City Planning: Different rules, different maps for different folks

The recent debate over the validity of the city’s online maps and whether developers and the public can rely on them isn’t a new problem with the Hayward administration.

In October 2014, Manna Food Bank, Inc. purchased four acres from the Escambia County School District that once was the site of J. Lee Pickens School. The historic African-American elementary school, named a prominent African-American physician and built in 1938, had been closed decades. The school district earlier in the year had demolished the building.

Mayor Ashton Hayward and his staff told Manna that the non-profit could construct its new headquarters on the site. Manna proposed building an approximately 17,000 sq. ft. warehouse to receive food donations and another 3,000 sq. ft. for offices with a meeting room to accommodate 50-60 people. The city planning department said there would be no problem because the land was zoned commercial. Manna would only need an exception from the city on the size of the warehouse.

Residents protested, claiming the land was zoned residential and the warehouse and offices weren’t permitted. City staff and the planning board said they were wrong. In fact, the board treated the residents rather rudely. The city maps showed the land was zoned R-NC. The residents were told they could do nothing to stop it. The exception was granted. (Read “Seeking to be Heard.”)

Greater Little Rock Baptist Church pastor Lonnie Wesley called and asked if I would look into it. I listened to Veronica Fountain, and we together began to research the issue. The city threw as many roadblocks in our way as possible.

City Administrator Eric Olson told Inweekly, “The Manna’s request falls within a provision specifically built into the land development code for the R-NC zoning district.”

After much digging, we found that Olson and the planning department were wrong. In 2011, the Pensacola City Council adopted its Future Land Use Map that showed the former Pickens School had been changed from Residential/Neighborhood Commercial to Medium Density Residential. Sherry Morris, head of the planning department, had failed to update the Future Land Use Map.

In April 2015, I received a phone call from a Manna board member who said the city staff had admitted to him privately that the land was zoned residential, and the board had decided to sell the site. The Future Land Use Map was later corrected.

In December 2015, former city planner Elizabeth Schrey told Inweekly that she lost her job after she refused to lie to the Pensacola City Council about whether the Manna warehouse was under the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Olson denied Schrey’s allegation.

While Fountain was fighting the mayor’s office to be heard, the planning department. was dealing with a construction permit for a new radio tower in the Long Hollow Conservation District. The 2014 permit had lapsed.

Years ago, Long Hollow basin was reclassified as Conservation Area so it could be used and preserved as a stormwater retention area. The Conservation designation was in the city’s Comprehensive Plan. City Administrator Bill Reynolds had presented a new lease agreement for the tower in 2012 to the city council but never told the city council that it was a non-conforming structure. Under the Comprehensive Plan, it should have been allowed to expire.

The original 125-ft.tower was grandfathered in as non-conforming structure, which it can not be expanded, enlarged or replaced. Under the Comprehensive Plan, it should have been allowed to expire.

The owner Divine Word  wanted to expand tower to 400 ft. The planning department should have denied the permit or have it come before a city board for variance.

Divine Word demolished the old tower and began construction without the original contractor or apparently a valid permit.

The city approved the construction when it was complete. Later, City Attorney Lysia Bowling wrote a legal opinion that whitewashed the matter.





3 thoughts on “City Planning: Different rules, different maps for different folks

  1. There are many more examples of apparent corrupt actions on the part of Pensacola City Officials.

    Since 1999, I have repeatedly reported, in writing, that apparently most of the members appointed to Pensacola Advisory Boards were serving in violation of Florida State Statute 112.313 regarding the appointment and reappointment of individuals who have a conflict-of-interest. Many members of these boards do business with the City and, therefore, have a conflict of interest and are not permitted to be appointed to and serve on Pensacola Advisory Boards. No official action to correct this apparent illegal/criminal condition has been taken, announced, or even mentioned by current officials. I have reported the conflict-of-interest appointments to City Officials, the Mayor, the City Attorney and the Pensacola City Council members locally and to the States Attorney, States Attorney General and the Governors. All refused to stop these illegal appointments.

    Each appointee to these boards swore to and signed an “Oath of Office” witnessed and signed by the Pensacola City Clerk which stated: “I am eligible to hold the office of Name of Board … So help me God.” Those with a conflict of interest appear to have committed perjury.

    Almost all cases are where the appointee was the recipient of (or employees of recipients of) city contracts. I am again asking current Pensacola City Council Members to abide by Florida State Statutes and discontinue appointing/reappointing members with a conflict of interest to Pensacola’s Advisory Boards and that they tell ineligible members who haven’t already resigned to resign (or fire them).

    In addition, some members with a conflict of interest use the Advisory Board membership to gain name recognition and experience as a path to the Pensacola City Council. For example, the City Council Person for my district, Councilman Brian Spencer, appears to be such a one. Now, as a Councilman, he consistently refuses to meet with me regarding the illegal closing of my business, without due process, he refuses to answer my emails and, most importantly, he refuses to work to lift the illegal prohibition of operating my business as legally authorized by the Pensacola City Council in 2001.

    On March 19, 2005, City Officials used the Pensacola Police Department to close our legally authorized business down during a wedding – without prior notice and without due process. The closing Officer said that we were not authorized to have functions. I told him that we were officially authorized to have functions (see City records (Pensacola City Council on January 11, 2001)). He said we were closed anyway and that was that. This was the day before City Officials announced in the Sunday newspaper that they were going to build a forty-million-dollar Maritime Park at the end of our street. The United States Constitution, Amendment 5, required due process in this situation. City Officials (Mayor Hayward, his City Administrator) and City Council Members (including all current members) are in violation of my constitutional rights. City Officials were required to cease and desist. They refuse. Governor Bush, Governor Crist and Governor Scott are also in violation of my Constitutional Rights.

    I am again requesting that all Florida Officials obey the United States Constitution and the Florida Constitution and lift the illegal prohibitions on me using my property as officially authorized.

  2. I once spoke with a person in the planning department who knew me, knew that I would not mention their name and candidly admitted that the rules were bent or ignored depending upon whether the applicant was on Mayor Hayward’s “Friends” or “Enemies” list. I was told that Hayward had even directed that certain provisions be interpreted in the Land Development Code be interpreted a certain way to hurt a specific business owner, part of what I was told was an attempt to put that person out of business. (The effort failed.) City staff is notoriously inept to include prior to 2011 when the CEO was a City Manager. As case in point, in May 2008 the Planning Board, Architectural Review Board, City Manager/Assistant City Manager and City Attorney/Assistant City Attorney (Rusty Wells) all advised the City Council to approve a redevelopment plan related to 9 West Desoto Street in North Hill. (I mention Wells by name because he was the advisor to the two boards, and also later that evening the City Council aborted the City Attorney selection process unwilling to try to rank nine resume and so just gave the job on the spot to Wells, the only applicant who just happened to be in city hall at 10:30 pm when the dumb decision was made.) Councilman Donovan pointed out that a second grader should have been able to do the math and see that approval of the application required ignoring 5-6 provisions in the Land Development Code. Some Council members (Wiggins, DeSorbo, Wu) did knowingly ignore the law because the applicant from Gulf Breeze was described as a really fine man notwithstanding that he did not show up for the quasi-judicial hearing. Fortunately, six councilmembers voted NO. I wrote a short story about the meeting titled – Pensacola City Council Math: A Comedic Tragedy. No one paid a price for what was almost done and as noted above Wells even got a promotion for screwing up so badly. My solution to give the Council a more independent assessment of the Land Development Code, and all aspects of planning in general, is for the Council to hire its own Planner who would also provide staff support to the many boards that make recommendations or decisions based upon the Land Development Code. The person would not be hired under the heading of “Other Staff.” To reflect the burden lifted off of the executive branch staff, its planning staff would be reduced by one position to offset the cost of the new planner working for the City Council.

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