City to require driveway improvements

CLEWISTON — The city’s long-delayed effort to get driveway aprons connecting to city streets either constructed or upgraded to limit damage to Clewiston’s roadways is moving forward.

City commissioners on March 4 will conduct a public hearing for final adoption of the amended city ordinance setting a Feb. 1, 2020, final date for the requirement to be met citywide. It was passed on a 4-0 vote Feb. 4, with Commissioner Kristine Petersen absent and no public comments offered. The ordinance previously had set Feb. 1 of this year as the deadline.

At the commissioners’ Jan. 7 meeting, then-interim City Manager/Finance Director Shari Howell reported on the history of the city’s efforts on this topic, explaining that last year they’d discussed imposing an assessment on the 219 property owners whose driveways do not have aprons as well as the 311 whose aprons require repairs. Commissioners also talked about whether to also impose assessments for proper off-street parking improvements in places where it doesn’t exist or meet city code. She said those numbers might need to be updated by the Department of Community Development in case any had been done since the last inventory.

In the meantime, though, former City Manager Al Perry resigned and no further progress was made. Ms. Howell stated that city staff never received clear direction on how to proceed from the commission. She said the expense of a driveway apron project had not been included in the city’s budget and noted that the cost to each owner to pave their aprons would range between just $380 up to potentially $20,000 depending on size.

Realizing likely public concern about the cost, commissioners talked over the potential expenses. In late 2017 they’d asked City Attorney Gary Brandenburg to give them a report detailing a process for treating this work as a city project.

Public Works Director Sean Sheffler said at the January meeting there would be a significant hardship for some property owners on Ventura Avenue because their aprons would be 60 feet long.

Vice Mayor Michael Atkinson said he thought the off-street parking issue should be addressed whenever property owners remodel, spending more than a set minimum amount of money, and not at this time.

Resident Laura Smith spoke, telling the commissioners she thought concrete aprons should be required to be fair to everyone since some of the properties are big companies that drive multiple vehicles into and out of the multiple entrances to their property, and she volunteered to serve on a committee to help with paperwork.

Mr. Brandenburg, who’d written a memo to commissioners in December 2017 laying out a nine-step process for how to treat the aprons as a city project, at their direction prepared the amended ordinance presented this week. He explained Jan. 7 that an assessment roll could be done for all 529 properties over a certain number of years, with tax-exempt financing raised up front through a private placement to a bank.

Commissioner Melanie McGahee said she favored that approach, asking Mr. Sheffler to propose a plan for doing so. Mr. Atkinson said he also thought the aprons all should be concrete.

Mayor Mali Gardner said at that meeting the commission wanted to get the project done this year, and on March 4 it will decide whether that’s doable.

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