Council ‘flooded’ with concerns about drainage
Following the Wednesday, April 12, executive meeting of the Gulf Breeze City Council, Jim Doyle said he intended to send informative letters about a tax increase on their property to his neighbors in the area of Plantation Hill Road. He was concerned they are unaware of the changes being looked at by the Storm Water Task Force.
That group is proposing a solution to the drainage problems that hit neighbors in the adjoining Bay Cliffs area particularly hard during the 2014 storm that dumped approximately 26 inches of water on Gulf Breeze during 24 hours. Residents from that neighborhood who spoke out at subsequent City Council meetings have felt the drainage problems originated in the Plantation Hills area.
Since that time, and in response to those concerns, the Storm Water Task Force has been looking for proactive solutions to future flooding problems.
Recently, Thomas Lambert, an engineer on the board and an employee of the City of Gulf Breeze, sent letters to residents of Plantation Hill, discussing a solution that will, Doyle said, add an additional $285 per household for at least seven years to their city property taxes. For some homes, he pointed out, this will represent as much as a 78 percent tax increase.
Funds will be used to provide a new storm drain from Shirley and McClure Drive that will empty near the Baycliffs boardwalk. Doyle says the new tax burden will do nothing to benefit him and his neighbors and will only affect “a dozen or so low-lying homes on Shirley and McClure.”
Doyle said under Florida statutes, special assessments can be levied only on benefited real property at a rate of assessment based on the special benefit accruing to such property from such improvements. Also, special assessments against property deemed to be benefited by local improvements are to be assessed upon the property specially benefited by the improvement.
Dr. Tom Riney of Andrew Jackson Trail said he had family members who would be dramatically affected by the tax increase.
“The letter that came out didn’t have that information,” he said, adding that he hoped residents in the area would be fully informed so they could know the financial impact of the action.
At the city’s business meeting Monday, April 17, residents with a different view of the problem spoke up following a brief agenda.
Randy Hebert of 288 Plantation Hills Road in Gulf Breeze, president of Plantation Homeowners Association, addressed the Council at Monday night’s session and expressed support for the effort to help with flooding. “It’s a great opportunity for the city to do some good infrastructure and take care of that basin we live within.”
He handed out photos of property affected by flood waters on April 29, 2014. He said it appeared the biggest opposition to efforts to try to prevent another fold-related disaster in the future arises from the fact that nobody wants to pay for the project. “But it is the responsibility of the city to take care of the property and to put good infrastructure in. I believe a lot of these events that have occurred are the direct result of progress.”
He pointed to pluses in the community such as Andrews Institute and the Publix shopping center, but he said those projects have also contributed to the potential flooding problem. He said the area in question is pretty much fully developed, but he noted there is another property going in on Joaquin that will become still another player throwing water in the mix.
“Their pond will potentially overflow and come down hill and flood everybody out,” he said. “It’s imperative the city do something to correct the problem. There is only one overflow pipe that takes all the water out of that whole basin, and that is alongside the hospital property and the naval post. It’s a 24-inch overflow pipe and by the time it is flowing water, we’re already flooded. I support the engineering solution and hope the Council and mayor do, as well.”
Jeff Helms, who owns rental property at 158 Stearns St., said his family is willing to pay a fair and equitable portion to correct the problem, based on the portion of the property that contributes to the issue. He said addressing that contributing factor should be part of any assessment discussion. He also urged that the city’s standards should be improved in the future, recommending support assessments and higher standards than those currently in place for all new projects within the city, along with the providing of proof through methodology that the issue is being adequately addressed.
City Manager Edwin Eddy and Mayor Matt Dannheisser pointed out in the Monday meeting that the city is also dealing with neighborhoods, such as those in the area under question, that were not held to development standards that have subsequently been looked at by the Council and put in place in many newer areas of the city today.
Dannheisser noted the issue is part of a multi-step process and the discussion is nowhere close to determining what assessments would actually be or what methodology would be in play for determining any such amounts.
“We’re just at the jumping off point to say, ‘Do we do it, or do we not do it?’ There is a lot of work to determine an equitable manner for determining assessments and we’re not going to delve into that Tuesday (April 18) night. That will be down the road,” he said.
Rodney Sutton of 102 Shoreline is part of the Gulf breeze Senior Living Ownership group, which will be a portion of the new development on Joaquin. He said this group was in agreement with and supported the terms of assessment they had seen outlined previously. “We will be building to the new standards of 100-year storm, and we support this approach,” he said.
Dannheisser echoed sentiments he had expressed at the executive committee meeting of the Council April 12 and said the city’s governing body does not go through with special assessments unless a clear majority of those involved in an issue support doing so.
“In this case, there is a need and the opposition to it is, do people want to pay for it or not. What we have done on storm water projects is to recognize there needs to be a city contribution and other contributions. Typically, we try to get matching grants to make limited funds more available. In this instance, there were residents who didn’t want to wait to pursue grants and chose assessments, instead. If that is the residents’ hope, I will support it.
A report on the April 18 meeting will appear in the April 27 edition of Gulf Breeze News, since it occurred past the press deadline.