Attended by 50 plus people and lasting well over 3 hours, Saturday morning’s ‘Coffee with the Councilman’ proved to be informative, interactive, and, very interesting for the residents in attendance as well as, I am sure, for the newly elected Councilman….

Primarily attended by concerned downtown and seaside residents, the issues discussed were on a wide range of interests. The Councilman is to be commended for his grasp of most items and his poised response with those items requiring further research and understanding before opining….

Although the Councilman came with a list of 7 or 8 topics to cover, the audience dictated the items actually covered. That said, the coffee started by informing the attendees of important upcoming meeting beginning in late April and extending through early June.

Of particular note was a caution by some beach residents that the scheduled May 7th P & Z hearing should be postponed on safety and fairness arguments. Earlier that day the Chabad community will be hosting a large gathering at the downtown amphitheater and have promoted in the literature a mass march on City Hall to demonstrate support for their project. City Administration and police should exercise good judgment and prevent these two events from taking place on the same day….emotions for this issue are just too high and confrontation too possible….As my third grade teacher would say…”A word to the wise is sufficient.”

The Councilman encourages residents to continue to have their voices heard with emails and phone calls to other Council members and with appearances at Council/CRA meeting….This generally met with resistance from the audience with the prevailing sentiment being that elected and appointed officials pay little respect to the resident’s voice and that officials are more accessible to developers, land owners, attorneys, consultants and staff, a reality clearly uncovered in the history of the Archstone project and , more recently, with the Mizner on the Green proposal.

Furthermore, residents brought up documented incidents where testimony from applicants and their representatives given under oath were, at best, misrepresentations, if not, downright lies. This is unacceptable….if an oath is taken and violated than there needs to be some penalty for such behavior. A situation the Councilman promised to take under advisement.

On this general topic, new news was offered….the Councilman indicated that representatives of the ‘Mizner on the Green’ project are back in City Hall with a new proposal that may ask for the IDG’s 140 foot height concessions in an area of the downtown that is limited to 100 feet…..We shall see what we shall see…over the next few months.

Of important note is the upcoming April 30th discussion on downtown design guidelines where the P & Z Board and the Community Appearance Board will hear a presentation from Urban Design Associates, the consultants who in 2007/08 crafted the IDG and who now provides the ‘opinion de jour’ for projects like the Mark, the Hyatt, Via Mizner, and, of late, Tower 155.

The Councilman encouraged residents to take advantage of this informative session. No action will be taken but residents will be able to bring their concerns to the City Council/CRA and to have identified and unresolved matters addressed through public discourse and conversation.

On this topic new news may also have been provided ….Councilman Rodgers voiced some critical comments about the results of the ‘Mark’, the 2008 building experiment. He committed to support a “third party review of the UDA findings.”

This third party review has actually been called for by many residents. There is no doubt the UDA is going to tell us that development to date meets the letter and the spirit of the design guidelines they created….Talk about the fox guarding the chicken coop….what other opinion would we, the residents, expect from this highly paid consultant; to wit: over one million taxpayer dollars to date…..

Another major topic was the upcoming traffic study planned by the administration. To this end, the general mood of the room was that traffic and safety are intimately involved in upcoming debates on the Wildflower property, the Chabad technical deviations and the failing corner of 5th Avenue and Palmetto Park Road.

On this topic, new news may also be seen in the Councilman’s comments that the upcoming traffic studies are not enough. The Councilman conceded that traffic studies done in summer months are not reflective of or informative too the resident’s concerns….That is perfectly logical and his voicing this is truly a breath of fresh air.

Other items touched on included: the ability to hold citizen referendum; site specific and developer specific ordinances; annexation; code enforcement; and appointed officials’ actions and behavior.

On this last point, the audience called for remedial action against the Planning and Zoning Board in general for it conduct at the April 9th meeting and specifically about the behavior of P & Z member, Glenn Gromann. The audience expressed outrage that Gromann is being allowed to remain on this quasi-judicial board while unequivocally supporting development in advance of projects being presented to the P & Z Board and the Council/CRA.

Finally, Councilman Rodgers is but one voice and one vote of five on the City Council. That needs to be remembered. His efforts to open public discussion on behalf of resident concerns are commendable….but we, the residents, need to continue to mount pressure on other elected officials to engage in this type of honest dialogue on many of these topics.

In closing, perhaps Joe Pedalino captured the sentiment best….”so many residents have given up because they feel their voice doesn’t matter”, a sentiment that we must resist. These ‘Coffees with the Councilman’ are a perfect way to give the resident voice again.

NOTE: Councilman Singer will be hosting his second town hall on May 2nd at the Downtown library….we should all plan to attend…..