By Dan Moffett
In a busy night of changes and decision-making, Ocean Ridge commissioners saw a mayor step down, elected his replacement, removed a construction moratorium, enacted a bundle of new building rules and advanced four proposed charter amendments to the March 12 municipal election.
The three-hour meeting on Nov. 5 began with Mayor James Bonfiglio resigning to run for the state House District 89 seat in compliance with Florida’s resign-to-run statute.
Bonfiglio said he decided to step down as mayor early in the meeting and finish the night as a commissioner to ensure a seamless transition to his successor.
The commission chose Steve Coz as that successor on a 3-2 vote. Bonfiglio and Commissioner Phil Besler threw their support behind Coz, who voted for himself. Vice Mayor Don MaGruder and Commissioner Kristine de Heseth voted for MaGruder, who retains his vice mayor’s seat.
Commissioners, at their next meeting on Dec. 3, are expected to consider appointing someone to fill the remainder of Bonfiglio’s unexpired term until the March election.
Bonfiglio lost the state House race to Mike Caruso.
With their passage of multiple ordinances governing building rules, commissioners removed a moratorium on new construction that had been in place since June. The most significant and extensively debated change was a town-wide requirement that developers set aside 35 percent of their lots for pervious, drainable materials such as landscaping.
MaGruder said that with rising seas and increasing development, “35 percent is absolutely mandatory” for Ocean Ridge. The town’s engineer, Planning and Zoning Commission and outside planning consultant recommended the higher standard, up from the current 25 percent, to reduce drainage problems.
The commission also approved tighter new-construction requirements that call for more parking spaces for bigger homes and more green space to promote better drainage. Bonfiglio said the new rules were necessary to close loopholes in the building code. Last spring, the town received plans for a nine-bedroom, 111/2-bath home on Island Drive South, and the commission enacted the moratorium.
Commissioners also gave final approval to four charter amendment questions that will go on the March 12 ballot. Voters then will decide the amendments’ fate, with more than 50 percent approval needed to pass each one.
The most contentiously debated proposal failed to advance, however.
The commission rejected by a 3-2 vote a provision to require a four-vote supermajority to change the town’s density or height requirements for new construction projects. The measure was offered by the charter review committee as a way to protect the town from excessive development and discourage ambitious developers.
Bonfiglio, who weeks ago expressed support for the supermajority idea, changed his vote to no, joining Coz and Besler in opposition. MaGruder and de Haseth voted the other way, believing residents should get to have a voice in March.
Bonfiglio said he worried requiring the four-vote majority would create legal problems and come with unintended consequences. He said the charter isn’t the place for building restrictions.
“Generally speaking, a supermajority is a bad idea in any legislative proceeding,” Bonfiglio said. “I am against placing any of the zoning issues in the charter.”
Coz argued that requiring four votes gives too much power to minority positions because two commissioners could obstruct the majority.
“The supermajority actually puts the minority in control,” Coz said. “It’s counterintuitive.”
Besler was concerned the proposal would tie the hands of future commissions.
“I don’t think any commissioner here wants skyscrapers or anything like that,” Besler said. “But we don’t know what the future holds. It sets us up for something in the future that we’re not anticipating now.”
Also on a 3-2 vote, the commission approved an amendment proposal for term limits that would restrict commissioners to three consecutive three-year terms, after which a one-year absence from office would be required before a person could run again.
Coz, MaGruder and de Heseth thought term limits would encourage more people to participate in government and bring fresh ideas to the commission. They supported putting it before the voters.
Bonfiglio and Besler said the proposal might force effective officials to leave government when they still could contribute.
Three other amendment proposals won unanimous approval: a measure that would give the town manager hiring and firing authority over all employees except for the police chief position, which commissioners would oversee; a provision that requires more notice for special meetings and sets a three-vote minimum for commission approvals; and a collection of mostly language clarifications to the town’s election rules.