock project and the hoops that developers had jumped through to please opponents and county staff. He then moved for approval the staff recommendation on the issue.
Commissioner Don Elwell seconded that motion for discussion purposes, using the opportunity to outline a number of concerns he wanted addressed in regard to the facility. Those ranged from suggested hours of operation to the numbers of events and even the suggested means of fencing on the property.
It was during those deliberations that MacBeth informed commissioners Harris' motion would do little more than approve the staff report. The board attorney said much more would be needed in terms of specifics included in a resolution that could be passed to permit the zoning change for the group.
"You will actually approve nothing by your vote," he said.
"How can we get this far and nobody catch this?" Harris asked.
"You've been taking public input," MacBeth replied.
Highlands County Zoning Supervisor Linda Conrad countered that the staff's report indeed contained a recommended action, including the resolution with conditions as well as a site plan,
Harris then moved to amend his motion to include the resolution and site plan, but that died for lack of a second as other commissioners apparently still had concerns needing to be addressed.
Brooks pointed out that a zoning change would be a permanent measure, which could only be changed by a request from the property owner.
As the board began working on modifications and variations of proposed conditions, Handley made a motion that commissioners deny the zoning change request and, instead, pass a special events permit, mentioning Brooks' point about the permanent nature of a zoning change.
Elwell then asked if this motion didn't just take the commission back to the exact same place they were over a year ago when he'd proposed a temporary use permit in a county commission meeting on the facility. But after further discussion, Handley's motion was passed by a 4-1 margin, with Harris dissenting.
At the end of the meeting, chairman Jack Richie told county staff to get to work on formulating a special events ordinance, and return that language to the commission as quickly as possible. No exact time frame was set for that next step.
Nipped in the bud! (by: Cant help it - 3/29/2013)
If this sort of thing had been proposed on Arbuckle Creek Road against the interest out there, this probably would have been nipped in the bud a long time ago.
blah blah blah (by: Blindman~ - 3/28/2013)
The only thing that sounded good & healthy in this whole thing was the mention of stripper poles.
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