LAKE WORTH —After approving amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan that included changes in maximum building heights Tuesday, commissioners voted down a proposal to let voters to decide whether to add building height limits along Lake and Lucerne avenues to the city charter.
Commissioner Suzanne Mulvehill, who proposed the referendum, said after Tuesday’s 3-2 decision not to send the question to voters that she will consider a petition drive to gather 10 percent of the city’s registered voters to place the measure on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election.
“It’s pretty clear this commission voted down the public’s right to vote,” Mulvehill said.
Commissioner Christopher McVoy sided with Mulvehill in supporting the referendum on building heights.
“There’s almost no argument for not putting it on the ballot,” McVoy said. “We owe it to the public to ask them.”
Vice Mayor Scott Maxwell said Mulvehill’s referendum proposal was political. She is preparing to run for reelection to the District 4 seat in November.
And some residents said the ballot question on building heights would be counterproductive for the city.
“We know the populous wants a low-rise city,” Herman Robinson said. “This is only going to be a bloodbath politically.”
The charter amendment proposed by Mulvehill would allow voters to decide whether to limit building heights along Lake and Lucerne avenues to 45 feet from the Intracoastal Waterway to F Street and to 35 feet from F Street to A Street. The height limits would extend south to First Avenue South and north to Second Avenue North.
Mulvehill said the height limits would improve the quality of life for residents and attract tourists. She said voters should have the opportunity to weigh in on height limits as they have in other Florida cities.
But City Attorney Elaine Humphreys said that under new growth management laws, a charter amendment would not supercede height limits in the comprehensive plan.
Earlier Tuesday night, commissioners approved on first reading a comprehensive plan amendment that allows 65-foot buildings east of Federal Highway as recommended by the city’s staff. The vote was 3-2, with commissioners Mulvehill and McVoy dissenting. The comprehensive plan changes are scheduled to come back for consideration on second reading Aug. 7.
Former commissioners Jo-Ann Golden and Cara Jennings spoke against the taller buildings in the city, saying most residents don’t want them but developers do.
“We don’t want to look like Boynton Beach,” resident Katie McGiveron said, adding that she would not support any building over 45 feet east of Federal Highway.
Resident Teresa Miller said taller buildings are needed to attract builders who will boost the city’s sagging tax base. Otherwise, she said, the city will have to impose more taxes on residents.
“Bottom line, go up or pay up,” Miller said.
In other news, voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to change the city’s name to Lake Worth Beach.
Maxwell proposed changing the city’s name to Lake Worth Beach, subject to voter approval, to distinguish it from parts of unincorporated Palm Beach County that have Lake Worth mailing addresses.
Crime that happens in parts of the county west of the city are sometimes reported in the media as happening in Lake Worth, Maxwell noted. The 100-year anniversary of the city next year makes this an appropriate time to change the city’s name, he said.
McVoy said the name change would be “a cheapening of our history.”
“Talk about confusing!” resident Lizbeth Felti wrote in an email to the mayor and commissioners. “When someone says, ‘Let’s go to Lake Worth Beach’ does that mean the beach with the white sand and the ocean?”
“I personally think it’s a meaningless waste of time,” said Jo-Ann Golden, a former commissioner. “It just shows we don’t even like our own name.”