CLEWISTON -- Clewiston City Commissioners weren’t expecting to encounter an ethical dilemma during its regular meeting July 19, but discussion centering on a proposed future land use map and rezoning of two small properties from residential to commercial brought to the forefront what so many communities are facing today – commercial growth inching ever forward into residential areas that are bringing up new concerns.
At issue was a first reading of a proposed ordinance for the classification request from Florida Community Health Centers, Inc., which hopes to build a much-needed parking lot at 319 and 323 West Trinidad Avenue, to service its expanding clientele and company growth. The two lots together are under 5,000 square feet.
FCHC is requesting the rezoning of the properties from two-family residential use (R-2) to commercial use (C) and has passed muster with the Planning & Zoning Board April 16 with a 4-0 vote (board member Haitham Kaki was absent).
After reading the proposal, the topic was opened to the public for comment and a nearby neighbor expressed concerns she had about the proximity of the land to the residential communities adjacent to the facility.
Opening the land up to commercial use, even for a parking lot, would increase traffic in front of her property, which the resident said would put her tenants under the duress of constant traffic. There are currently no sidewalks for children to walk on and there are community mailboxes along the way where the parking lot is planned, a possible cause of traffic congestion.
She had asked the Planning & Zoning Board about providing a natural buffer between the proposed parking lot and the residential area and to limit entry and exits from the lot to curb any potential disruption to residents there and said she planned to pursue those efforts as the project progressed.
Commissioner Mali Gardener empathized with nearby residents, saying it may be time the board consider looking at how far they want commercial growth to move towards residential areas.
Gardener said the board wanted to assist FCHC because of the many positive services it provides Clewiston, but now felt conflicted about moving forward due to what future landowners may want to build there.
It is something she said she has thought about often over the years as Clewiston grew and thinks the time may have come to seriously look at how they want to grow.
“At what point do we have to limit growth going into residential neighborhoods,” she asked. “I’ve struggled with this honestly because I know the impact of a commercial ... into a neighborhood.”
“We’re deciding tonight on the health center’s need for a parking lot,” she said. “How can we limit future impact? What we decide tonight to help the current property owner but in the future someone comes in and builds a gas station?”
Commissioner Hillary Hyslope asked if buffering or other limitations can be added to the ordinance during the vote.
The answer was “no” to both questions according to Attorney Gary Brandenburg.
“After a rezoning, you can’t limit how it is used," he explained.
The board unanimously approved the ordinance and ordered a technical review over sidewalks and traffic before deciding on a date for a public hearing.