By Dan Moffett
For the second time, Ocean Ridge commissioners considered a ballot referendum to the town charter that would require a four-vote supermajority for approving increases to height and density development rules.
And for a second time, the commission rejected the idea, again on a 3-2 vote at the Oct. 7 town meeting.
Mayor Steve Coz and Commissioner Phil Besler voted against the proposed referendum, as they did last November. They were joined by Commissioner Susan Hurlburt, who was elected to the commission in March, taking over the seat held by former Mayor James Bonfiglio, another supermajority opponent.
Hurlburt said she worried about “unintended consequences” of the charter change and urged residents to have more faith in their elected commission.
“You guys have got to trust us because we’re five residents here,” Hurlburt said. “We really care what our town looks like.”
Vice Mayor Don MaGruder and Commissioner Kristine de Haseth again cast the two votes for putting the supermajority requirement on the March 17 ballot.
MaGruder and de Haseth have argued that the town’s coming transition from septic tanks to municipal sewer systems could open the door to a new wave of development and put commissioners in the cross hairs of influential developers. They argued a supermajority requirement would help insulate the town from special interests and shortsighted development.
This time during supermajority discussion the commission heard from all five members of the town’s charter review committee. Last year it recommended advancing the proposal, but did so on a 3-0 vote, with two members absent and another, Polly Joa, later saying she reconsidered her yes vote.
“The one thing when we started out is we talked about how infrequently you make changes to the charter and how serious that is,” Joa told the commission. “I don’t think at this point we go back and change the charter.”
Two former mayors on the committee, Ken Kaleel and Geoff Pugh, said the supermajority requirement would hurt the town.
“Over the umpteen years I was involved with this town, I can’t tell you how many positive things came out of a 3-2 vote,” Kaleel said. “You wouldn’t even have this Town Hall if it wasn’t for a 3-2 vote.”
Pugh wondered why the supermajority idea had even come up. He said the town has “very, very strict zoning areas” and allows no commercial development. He said that although Ocean Ridge has changed over the years, it has controls in place to stop excessive development and protect its quality of life.
“If you look at our town and see the eclectic nature of our town, the town has changed but the character of the town has not changed,” Pugh said. “I do believe that the town and its very vocal residents tell the commissioners what they want and what they don’t want.”
Two former commissioners on the charter review committee, Terry Brown and Zoanne Hennigan, supported the supermajority idea. Brown said commissioners should approve putting it on the ballot so residents could make the decision.
“Why not let the voters have a direct vote on the way in which the character of the town remains,” Brown said. “Let them decide. What are you afraid of?”
Hennigan, who chaired the committee, said the proposal was needed to protect the town from narrowly approved development decisions such as those that have changed the character of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.
“This amendment may be the single most important thing our community can do to preserve our unique and special lifestyle,” she said. “The bottom line is the voters in Ocean Ridge deserve their voice to be heard.”