An Open Letter To The Sebastian City Council

                August 29, 2019

 

To:          Members of the Sebastian City Council, City Manager, City Planner

Re:         City Council Meeting of August 28, 2019 – Some Observations

 

Dear City Council Members:

 

I watched the on August 28th Sebastian City Council meeting with great interest, dismay, and consternation as the meeting progressed.   All members of the city council were present.  Each of you spent about 1.5 hours listening to the public speak – Each member of the public had three (3) minutes to speak, rather than the usual five (5) minutes.  I understood that you reduced the time limit at the request of the City Attorney, from five (5) minutes to three (3) minutes; he also presented a document changing the public commentary from five (5) minutes to three (3) minutes at the Planning and Zoning Commission.  This was objected to my Mr. Mauti, but when it was presented to the city council to reduce the time limit, there were no objections … Thus, at the city council meeting, this shortened time limit resulted in people being cut-off in the middle of sentences when presenting to the city council members … Reasonable … Fair?

 

In contrast, consider the time you gave to the Graves Brothers’ engineer, the Town Manager, as well as to the Town Planner to present a  pro perspective for the annexation, while the public was presenting their request for a different perspective to accepting the annexation in small three (3) minute bits and pieces. Reasonable … Fair? 

 

How could it be reasonable and fair when all you heard from the people present were no more than soundbites barely able to express their thoughts, feelings and ideas about what was proposed for their community.  It seems that you failed the “Sunshine Law Test”.  Why not bring in the public groups and associations as you met with the Graves Brothers representatives and/or discussed among yourselves the issues relating to the annexation?  This is just what the Sunshine Law advocates doing … I think you missed your opportunity for over a year and a half to properly inform the public.  This is now a problem added to your vote that was contrary to what the citizens were trying to ask you to do.    

 

During the time for the Council members to respond, there were several disturbing comments made by members of the city council that I would like to bring to your attention.  These are as follows:

 

Ø  That the public “misunderstands and/or misinterprets” was mentioned by several city council members … In fact, one member actually told the public to read the proposal, the entire proposal – it is posted online, he commented.

o   First, he is assuming that the public had not read the entire proposal … but there is much evidence in the public commentary and questions to indicate that many, if not most, have read the entire proposal. 

o   This council member needs to think more broadly – perhaps, the public just does not approve of what is proposed in the agreement with the Graves Brothers – The public’s words indicate that this is why so many iterated the same objections.

 

Ø  The council members repeated the refrain that it is better to have control of what is happening at your boarders with your sister communities.  Yet, you all seem not to realize that  no matter how far out Sebastian borders may be, there is always going to be sister communities that have land boarding Sebastian, and these communities can deal with their side of the border as they deem appropriate for their community.  Yes, there always will be crossover for shopping and other pursuits, as well as travel through for work and/or pleasure and recreation – both ways.     

o   Thus, thinking that Sebastian now has control over what their sister communities do with their abutting land is ludicrous, foolish and naive. 

o   By accepting the annexation, don’t you realize that you gave up your control and your voice to the developers when you approved this annexation?

 

NB: To have any part in what other communities do or what the county does with their Sebastian border land, Sebastian needs to develop partnerships and agreements that are mutually beneficial with its sister communities and the county.  

 

Obviously, this has not happened – several council members have said that they either did not hear from a sister community, or received a cool welcome, or spoke to an assistant, but did not speak to the key person … BUT, perhaps council members did not make enough of an effort to ascertain a working, beneficial relationship (on-going and long-term) … it is not a matter of who calls whom, or who does not call… Rather, the council is to be proactive and persistent on behalf of the citizens of Sebastian, regardless of the reception one receives … Recall, these annexation and neighboring matters are not about you, but about what is good and beneficial for the City of Sebastian.

 

Ø  In addition, some council members spoke to the effect of change happening, that there is nothing we can do but accept change …etc. “Now, how irresponsible and childish is such a statement … evolution happens, but change is not evolution … and we can direct, redirect or modify whatever is about to change.  Just because change is in front of us does not mean that we accept it as it stands … once again, the council needs to proact, not react to what someone wants, asks for or what the developers want.  You all know that if something can be counted, does not mean that it should be counted!

 

Ø  Is this 1000+ acre section only the first step … then (and soon) there will come a second large parcel from the same developer following the same march into Sebastian?  Can one of you be strong enough to give an honest and candid answer?  This is what smells about this parcel’s annexation … This is what is suspected with ample indication (and past actions by the council) to worry about its likelihood … and this is just why the people are saying “NO!”

 

Ø  Not waiting for the new Comprehensive Plan is an egregious mistake … The new Comprehensive Plan may be 12-18 months away, but it may hold mandates that are beneficial to the citizens of Sebastian, not beneficial to the Graves Brothers or the developers.  When asked why not wait … The answer was quite disturbing: The Town Planner said “… because the Graves Brothers do not want to wait …”  What?? Who is in control here … is the “tail wagging the dog?  Could it be because the new Comprehensive Plan would have more stringent mandates, more protections for the land and the citizens of Sebastian … because they do not want to give 50% of the land for open space/recreation as the County mandates – giving 50 % of the parcel for open space/recreation would lower the value of what the Graves brothers would receive  … Do you see why the citizens are asking you to wait … Why not wait … Why?  Because the Graves Brothers do not want to wait is not an acceptable answer!

 

Example, the county mandates 50 % of the land to be set aside for open space/recreation … with this annexation, Sebastian is now allowing only 4 % … how foolish of the council not to push for more – Is this the real reason that the Graves brothers came to Sebastian … Why do we not ask for more open space? More recreational space? Is this the reason the Graves want the land taken under the ten (10) year old Comprehensive Plan? If so, how blatant an example of deception you, the council, are party to … Just, who do you serve, the citizens of Sebastian or the developers???  I am sorry to say, the answer is becoming clear, and it is not the citizens. Just read the next section …

 

Ø  Each council member, said that you agree with what the public was saying, that you are sympathetic and agree with of the points the public made … repeatedly, each one of you expressed this empathy!  If that were so, then you would have had no choice but to vote this annex down or delay it until further study, more and clearer data could be gathered, or the public’s questions could be answered fully and completely.   You did not … Thus, the only sensible conclusion is that you trust what the Graves Brothers and there are saying more than you trust the expressed objections from the citizens of Sebastian, whom you serve and who pay your stipend/salary  … again, your actions and commentary  are inconsistent;  your words did not reflect your vote – your vote favored what you are told by the Graves Brothers representatives, their engineers, while your words reflect empathy with the citizens of Sebastian … Puzzling, duplicitous indeed! 

 

Ø  It seems that you, the council members, and staff, over a period of at least 1.5 years pondered, discussed and reiterated your recommendations to annex.   You had received communications from various organizations, including the Department of Transportation, Regional Planning, and Indian River County.  You, however, did not share these very relevant and cogent communications with the Planning and Zoning Commission.  Thus, their tie resulted in a “No” vote for the annexation.  It is also important to note that the question remained unanswered whether the city had an independent engineer review and comment on this proposed annexation.  Please note the Ms. Frazier, the Town Planner, stated twice to the Planning and Zoning Commission that she is not an engineer.  Thus, there was no check on the accuracy of the Graves Brothers’ engineer’s presentation.

 

Ø  One member of the public even brought to the attention of the council that there were inconsistencies in the maps presented by the Graves brothers’ engineer.  It was also brought to the council’s attention that much of this land is prone to flooding.  Yet, no comments from Graves brothers’ engineer regarding these issues, and the city council members, the Town Manager or the Town Planner did not even comment nor blink at this disturbing revelation!

 

Ø  In over 1.5 years, you, the city council, along with the Town Manager and Town Planner did not even once think to call the various community groups to join in the discussions, considerations and deliberations.  This oversight seems to be a violation of the Florida Sunshine Law … Mr. Ed Dodd even acknowledged so by saying that the council could have done a better job of informing the public … one speaker gave a example that portends a serious breach of the Sunshine Law.  For example: his comments had to be submitted one week in advance of the council meeting, YET you only post the agenda two (2) days before the meeting … What a joke and insult, are you playing “Catch 22”?!

 

Ø  Each of you spoke of the many hours invested in this annexation project … you used that to justify accepting the document as presented, saying no additional time could produce a better document.  If you have not answered the public’s questions completely, then you have more homework to do … and listening to the public commentary, you have much more homework to do.

 

Ø  You can begin by providing the empirical evidence to support what you have agreed to … there is no supporting evidence … and, there is no check on the Graves Brother’s engineer’s data … Sebastian does NOT HAVE a city engineer, so the information presented by the Graves Brother’s engineer was taken as true and accurate – no checks and balances!

 

Ø  You did not tell the people that changing the zoning from Agriculture to Residential, , Commercial General and Commercial Light actually opens the area for multi-family dwellings  – If you do not know this, then you do not belong on the council – if you do know it, then how deceitful of you not to bring this to the public’s attention! 

 

Ø  At this time, the property is zoned agricultural … when it comes before the Planning and Zoning Commission for a change from Agricultural to Commercial General and Commercial  Light, that change will open the door to RM-8 land uses (See Table 54-2-5.9 Land Uses by District Matrix).  This category of land use includes Single-family Dwellings, Duplex Dwellings, Multiple-family Dwellings, Townhouses, Foster Care/Group Homes with </= 6 residents, and Home Occupations.   This is all allowed under the Commercial General and Commercial Light categories.  Did you know that – if so, why did you not bring this to the public’s attention … Why?? Once again, I iterate, if you do not know this, then you do not belong on the council – and if you did and held it back, how misleading of you not to bring this information forward …  to be so disingenuous, one must question why you are on the council, a position of trust?   

 

Ø  Further,  because you “worked hard and long”, you think that is justification for the public to accept what you present … did you not hear a gentleman say that the maps the developer’s engineer presented differ from other maps in some areas? Did you not hear that this land is an area of wetlands – that you are in violation of the federal wetlands act? Did you not hear several women speak of “green deserts”? Did you not hear of what clearing this wetland would do to the ecosystem in that area?  Were you listening at all to what was asked and what was said … or were you focused on just that you worked “hard and long”?? 

 

The citizens of Sebastian deserve honesty, transparency, openness and full disclosure of the facts and the implications of these facts, nothing less is acceptable.  You are paid by the taxpayers; they want and seek the truth about what will affect their lives … They want to be able to trust you … It appears that that trust has fallen on doubt, skepticism and uncertainty with this annexation action.      

 

Each of you, as servants of the people, have a fiduciary duty to act in ways that will benefit the citizens of Sebastian, nothing less!  After over 1.5 hours of questions and commentary, each of you proclaimed to empathize with the people of Sebastian, BUT you voted to accept an annexation that will open incompatible and inconsistent development with the historical nature and character of Sebastian, with what the people are asking you to protect  … and each of you said the words with a smile … how contradictory and deceptive your display was … and how sad.     

 

Oh, one more comment: you and your staff put forth the pros up and down, left and right, but have you ever thought of the cons of this annexation … have you ever thought of working a deal where you truly do have a say in the use of the property, such as more land set aside for open space/recreation, or protection of the wetlands, the ecosystem, or letting it remain fallow for a specified number of years so it can heal should there have been pesticide spraying when it was an active grove … etc. ???  It is simple to always be mindful of the fact that there are usually, at least, three options: X =0; x>0; or X< 0.

 

So, what other options have you considered for this annexation … if, none, then you truly have no say in how that land is developed – It is imprudent to think that you now, after the fact,  have a say  – the time you did have options was before you naively accepted and approved what the Grave Brothers wanted.  

 

So, now, the question begs to be asked:

 

What will you do for the citizens of Sebastian to honor their concerns and their expressed wishes, and to protect their homes and the desirable way of life they enjoy here in Sebastian … what options are left for you to consider?

 

We, the citizens of the City of Sebastian, await your response …

 

Respectfully,

 Patricia A. Pezzullo, Ph.D.

 

PO Box 782129, Sebastian, FL 32978