Esperante owners demand do-over on waterfront rezoning vote


Highlights

Owners of West Palm’s Esperante office tower say Planning Board member Greg Weiss improperly recused himself

The owners of the Esperante office tower are demanding the Planning Board redo its 3-2 vote approving the Okeechobee Business District, asserting that board member Gregg Weiss, a candidate for county commission, illegally recused himself from voting on the controversial matter.

The board voted May 15 to create the zoning district, which would allow construction of a 25-story office tower along the waterfront in front of the Esperante, an area that voter referenda have restricted to five-story buildings.

Esperante attorney Nathan Nason on Friday sent a letter to city Planning and Zoning Administrator Angela Jones-Vann, saying Florida law requires public board members to vote unless they have a clear conflict of interest. Weiss didn’t, Nason wrote, calling for a rehearing by the full Planning Board.

Weiss said he recused himself because he and the First Church of Christ, Scientist, which owns the property that would be rezoned in front of the 20-story Esperante, use the same financial adviser. He said he brought the potential conflict to the attention of Assistant City Attorney Samuel Thomas, who told him that, “in an abundance of caution,” he shouldn’t vote.

But Nason, citing Florida Statutes and case law, said Weiss’ situation didn’t meet the legal definition of a conflict of interest sufficient to skip a required vote. “Nothing disclosed by Mr. Weiss’s statements on May 15, 2018 indicated his money manager was a relative, business associate, client, or a subsidiary of these categories or that his vote would inure to the economic benefit or harm of a relative, business associate, client or employer,” Nason wrote. “Accordingly, Mr. Weiss was prohibited from abstaining ….”

Mayor Jeri Muoio and her staff have pushed hard to establish the Okeechobee Business District, to attract construction of Class A office towers downtown and build the city’s employment base. The district’s most immediate beneficiary would be the city’s biggest developer, The Related Cos., which hoped to build an office tower called One Flagler on the church property, which would partially block views from the Esperante’s Class A offices just to the west on Okeechobee Boulevard. Related has not said whether it would restart its project if the district were approved.

The city commission shot down the proposal for the district last September by a 2-3 vote but municipal elections this past March brought in two new commissioners, Christina Lambert and Kelly Shoaf, who have indicated their support for such a tower. So the mayor had her staff revive the Okeechobee Business District rezoning and the May 15 Planning Board vote was its first step toward a new commission vote, which is expected June 18.

“We think there’s going to be an adverse effect on our property value and we think we should be entitled to rely upon the referenda that have been passed by voters of West Palm Beach that limit height in that area to five stories. That’s the larger picture,” Nason said. The immediate issue, he said, is “the city’s effort to try to accelerate this process at an undue pace. This particular recusal wasn’t fully considered by the city attorney and we think it was incorrect.”

City Administrator Jeff Green responded Friday that it’s up to each board member and not the city to determine whether he or she has a conflict of interest. “Should this come to the city commission as an appeal, we don’t believe the city commission has the authority to order Mr. Weiss to vote if he has a conflict.”

“Mr. Weiss relied upon the advice of the city attorney,” Nason countered. “I don’t see how they could take that position and maintain that. That’s an inconsistency. If he improperly recused himself, it invalidates the vote.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Hurricane Michael aftermath: Waffle House opens food truck in Panama City 
Hurricane Michael aftermath: Waffle House opens food truck in Panama City 

In the wake of Hurricane Michael, Waffle House has opened a food truck in Panama CIty, Florida, to distribute free food to the victims of the storm. >> Read more trending news  The restaurant chain posted the news on its Twitter feed Monday. The food truck is set up at 631 W. 15th St. in Panama City, Waffle House tweeted. Food will...
JUST IN: Man lunged at wife, child with kitchen knife, PBSO says
JUST IN: Man lunged at wife, child with kitchen knife, PBSO says

A suburban West Palm Beach man who'd left jail just four hours earlier this month beat his wife and plunged a kitchen knife into the bed between where the woman and their child lay, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office report. Deputies questioned the child, who nodded when asked about protecting the mother. Asked about the knife...
White woman who blocked black man from entering his St. Louis apartment fired
White woman who blocked black man from entering his St. Louis apartment fired

A white woman shown on a viral video blocking a black man from entering a loft to his downtown St. Louis apartment was fired from her job Sunday, KMOV reported. >> Read more trending news  In a cellphone video posted to his Facebook page, D’Arreon Toles documented a confrontation between himself and a female tenant at the...
NEW: Worker suffers electrical shock at Gardens construction site
NEW: Worker suffers electrical shock at Gardens construction site

A worker at a construction site suffered an electric shock Monday afternoon, Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue reports.  The incident happened at about 2:30 p.m. at a construction site on Hood Road, near the Franklin Academy charter school. The worker sustained minor injuries,  Fire Rescue Deputy Chief of Operations Shon Broedell said. ...
LATEST: State drops unrelated marijuana charge on teen involved in fatal crash
LATEST: State drops unrelated marijuana charge on teen involved in fatal crash

Prosecutors have dropped drug-possession charges against the teen driver at the center of a 2017 crash that killed a 13-year-old girl and sparked a legal fight over who is responsible and when. Jimmy Aguirre, now 19, had been charged in September with possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana, a third-degree felony. But in an Oct...
More Stories