NEW: Ethics Commission rules on officials’ role in Love Street plan

2:44 p.m Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 Local
Red-shirted Love Street opponents packed public hearing on project in December (Photo by Brianna Soukup)

Two Jupiter planning and zoning commission members, accused by the town of potential conflict of interest in voting on an amendment to the approved Love Street plan, have been cleared by the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics.

The investigation was prompted by a July 11 memo from Town Attorney Tom Baird to commission members Cheryl Schneider, MB Hague and Brett Leone.

The Love Street project, about 18,000 square feet of retail, office and restaurant space on the Jupiter Inlet, was approved last year. The project by Charles Modica has been controversial since it was proposed three years ago.

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The potential conflicts were:

- Schneider is president of COOLS, the Citizen Owners of Love Street, a non-profit organization formed in 2016 to promote citizen involvement in Jupiter’s jurisdiction over public land. A web page called “Stop the Swap!!!!,” a Gofundme page, was created in 2016 to raise money for judicial review of the Love Street project. Cheryl Schneider was listed as the creator of the site, on behalf of Charles M. Baron. The site has been taken down.

- Hague is a member of COOLS.

- Leone’s was employed with Cotleur & Hearing, the Jupiter planners representing the Love Street project.

READ: The memo from Tom Baird to Cheryl Schneider

“…your participation and vote on the Love Street Project could reasonably be considered to be prohibited conduct because your vote whether for or against the Love Street Project could be of benefit to Cools,” according to Baird’s July 11 memo.

Schneider and Hague asked the Commission on Ethics for an opinion following Baird’s memo. Leone did not ask for an opinion.

Hague, Schneider and Leone recused themselves in August on a vote for the amendment on the outdoor marketplace plan. The amendment passed, 4-0.

There is no improper benefit to Schneider or Hague, according to the Nov. 2 letter from the Commission on Ethics.

“The fact that an official holds a well-known position on a controversial issue, and takes that position in discussions or votes concerning that issue, does not make those actions a “corrupt misuse” of their official position…” according to the ruling.

While she feels “completely vindicated,” Schneider says the memo from Baird creates the perception that anyone opposing development plans from Modica will be face town opposition. Modica also plans development of the 10-acre Suni Sands property. He owns the former Rustic Inn on the Jupiter Inlet.

“If you go against (Modica), you will get pressure to be silenced,” Schneider said.

Baird denied his memo was intimidation. Neither Modica nor his representatives contacted him before he wrote the memo or urged him to write it, Baird said.

“(Schneider and Hague) cannot be expected to act impartially when they have acted against the project. The applicant is entitled to an objective hearing,” said Baird.

The memo from Baird was “legal bullying,” Jupiter councilman Jim Kuretski said. “This could have a chilling effect on public opinion.”

Mayor Todd Wodraska countered that there were “legitimate concerns” that needed to be investigated.

“This is a learning process. Sometimes it gets awkward and ugly. Now we have an opinion to go by,” said Wodraska.