LPA and regular City Commission discuss rezoning, LDRC program

LABELLE – At the LPA meeting a Public Hearing was held regarding proposed Ordinance 2020-10: Bryan W. Paul Family LLLP, represented by Dan DeLisi, AICP, requested approval of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) Rezone of the 61+/-acre subject property, to allow for the development of 400 multi-family dwelling units, private on-site recreational amenities, and supportive infrastructure, located south of Helms Road and 1⁄2 miles west of State Road 29 in the South LaBelle Community. Currently the property contains citrus crops and is accessed from Helms Road. A motion to approve was passed 5-0. The LPA Meeting was then adjourned, and the regular City Commission Meeting began.

After a speech, given by Nora Ned, regarding racism, the meeting moved on to a presentation by Kelly Boone, executive director of the LaBelle Downtown Revitalization Corporation (LDRC). She proposed a 6-month pilot program where a single food truck would be set up in Barron Park. In her proposal, she asked that the $1,000 fee be waived, and vendor would pay $50 per week, half of which would go to the City of LaBelle as revenue, and half would go to LDRC, a non-profit whose revenue goes back into the city. She also had a letter of no objection from Forrey Grill. The Board and City Attorney asked for time to fully review the project, and the City Planner, Alexis Crespo offered you go over an application process with Boone, in order to help her get the project moving forward.

A Public Hearing on Ordinance 2020-02, 03, and 04 included heavy discussion about annexation of a property owned by KMJ Investment Group, into LaBelle city limits as well as a CPA and PUD Rezone. The project is planned as a low intensity commercial use, two story building, with retail space below and multi-family dwelling units on the second floor. The property is located north of SR 80, and 1/4 mile east of Huggetts Road. The discussion included concerns from residents in the area regarding excess noise, increased traffic, and the overall visual challenges presented by the project.

Commissioner Julie Wilkins expressed her concerns over the lack of specificity for what businesses would actually be allowed to operate in the commercial space, and agreed that the residents had valid concerns. She proposed a neighborhood meeting, and Mayor David Lyons made a recommendation that the Ordinances be continued to the July city commission meeting. The motion passed 5-0.

The Public Hearing on Resolution 2020-18, relating to a Special Exception to allow for a gas station (7-Eleven) along SR 80, at 17 N. Lee St., was moved to the July meeting.

A discussion regarding an encroachment issue between Kid Jones Park and a residential property occurred, and a solution of a property swap to correct the issue was brought up. Motion to correct this problem passed 5-0.

Fire Chief, Josh Rimes reported 106 calls during the month of May. He explained that one third of those calls were for illegal burns that occurred during the burn ban. One third of the calls were for motor vehicle accidents. The remaining calls were for miscellaneous incidents including brush fires. Rimes also reported that A Fire I course was finishing up,and that there were three new volunteers for LaBelle. Five new candidates would be starting the upcoming Fire I course. Some volunteers had been let go, due to inactivity and lack of response/no response. Rimes spoke about the need for a Fire Service workshop or meeting to discuss the future plan for and current challenges of the growth in the area. He also mentioned the challenges associated with his duties as the Fire Inspector as well as the being Chief, and reminded everyone that he was retiring in 23 months. A live fire training was also scheduled for July 26, 2020.

An HCSO deputy was present in Lt. Ben Rowe’s place, as Rowe was unavailable. The deputy reported that there were 2 stolen vehicles, 5 thefts (two of which were in one location), and 2 burglaries, within LaBelle city limits for the month of May. This was a 93.4% increase of calls with , as compared to last year. A 62% increase in Clewiston. The increase is being attributed to youth not being in school. 12,162 service calls for Hendry County, LaBelle has just over 6,300 of those calls.

Public comment was opened up, and John Clark stepped up to ask if the HCSO had a neck restraint policy. The response was that HCSO does have a neck restraint policy, and that it is considered deadly force and used as a last resort. The policy was not under review. There was some confusion on why it should be reviewed, Clark explained that many other municipalities throughout the country had begun reviewing their neck restraint policy, to consider whether or not it should be allowed. Lyons recommended that the issue be relayed to the Sheriff. Clark asked if the deputies had been trained to use neck restraint or if it was just policy, and the response was that it was policy that is discussed during use of force training but not physically taught.

Wilkins asked about the deputy involved shooting that had been brought up during Nora Ned’s speech, asking if there were any details or they were in the process of investigation. It was reported that FDLE had come in and reviewed all of the body cam footage from the incident, gathered statements from those involved. The deputy representative explained that FDLE cleared the deputies from any wrong doing and decided no charges would be made.

Superintendent of Public Works, Gary Hull, gave an update on the maintenance of trucks and equipment. He reported that his staff was preparing for Hurricane Season. Generators and other emergency equipment had been looked over and prepared.

City Planner, Alexis Crespo, reported that she was closing on some grants, was working on some amendments for downtown to be presented, and discussed holding a workshop regarding regulations with older mobile home placement.

Ron Zimmerly, Finance Director, reported the decrease in sales tax revenue due to COVID-19, and that it needed to be discussed in more detail, likely at the upcoming budget meetings.

City Attorney, Derek Rooney, spork about having discussed changing terms for commissioners in order to have elections coincide with even years. The change, suggested by Supervisor of Elections, Brenda Hoots, would cut costs involved with holding extra elections.

Allen Pickles, Code Enforcement, said that magistrate had still been closed due to COVID, but that enforcement issues of moving vehicles and other events had gone smoothly.
He also reported an incident at the Barron Library of a large oak limb falling and damaging a picnic table, with another limb hanging over the building. He recommended that the trees get immediate attention, to be trimmed and/or removed for safety reasons. The challenges surrounding removal of a tree, or cutting of a limb were discussed. The decision to consult FPL.

Commissioner Wilkins discussed that informing the public through public notices had not been effective, and that she would like to work to make the language a bit easier for the public to comprehend. She suggested an article or story explaining projects in layman’s terms. Mayor Lyons suggested using the website. Derek Rooney, Cory Attorney, spoke a little about how the requirements may mean they would have to place advertisements in a larger paper.

Wilkins also brought up the lack of response of animal control, for non-urgent after hours issues. They discussed that vicious animals, injured animals, or bite cases were considered urgent and received immediate response. However, stray animals and other non-emergencies are dealt with during normal business hours. Wilkins felt it was possibly a change of policy issue that needed to be dealt with, Mayor Lyons disagreed. Derek Rooney suggested that a different working schedule for animal control to have more flexible hours, in order to address incidents as they come up- instead of trying to implement a policy change.

Just before the meeting was adjourned, local business owner and resident, Sherrie Easterly spoke, saying she was concerned about a possibly increase in the population of vultures in town. She suggested the board and mayor have a discussion about it in the near future.

The regular business meetings of the LaBelle City Commission are held on the 2nd Thursday of every month 6:00pm at City Hall which is located at 481 W. Hickpoochee Ave. Meetings are open to the public. If you want to be included in the agenda, you may call City Hall at 863-675-2872.

Past meeting agendas can be found on The City of LaBelle website: https://citylabelle.com/

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