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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Martin County Should Extricate Itself from Seven 50

Ed.: The following letter was sent to Martin County Commissioners from the Chair of the Martin County Republican Executive Committee.


Martin County Should Extricate Itself from Seven 50

by Kate Boland | December 10, 2013 | Martin County, Florida

Martin County is a partner in the Southeast Florida Regional Partnership. The Partnership was created to obtain a federal grant to develop a 50 year plan for sustainable development in seven south Florida counties – the Seven 50 Southeast Florida Prosperity Plan. The funding is part of the Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) created by the federal departments of Housing and Urban Development, Environmental Protection and Transportation. The SCI is only the most recent iteration of sustainability policies and programs the federal government has implemented over the past two decades. The goal of the SCI is to create “mechanisms to ensure that sustainability plans are carried through to localities” (HUD, DOT and EPA Partnership: Sustainable Communities, June 16, 2009). The mechanism is the regional partnership and the objective is to remove local barriers to coordinated investments by the federal agencies.  Through these partnerships local governments and other partners agree to undertake projects consistent with a sustainability plan.

Seven 50 was created to obtain a planning grant to create this long term plan. When joining the Partnership Martin County signed two agreements that commit the County to certain actions to further the goals of the SCI.
  1. A Memorandum of Understanding (May 2010) committing the County to work in cooperation with the seven counties to apply for the SCI planning  grant and to complete the work program funded under the grant and,
  2. A Sustainable Communities Grant Consortium Agreement (July 2011) which sets forth specific obligations of the Consortium members. 
The existence of these agreements is directly relevant to the issue of whether Martin County should withdraw from the Seven 50 Consortium. Some of the terms of the Agreements apply to the preparation of the Plan but a number of others appear to be ongoing.  If the agreements bind the County to take certain actions after the completion of the Seven 60 Prosperity Plan, anticipated to occur within the next 60 days, the Commissioners should understand those obligations thoroughly.

I have provided a copy of the Agreements highlighted to show the language that implies an ongoing commitment. The purpose of developing the Plan is to achieve implementation, thus the basic understanding of the language of the Consortium Agreement must presume that.

The signatories are committed to implementation of the Plan and support for continuation of operations of the Consortium. In particular the following examples:

In the Memorandum of Understanding: (signatories agree to)
  • Follow seven livability principles including: “equitable” affordable housing; investing in neighborhoods that are “walkable”.
  • Coordinate their policies and target their funding to meet these principles 
In the Consortium Agreement:
  • Section II  Goal:  agree to “achieve and sustain” the Regional Vision and Blueprint (the plan)
  • Section IV  Roles and Commitments:  commit to “develop and implement” the Regional Vision and Blueprint unless it is detrimental to the Partner and the Region
  • Also, play specific roles implementing local projects, providing leadership, staff support and financial support
  • Section V  Governance: agree that the intent is to develop a long term structure for ongoing operations
  • Section VI  Tier 2 Consortium Membership (includes Martin County):  commit to providing leveraged resources; to development and implementation of the Vision and Blueprint (the plan)
Some of the terms in the agreements are undefined, including sustainability and equitable affordable housing, making it difficult to assess what is entailed and whether that obligation has been met. Equitability in housing choice is in the eye of the beholder or in this case in the eye of the federal agencies that will fund implementation. Two recent rules by the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing and Disparate Impact, as well as actual Agency actions and statements by the Secretary of HUD, demonstrate its goal is to affect local land use decisions. HUD is using federal funding to aggressively enforce these rules, requiring fund recipients to change zoning to achieve their desired outcome. Implementation of the Seven 50 Plan will depend upon funding by HUD. To fulfill its obligation as a Consortium member to implement the Plan, Martin County may be required to modify its zoning and land use ordinances.

Why opt out?

The Consortium agreement anticipates that members may want to opt out, and provides specific terms for doing so. There are numerous reasons to do so to preserve Martin County’s control over decisions affecting the future of our residents.
  • Broadly defined, the environment of Martin County is very different [from] the Counties to the South. We have a small population and will almost certainly be dominated by the wishes and objectives of the larger counties.
  • Implementation of the plan may conflict with Martin County zoning and Comprehensive Plan.
  • Martin County environmental policies may be stronger than those favored by the other Counties
  • Plan elements may not be suitable to the culture of Martin County and be inconsistent with the land use patterns that exist. The Seven 50 Plan emphasizes the preference for higher density, mixed use development.  The emphasis on walkability, for example, presupposes a preferred choice of housing for higher density housing rather than the demonstrated preference of most residents for single family homes.
  • The ongoing structure to implement the Plan has not been fully defined but will be heavily influenced by numerous unelected bodies that are not accountable to the public.
  • Two of the specific goals of the County have already been accomplished:  access to the wide range of data collected in preparation of the plan to inform future decisions; agreements to upgrade fiber optic technology and expand the opportunities for communication between and among County and regional organizations.
Martin County has an interest in working with surrounding counties to address issues of mutual concern. Participation in the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council provides that opportunity as do other mechanisms such as the Indian River Lagoon Counties Collaborative focusing on protecting the Indian River Lagoon estuary. The work to compile the Seven 50 Prosperity Plan has produced useful data and suggestions Martin County can take advantage of in making future decisions which may include implementing one or more of the suggested projects or policies.

The County does not need to be a member of the Sustainable Communities Consortium to take advantage of the information developed.  Remaining in the Consortium potentially exposes the County to, at a minimum, the need to defend its policies and Comprehensive Plan against an action favored by the majority of the other Consortium members.  Unless the County formally withdraws from the Consortium, it will be expected to comply with the mandates of HUD and other agencies investing funds to implement the projects proposed in the Seven 50 Plan.

Respectfully submitted December 10, 2013

Kate Boland, Chair, Martin County Republican Executive Committee

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