Now that Labor Day is behind us and we begin to draw the curtain closed on the summer months and head into fall, we are about to head into what is sure to be one of the nastiest and polarizing election seasons we have ever seen.
Although most of the local County elections for all practical purposes have been decided, we still have a major national election which is sure to get nastier as time goes on. We also have a local city council election that will be held to fill four seats on that board.
The unexpired 2-year portion of former Councilman Sam Young’s 4-year seat will be filled by Greg Folley who was the only person which filed for that elected position. Folley had temporarily been appointed to fill that position until the election. As no other person filed for that position, Folley was elected by virtue of being unopposed.
There are four additional seats that are open for election, with five individuals vying for those seats. Of those five running, only one incumbent is running during this election, that being Jarod Grifoni, who was initially elected in 2016. In addition to Grifoni, Richard Blonna, Phares Heindl, Becky Irwin and Joseph Rola are all running to fill four of those seats.
The last several weeks have shown discontent amongst residents regarding rentals within the single-family home residential areas. Concerns have been raised about parking, loud parties and trash issues in regard to rentals of single-family homes. This situation has not gone unheard by city leaders and a move has begun to establish another task force regarding rental homes.
The city has attempted on two separate occasions—both beginning in 2008 and 2009 and again in 2015—to address the issue head-on. At the August 3, 2009, meeting of the City Council, the city attorney advised counselors that they had a problem with zoning, and that rentals within the designated single-family home areas were not allowed by the city’s zoning. Then-city Police Chief Thom Carr advised the Council that he had no authority to enforce zoning regulations, such as how many individuals occupied a home. The issue was tabled at that meeting.
In 2015, the Council would go as far as adopting a rental registration ordinance which would have allowed safety inspections and registration of those rental homes. The adoption of that ordinance came under serious challenge after it was amended to include condominiums. Rather than face a referendum to defeat the ordinance and feeling a prolonged debate would not be in the best interest of the island, the Council killed the Ordinance in October of 2015. This was after a long and divisive debate regarding the STRP program that had a negative impact on our island. The Council at the time didn’t want to see that repeated.
City Attorney Alan Gabriel’s advice to the Council regarding the violation of the city’s zoning ordinance and land development code still has gone nowhere. Former Fire Chief Michael Murphy also warned councilors of potential city liability for ignoring the violation of the codes which were pointed out by Gabriel. Those words also fell on deaf ears.
As this city election draws close, this issue will surely be one that is discussed, with varying points of view aired by candidates and constituents alike.
In 2019, considerable tax money was expended to put together a Strategic Plan looking ahead to 2035. Much discussion has been held regarding “quality of life” and “small-town feel” in all these discussions.
Those that are elected will not just have to give lip service to these concerns but will also have the responsibility to carry out the goals and objectives of those plans, in addition to the updated Comprehensive Plan that will be submitted to the State of Florida for Certification.
This problem has gone on for a long time and it will not be solved by ignoring it or kicking the can down the road any further or make-believe we don’t know about it. It will take a concerted effort by all parties to ensure we come to a resolution that is acceptable and reasoned.
We as a city have an obligation, should rentals be allowed, that they are done to provide a safe environment for the renter and a quality of life that’s acceptable for those that live next to it. As citizens, it is our responsibility to bring pressure on our elected officials to ensure that it is done in the proper manner and elect the right individuals to the job.