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Cocoa Beach: 70 Is The New 45.

(EDITORS’ NOTE: We are breaking from our usual habit of posting about issues on local governments meetings the day of the meeting and posting this a day early. We are doing this because we believe it will give residents more time to disseminate and prepare for the meeting.)

On Thursday, December 5, 2019, the Cocoa Beach City Commission will hold a regular meeting starting at 7:00 PM. The agenda for the meeting can be found here.

The meeting doesn’t seem like it will that long with many items the Commission should just rip through.

The real meat of the meeting is the very last item:

K NEW BUSINESS

Approve a Variance to permit a structure to be construed with a height of 70 feet instead of the maximum of 45 feet. The property is located at 1300 N. Atlantic Avenue, within the OC Oceanside zoning district and is within the Midtown Redevelopment District. This request, if granted, would allow the redevelopment of the International Palms facility, an aging hotel, located at 1300 North Atlantic Avenue, with a building height of 70 feet instead of the permitted maximum height of 45 feet, as provided within the Cocoa Beach Land Development Code (LDC) Sections 2-42 and 2-43. Variances for the height of a structure must be approved by a vote of four Commission members.
Staff Representative: Randy Stevenson, Director of Development Services
Property Owners: International Palms
Recommendation: Approve

In November of 2018, voters in Cocoa Beach passed a referendum known as “Question #1” by a slim margin which changed the allowable height of buildings in the City in two ways. First, the point from which the building was being measured was changed from the midpoint of the abutting road to the “base flood elevation” height. The result was a taller building was going to be allowed. The second thing the question did was change the City Charter to allow 45 feet of inhabitable space, plus an additional 10 feet for architectural elements at the top of the building which supposedly hide mechanical systems such as HVAC units.

The height battle was contentious to say the least. PAC’s funded in part by outside interests were pitted against citizens who could not afford the media onslaught. There were questions about the legality of the PAC and its electioneering reporting, but the City turned a blind eye to that as many on the City Commission wanted the question to pass. However, the PAC did take contributions from a hotelier and hospitality trade group whose members include the owners of the International Palms.

We had many objections concerning the pro-Question #1 group, including false statements made by the Mayor and a publication put out by the City itself.

However, our biggest objection was that the passage of Question #1 based on false information from PAC’s and from the City was the proverbial “camel nose under the tent.”

We knew, as did many citizens, that once this passed, the City would see more requests for higher buildings.

Which brings us to the variance request for the International Palms.

This variance follows on the heels of the variance which was passed by the City Commission in 2016 for the Ocean Dunes development.

At the time, Mayor Malik, Commissioner Mike Miller and Commissioner Martinez all said that the variance was a one time thing and none of them could ever imagine a variance for a higher building within the City.

The Ocean Dunes project received a variance for a building height of 66 feet, measured from the crown of the abutting road. The total height was to be 66 feet. The total height proposed for the International Palms is 70 feet for the inhabitable space – not the overall height. The International Palms will be able to build to a height of 80 feet due to the 10 foot height of the parapet – 21% taller than the Ocean Dunes and 21% taller than the height some Commissioners and Mayor claimed was at their max limit for approval.

When Question #1 was being bantered around prior to the November, 2018 election Mayor Malik had an opinion piece in the Cocoa Beach Explorer. We highlighted his words in a post then, and we will do so here:

The question is then, “how can the City Commission be considering a proposal to grant a variance to a building that at 70 feet is 155% taller than Malek said was part of a referendum that would ‘maintain a low scale residential community?'”

The owners of the International Palms prepared a packet which accompanied their application for the variance. (You can find that packet here.)

For the most part, the City in their support memo for the agenda item summarizes the reasons the variance should be approved:

• Advanced age and deteriorating conditions of existing buildings and structures on the land.
• Substandard stormwater management systems associated with the land and existing buildings and structures on the land.
• Substandard life safety systems associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.
• Substandard energy conservation systems associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.
• Elevated incidence of crime associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.
• Elevated fire or emergency medical service calls associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.

It is clear that the owners of the International Palms, Driftwood Acquisitions & Development, LP (DADLP,) wants to build a new structure to replace the structure on their property. However, we want to look at the reasons behind the variance request and see how they would affect a variance.

• Advanced age and deteriorating conditions of existing buildings and structures on the land.

There does come a point in time when buildings need to be replaced. The need for replacement has nothing to do with the height of a building or a need for a variance.

• Substandard stormwater management systems associated with the land and existing buildings and structures on the land.

Same as above. The packet submitted by DADLP says nothing about an increase in stormwater. One thing is clear: height of buildings do not impact stormwater.

• Substandard life safety systems associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.

We read this to mean that DADLP was willing to put the health and safety of visitors at risk due to their “substandard life safety systems.” That alone says a great deal. Yet once again, how does a taller building affect the need for upgraded and standard life safety systems?

• Substandard energy conservation systems associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.

We cannot believe that DADLP and the City of Cocoa is trying to say that a 70 foot building will use less energy than a 45 foot building. Assuming that the City of Cocoa Beach cares about energy use, this argument makes the case for denying the variance – not granting it.

• Elevated incidence of crime associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.

The packet claims that the International Palms currently has 502 rooms. The packet does not say, but we believe that the higher building will allow for more rooms. More rooms and a higher density of guests in the hotel would mean more incidents of crime and calls for services from the International Palms – not less. Once again, this argument goes against granting the variance.

• Elevated fire or emergency medical service calls associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.

Our response is the same as above. More rooms and more people in rooms will mean more calls for medical and fire services.

Not a single one of these stated reasons is a reason to grant a variance to the height of the building.

Not a one.

What will appeal to the Commissioners?

Money.

On page 14 to 15 of the DADLP packet there is this:

With an estimated construction/build out cost of over $250 million, a new Westin will have no comparison, economically, socially, or physically to the current International Palms. This will translate into almost $1.2 Million annually at today’s millage rate and values. After a 2-3-year build-out, values and millage may change, resulting in more value to the City’s tax base and annual budget. (emphasis ours)

According to the same report (page 17,), the International Palms currently pays about $200,000 per year in taxes. How does DADLP plan to make up the difference $1,000,000 in property taxes alone?

We can only think of one way and that is to increase the number of rooms, a figure which is curiously left off of the application and the Justification for Variance report.

This variance should not be approved.


On Thursday night, the people of Cocoa Beach will get to see if Commissioners are willing to live up to their words, promises and votes, or whether they willing to sell out the people of Cocoa Beach for a buck.

We suspect that given the past, it will be the latter.

We hope you plan to attend the Thursday meeting and make your voices heard.



14 Responses to “Cocoa Beach: 70 Is The New 45.”

  1. Sandy says:

    They pull this stunt every year! The 3 M-usketeers (Malik, Martinez, Miller) were pimpin’ this latest scam at Coastal Produce last year, along with all those PACs and lobbyists-many of them fire dept. related, ($40,000+ in marketing ads).
    They’ll have 4 votes no doubt because Woulas votes for every height increase that comes to the commission.
    Malik, Martinez and Woulas are up for re-election in 2020.

    • Jane Doe says:

      Sandy, you are so right. Its almost a given that Commissioners’ Miller and Williams will cross out each others votes. So as you write, Mayor Malik, Commissioner Martinez and Commissioner Woulas need to look at the overall picture with their election campaign in mind.

      The city staff seems so anxious to accommodate a developer that they are totally ignoring the CITY POLICIES by not going through appropriate procedures.
      I mention the variance procedure that is usually reviewed by the city’s BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT; supposedly tasked with addressing variance requests that sometimes then may have to go before the city commissioners.

      I believe the answer to what “AAfterwit says” question above will change:
      “What will appeal to the Commissioners?
      Money.” will change.
      The word Money will be replaced with: DESIRE. Desire to be re-elected next year to prove sincerity to the city voters by recognizing the 45′ height + 10 ft allowance they asked for as found in our city charter’s “ Sec. 6.08. – Building height limit accommodation”.

      • Percy says:

        I don’t have all the facts but city commissioners are timed out after two consecutive terms. I believe the three commissioners up for re-election in 2020 (Martinez, Malik, and Woulas) might all be timed out and not eligible to be re-elected in 2020 – not completely sure about that but it might help explain all the recent changes made to the LDC and hurry to push this stuff through.

        • AAfterwit says:

          Percy,

          Thanks for the comment.

          Woulas, Miller and Martinez were all elected in 2016 and are eligible for another term in 2020.

          A. Afterwit.

          • Percy says:

            Malik was elected to commission seat 3 in 2012, but it looks like the two consecutive terms rule for seats 1,2,3 didn’t go into effect until 2016 so you are correct all three are eligible for re-election. Sorry for confusing the issue and thanks for setting the record straight. CB residents need to start looking for some candidates that will represent the residents and not just the special interests.

            • AAfterwit says:

              Percy,

              We contacted someone and asked about what they recalled and they said Malik was elected as Mayor in 2016. The City says the same thing on their site.

              Maybe we asked the wrong question and got when Malik was elected MAYOR rather than to the Commission.

              Either way, it appears to us that he is still eligible for reelection in 2020.

              Assuming that the people vote him back to the Commission.

              Furthermore, we are sure that you didn’t confuse the issue. Collective memory and “crowd based research” is always great. The more information people have, the better.

              Thanks.

              A. Afterwit.

  2. Bumpkin says:

    What troubles me the most is the outright intellectual dishonesty of the city and commissioners coming out with an “Educational Flyer” telling residents to vote for amendment 1 if they wanted to preserve the city’s 45′ maximum building height limit. The election results confirmed that the majority of residents were in favor of keeping maximum building heights at or below 45′ – tomorrow night we will see which commissioners will stand up and do what the majority of voters asked them to do in the last election by keeping the maximum building heights below 45′. Also, a variance procedure that even allows this to get this far is sham and another slap in the face to the majority of residents who voted to keep maximum building heights at 45′ and needs to be updated. A variance process that allows a 5-10% increase due to hardship would be reasonable but to allow a 55% increase is just a way to work around what the majority of residents wanted and were promised by our elected officials. Thursday’s meeting will show which commissioners actually support the wishes of the residents and which ones are willing to sell out our town to the highest bidder.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Bumpkin,

      Thanks for the comment.

      What troubles me the most is the outright intellectual dishonesty of the city and commissioners …..

      You could have stopped there.

      Tomorrow the people of Cocoa Beach will see whether the Commissioners have any integrity at all and vote this down, or whether the 45 foot height question was meaningless and a variance can be bought.

      Thanks again for the comment.

      A. Afterwit.

      • Jane Doe says:

        AAfterwit, I appreciated seeing the developer’s plans that were finally presented on Monday night at the city Planning Board session. However, there was no mention of needing an additional height or density variance at that time. Actually one of the planning board members indicated that city documentation is in need of updating with regards to the variance process!

        Indications are that the project will take 5 years with completion in 2025. I am not familiar with the Brevard County Tax Appraiser process, other than know homestead paperwork must be applied for and applicant living in the abode at or by the end of the year.

        Your above article indicated that the International Palms Resort owner(s) presently pay around $200,000.oo in property taxes. I have a concern with regards to the city’s budget.

        My questions are…
        Does a re-development parcel of land remain on the tax rolls, paying the same property tax, for the duration of the re-build period?
        Does the county tax appraiser re-evaluate the property during tear-down and replacement?

        The city budget seems to need additional revenue, however, if their is a negative revenue due to a five year re-development plan it could become a major issue. I recognize the total $200,000.00 tax payment is divided up and I think the city only receives about a third of that.

        I would appreciate your knowledgeable response.

        • Lynn A Herndon says:

          Don’t know how the city/county handles commercial properties, but when I was building my house I paid taxes on the “undeveloped” and “uninhabitable” land. I suspect there will be something like that for IPH property…there will be some tax income but maybe not as much as there has been. Good point.

        • AAfterwit says:

          Jane Doe,

          Thanks for the comment.

          Your above article indicated that the International Palms Resort owner(s) presently pay around $200,000.oo in property taxes.

          That statement is based on the presentation made by DADLP in a packet that you can find here. The statement on the taxes is on page 17.

          Does a re-development parcel of land remain on the tax rolls, paying the same property tax, for the duration of the re-build period?

          No. The property is assessed at its current market value. Obviously a parcel with structures on it is going to be worth more than the bare parcel. If you remember during the Ocean Dunes discussion, one of the points was that the owners of the ocean front property were paying very little in taxes and that the taxable value of the property would increase once the Ocean Dunes condos were built.

          Does the county tax appraiser re-evaluate the property during tear-down and replacement?

          Yes. Once again, the taxes are based on the current market value of the property. A parcel with completed buildings is worth more than a vacant property. A parcel with construction going on is worth more than the vacant property (as a new owner could purchase the property and complete the work.)

          The city budget seems to need additional revenue, …..

          The last time we looked (2 years ago,) the City of Cocoa Beach’s budget was larger than Cape Canaveral, Satellite Beach, Indian Harbor Beach and Melbourne Beach combined. All are beach front towns. We think Cocoa Beach has a spending problem, not an income problem. If the City of Cocoa Beach needs more revenue, we would argue that is a self inflicted wound.

          Hope that helps and once again, thanks for the comment.

          A. Afterwit.

          • Jane Doe says:

            Thank you Afterwit, and also Lynn Herndon, for your informative response(s) with additional information on when a tax revenue can be changed and calculated/re-calculated.

            It looks like only time will tell if our city, along with other Brevard County tax recipients, will be getting the axe. The loss of tax revenue will impact many County operations by even more dollars overall than the City’s revenue loss.

            So… the “outright intellectual dishonesty of the city and commissioners” contemplating RAISING THE HEIGHT ACCOMMODATION is continuing. Will watch Thursday night’s Cocoa Beach City Commission meeting via the internet.

            • AAfterwit says:

              Jane Doe,

              Thank you for the comment.

              The City’s budget is $ 64,334,542 for fiscal year 2020.

              If the International Palms stopped paying $200,000 in taxes (it won’t, but assusme,) that is a mere 0.31% of the budget. If the City, the CFO, the City Manager and the City Commission can’t find that amount in the budget the City needs to disband because of irresponsible and negligent leadership.

              As we said, Cocoa Beach’s budget is more than the combined budget of 4 other beachside towns. As a comparison, Satellite Beach with roughly the same population, has a budget of around $12 million dollars. That means that Cocoa Beach’s budget is more than 5 times the budget of a similar city in a similar location.

              Thanks again for the comment.

              A. Afterwit.

  3. Lynn A Herndon says:

    Agree with the two comments above. What bothers me most is the dishonesty of those involved. It’s a slap in the face to all of us who worked to get the height requirement cleaned up to comply with new FEMA guidance while maintaining the lower building height allowance. The Int’l Palms Hotel was the driving factor behind this from the beginning. Remember the Charter Review Committee? Remember it started out recommending that the height requirement be changed to 70′. Hmmm…wonder where that number came from? Is it a coincidence that we’re seeing it again? I don’t think so.

  4. […] we noted yesterday, tonight, Thursday, December 5, 2019, at 7:00 PM the Cocoa Beach City Commission will hold a […]

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