By Agrippina Fadel
The Tamarac City Commission denied the request for a 10-month extension from 13th Floor Homes to finish preparing the site plan for the Woodlands Golf Course on a 3-1 vote, with Mayor Michelle Gomez as the only member of the commission who voted to approve the extension.
After long deliberation on Wednesday, the commission voted to let the developer present their plan at the public hearing on Nov. 10 by a 3-1 vote, with Gomez, the only member of the commission to oppose the date.
This was the third extension request from the 13th Floor Woodlands HB GP. The developer proposes a large-scale Land Use Plan Amendment (LUPA) and a Rezoning, covering approximately 165.53 acres of the former Woodlands Golf Course to develop 397 single-family homes.
Attorney Scott Backman, who represents 13th Floor, said that the first two extensions had been processed administratively, and the company expected the same to be done with this request. However, Attorney Max Lohman, the city’s special counsel, told commissioners that the state statute requires the city commission —and not staff to grant any extension.
“All we want at the end of the day is the opportunity to present this application in its complete form. It may be voted for or against, but we want the chance to present it,” Backman said.
Backman told the commission the process of getting the application ready was affected by COVID-19 restrictions. County meetings were delayed, and the size of opposition to the project and the necessity of meetings being held online instead of in-person played a role.
There is a state statute that requires developers to hold the hearing to adopt the LUPA 180 days after comments are received from reviewing agencies.
According to the statute, this hearing should have occurred no later than May 25, 2021, as the Florida Department of Transportation submitted comments on Nov. 25, 2020, outlining the severe and negative traffic impacts the development would cause.
Backman added that the past five weeks have been busy and confusing for the building company, with mixed messages coming from the city.
On Sept. 9, the city commission agreed to have a second public hearing on Oct. 20. Backman said 13th Floor was ready for the hearing but claimed that city staff decided that 13th Floor’s application for the land-use plan change would move forward as a legislative item rather than a quasi-judicial item a week later.
While Backman claimed that this effectively changed the game’s rules for 13th Floor’s application, the reason for the change is that the Florida Supreme Court has held that site-specific land use plan amendments like 13th Floor’s are legislative.
13th Floor argues that the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t apply in Tamarac. But city staff maintains that both the city attorney and special counsel told the commission and 13th Floor that the matter was legislative well before the Sept. 9 meeting.
Backman said the company had prior discussions with city staff about moving the application forward without finishing the site plan, considering uncertainty about the project and ongoing discussions with the community.
He added that if Tamarac considers many other land-use plan applications and moves along without a site plan, as long as the development agreement has provisions obligating the developer to do the things he said he would.
In July 2019, Gomez told 13th Floor they would need to submit its site plan at the final hearing for the LUPA and rezoning. Backman agreed. For two years, Backman was aware, and 13th Floor had known that they needed to submit their site plan with the LUPA and Rezoning at the adoption hearing.
Backman explained that land use plan amendments are typically legislative. But in Tamarac, a city ordinance states that land use plan amendments are held as quasi-judicial hearings.
“So, I disagree wholeheartedly that this application should be legislative, especially since all previous hearings on the matter were quasi-judicial,” Backman said, contrary to what the Florida Supreme Court ruled —that site-specific LUPAS are legislative.
Backman said that they could no longer be ready for the hearing on Oct. 20 since they had no final site plan as it is still under review at the Development Review Committee. And they had no time to send out notices to the public.
“The city reached out to the company preparing the notices for us and told them that the meeting is no longer happening, so there is no need for the notices. Then we got another message asking for notices after all, but with only 24 hours to prepare them instead of the required minimum of five days,” explained Backman.
Addressing the issue of the notices, Maxine Calloway, director of community development, said the mailing, in this case, is extensive because it includes the entire Woodlands neighborhood. When city staff knew the hearing wouldn’t go through, Ms. Calloway advised 13th Floor’s vendor not to prepare the required notice.
Calloway said that when they realized that the final site plan would not be ready for the October hearing, she told 13th Floor to withdraw the application or ask for an extension.
The company asked for an extension, and both 13th Floor Homes and Calloway expected it to be processed administratively. However, municipal attorney R. Max Lohman, special counsel for Tamarac on the application process, explained that the extension could not be granted administratively because the city commission set the hearing date, and only the city commission could change it.
“The land-use plan amendment, rezoning, and development agreement are all ready to go before you, but the final site plan will need at least two more rounds of reviews, and that’s once we get it ready for resubmittal. That’s why I asked for ten months,” Backman said.
“Just to clarify and set the record straight, 13th Floor’s development agreement has been drafted, and multiple versions have gone back and forth. It is currently in the hands of the city for review, so as far as we are concerned, it is done and ready to be presented to the city.”
He said the company is looking for a fair hearing and due process and wants to move the application forward. But if the site plan must be a part of it, it cannot be in front of the commission on Oct. 20 or Nov. 10.
Gomez said, “Let’s take the politics out of this decision. I told my community before… and I know many people are against this project. I cannot decide if I like the cake until it is fully baked. And I believe in fairness to all parties: people who bring the application forward…and the community…they need to decide if they want this project or not, and they can’t do it without seeing it all together as a complete package.”
She wants to see the final site plan and development agreement before deciding on the fate of the Woodlands Golf Course, saying city staff had set a date for the public hearing prematurely and needed to fix it and move forward.
Commissioner Mike Gelin asked Lohman if having a site plan is something most cities require while considering development plans.
Lohman answered there is no legal reason to require a site plan from a developer, but it is the best practice to have it.
“Most communities want to see the fully baked cake,” said Lohman.
The project has remained controversial for years, attracting both the support and wrath of Tamarac residents, including Jose Spena, who spearheaded Defend the Woodlands, a group committed to saving 275 acres of green space in the community. Spena believes it is a fair decision by the Tamarac commission not to approve such an extension requested just a few days before the hearing.
He said that if a hearing was approved formally by the commission for Oct. 20, that commitment had to be honored.
The delay to Nov. 10 has already affected residents, said Spena. They would not be able to make the required changes to attend. It would have been perfect if they had kept the original date.”
“This process started three years ago and is about time for us to see the final solution.”
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- Agrippina Fadel grew up in Siberia and received her master's in journalism from Tyumen State University. Agrippina is also a writer and editor at Draftsy.net. She has been a US resident for over ten years and speaks English and Russian.
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