Planners agree to CBRS changes

By Steve Estes

The Monroe County Planning Commission last week gave its blessing to changes in the county’s Coastal Barrier Resource System overlay district that has been in the works for months.

The Board of County Commissioners decided during the latest electrification fight on No Name Key to have the CBRS overlay studied by a professional consultant. And as expected, that consultant said that sensitive environmental lands are just as well protected by the county’s Tier System of land designation as by the CBRS district.

The primary difference in the two is that the CBRS district prohibited the extension of public utilities to or through CBRS areas while the Tier designations merely discouraged.

But to make sure the same protections are in place, the consultant suggested that the county assign negative Rate of Growth Ordinance points to those same sensitive areas.

After the county refused to appeal a decision by the state Public Service Commission that opined electricity should be allowed to CBRS areas, and declined to appeal a circuit court ruling that electricity should be allowed the process was started to change the CBRS language.

The principle change is the deletion of the prohibition against public utilities and the addition of language that discourages any use of local money to extend public infrastructure other than wastewater collection systems into CBRS areas.

No Name Key resident Kathy Brown objected to the latter, claiming that the federal CBRS language, after which the county’s ordinance is modeled, didn’t specific prohibitions against local money being spent in such areas, just prohibitions on federal money.

According to Planning Commission Attorney John Wolfe, the county has all manner of language in its land use codes to discourage development in certain areas, such as the Tier System.

“ROGO is a tool to discourage development in sensitive areas and guide it to less sensitive areas,” said Wolfe.

No Name Key resident Beth Vickrey called the proposal “ridiculous,” leaving the county open to further litigation over the CBRS because she claimed it went further than the federal language.

Under federal statute, federal money cannot be used to encourage development in CBRS areas, of which there are 15 in the county. Property owners in a CBRS cannot purchase federal flood insurance, and except to clear debris after a storm that is a threat to public health and safety, the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot reimburse the county for storm clean-up costs in a CBRS area.

According to County Senior Planner Emily Schremper, the federal language states as its intent that while it cannot dictate what can be done with private land in a CBRS area, the costs of living there should be financed by the property owners who chose to live there and not the local or federal taxpayer.

No Name Key residents have approached the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority about running potable water lines to the island now that the county’s prohibition is on its way out. FKAA has also been approached by No Name residents for central wastewater collection lines.

The latter raises some tricky legal questions for both the county and FKAA because more than 50 percent of the No Name Key homeowners haven’t yet hooked into the power grid and all the wastewater solutions currently under consideration by FKAA require power for the central collection system.

The county would have to waive its own ordinance requiring hook up to the central lines within 30 days if a pipe runs in the street by the home. County commissioners would also have to vote to change the wastewater master plan and include No Name Key in the central system.

FKAA officials would have to devise a method to run the equipment needed for the low-pressure pumps that No Name would have to use at those homes where commercial power is unavailable as county officials don’t believe they have the authority to dictate that those homes hook into the grid.

And while the county is putting the CBRS changes through the process, with an end date probably in January 2014, development proposals have cropped up for the old gravel pit on the island because there is public power now to the island.

The planning commission’s recommendation agreeing with staff”s proposed changes will probably appear on the September BOCC agenda with transmittal to the state in January.

County officials have not yet determined whether the changes in the CBRS would prevent traffic enhancement programs in areas where level of service is bad. Most of the fixes for those poor levels of service include paving collector roads, most owned by the county, and many traversing CBRS areas.

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