Letter: Citizen challenges approach to decision making
Open letter to St Augustine’s City Commission and residents:
Thank you for your amazing patience in listening to hours of public testimony regarding the Dow PUD this past Monday evening and into Tuesday morning. It speaks well of our government that citizens are afforded such an opportunity to express views directly to their elected officials.
Although I do not agree with your decision to locate a hotel (per the definition in Florida statutes) and a bar (as defined in CoSA code) in our neighborhood, I respect the time you devoted to the process.
Having said that, I would like to share some problems with your decision:
- You did not find that the PUD had no adverse effects as required by your city’s code.
- You did not find that the hotel’s bar, located well within the state’s limit on distance from schools, would have a beneficial effect on the public health and welfare as required by the state.
- The PUD ignored the requirement for a multi-modal plan as required by your city’s code.
- You provided no justification for locating valet parking greater than your city’s code’s limit of 400 feet.
A few of you indicated the University of Florida’s College of Health and Human Performance’s opinion paper was a factor in your decision. While it might have seemed expedient to have an “independent” opinion, this opinion paper actually presents a few problems for you:
- Although two people with preservation backgrounds (one in only preservation law) were listed as contributors, there were no urban planners involved. The others have expertise in areas not germane to questions of urban planning.
- Both preservationists listed as contributors (Dr. Mathews and Mr. Hunt) have strong connections to St Augustine’s tourism industry through UF Historic St Augustine.
- UF has a financial interest in St Augustine tourism through UF Historic St Augustine, in that they actively seek to lease event space in their buildings and will benefit directly from increased tourism.
On questions involving trade-offs between residential well-being and the heritage tourism industry, UF Historic St Augustine has an unmistakable conflict of interest. Asking UF, and people closely connected to UF Historic St Augustine, for an opinion pertaining to a question of tourism in St Augustine is tantamount to asking the fox if there should be more doors in the hen house.
As you probably are well aware 64% of those who spoke at the hearing were against the PUD. I’m sure the developer’s well-funded organization tried as hard as our volunteer neighborhood group to turnout supporters, so the room accurately reflected the breakdown of opinion on the question.
More importantly, the percentage of those who actually live in the City of St Augustine and spoke against the PUD is probably closer to 70% since, as you undoubtedly noticed, a good number of those who spoke in favor of the hotel were not residents of the City.
I share my perspectives so you who have the burden of decision making for St Augustine, can benefit from diverse viewpoints. I know it is impossible to make every citizen happy with every decision and I respect your efforts to make good decisions.
But, as much as I am disappointed by your decision to put a hotel and bar in my neighborhood, I am probably more concerned with what appear to be issues in the Commission’s approach to decision making.