A majority of Lake Worth's City Commission voted Tuesday to ignore the result of a March referendum to limit building heights in the city. Voters approved the measure --a charter amendment -- by 56 percent to 44 percent. But even before the commission acted, the referendum's organizers went to court to force the city to honor the result.
The lawsuit (technically, a petition for writ of mandamus), filed Monday morning in Palm Beach Circuit Court, asks the court to compel the city to file the charter amendment with the State of Florida, enshrining it in law. The city has failed to do so, the commission majority arguing that a new state law retroactively nullified the election.
The petition was filed by Laurel Decker, who chaired the political action committee that worked to place the charter amendment before the voters. The amendment would have limited building heights in the city's downtown corridor to 45 feet, and was a response to the commission's support for land development regulations that would allow buildings of 65 feet.
The political and legal battle is the latest chapter in Lake Worth's long-running municipal civil war pitting (as local lingo has it) "pavers" against "cavers." The former argue that catering to development interests will trickle down to the general economy. The latter emphasize preservation of the city's small-town character.
Decker is represented in the case by Cape Coral land use attorney Ralf Brookes, a former marine scientist turned environmental lawyer. Explaining his career change to the Anna Maria Island Sun, some time ago, Brookes said he "Fell in love with Old Florida, the old downtowns and the old neighborhoods." He described his development philosophy as "grow wiser, not just bigger."
New Times has requested comment on the building height dispute from Lake Worth Mayor Pam Triolo, Vice Mayor Scott Maxwell and the city attorney's office. They have not replied.
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