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  • Barbara Clowdus

UPDATED PART 2: HEARD TAPS STRANGER FOR DIRTY WORK

It took a grass-roots uprising in the working-class fishing village of Port Salerno to get District 4 County Commissioner Sarah Heard out of her waterfront Rocky Point home to host her first town hall in at least six years at the Port Salerno Civic Center on Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 5 p.m.


Both the historic fishing village and Rocky Point neighborhoods, distinctly different, are within the Port Salerno Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), which today is blanketed with yard signs that say, “SOS, Save Our Salerno.” You’ll also find slicks and stickers of the “prohibited” emoji with the name “Crowley” in the circle under the slash bar, apparently Salerno’s threat.


The No-Crowley emoji refers to James Corey Crowley, a mortgage broker from Jupiter who bought 14 properties within the Port Salerno Community Redevelopment Area. He chafes at being called a developer, although he’s also got a similar project underway in Jupiter.


A boon to Crowley’s plans was the state’sSenate Bill 102,signed by the governor in May. The Live, Local Act was designed to ease the affordable housing crisis by allowing buildings that match the height of others within a mile radius in commercial, industrial, and mixed-use zones, as long as at least 40 percent of the units are “affordable.” (The state provided a formula based on the area’s demographics.)


Under Live, Local, developers have no restrictions on density, and do not require public hearings or commission approval; however, they must meet the other Comprehensive Growth Management Plan requirements.


The problem is that the county code recognizes that these historic CRAs have smaller lots, incomplete streets, and inadequate infrastructure since they were built prior to established codes. In order to attract investment, concessions had to be made in the amount of parking required, in the size of setbacks, and in landscaping requirements that better fit the real-world circumstances of a CRA.


The Salerno CRA also includes the New Monrovia neighborhood off Salerno Roadeast of Federal Highway,originally settled by Bahamian immigrants. (The New Monrovia Annual Bahamian Festival is Saturday, Oct. 7, with a Junkanoo Parade that starts at 11 a.m., and includes an open house for the historic Port Salerno Colored School.)


Crowley attendied some of the Salerno Neighborhood Advisory Committee meetings, telling members that their CRA plan has failed, and that his plan is better, something he also told Heard.


A more accurate assessment is that the Port Salerno CRA plan was blocked, rather than failed, by Commissioner Heard herself, who has been meeting with Crowley every two weeks or so, he says, since June 2022 .


Crowley’s plan, outlined in gushing emails to the commissioner and published on the county’s website since July 2022, reveals that his plan calls for such things as rooftop bars on three-story apartment buildings on a one-way Salerno Road lined with parking spots paid for by the county.


Heard ‘s apparent affinity for Crowley most certainly grew after learning how he felt aboutSalerno’s CRA,since she’s long wanted to dissolve the entire CRA program, which came into existence about the same time she was first elected in 2002. She fired all the Neighborhood Advisory Committees for the then-seven CRAs, as well as the CRA board, when she was chair in 2012.


She reduced the funding to the minimum allowed by the state and relegated the CRA board to advisory only. All the highly qualified and talented staff of the Community Development Department left the county, setting the entire program back for more than a year. Only public outcry and an election that ousted then-Commissioner Anne Scott of Jupiter Island saved the program.


Heard likely will use the guise of “protecting” CRA neighborhoods, beginning with Port Salerno’s, to dissolve them and bring them under the control of the Comp Plan, which previously stunted their reinvestment and growth opportunities.

Crowley should be careful what he asks for.


HEARD’S PAST ACTIONS POINT TO FUTURE INTENT


Heard has no interest in ensuring long life for the Working Waterfront with docks along Manatee Pocket for 33 commercial fishers or in a healthy CRA. She does not attend NAC meetings. Even Port Salerno’s representative on the CRA board does not attend NAC meetings. Apathy is contagious.


Salerno NAC members are even skipped entirely in the decision making by the CRA board and are left uninformed and frustrated by its administrative staff. (Recently a Comp Plan amendment was approved that affected Port Salerno without any notice or explanation given to its NAC.)


The most direct blow came in 2013, after then-Community Development Director Kevin Freeman and his staff obtained a $2.1-million grant for Salerno’s waterfront. Heard killed it. The Stan Mayfield Working Waterfront grant was to purchase the 1.82 acre vacant lot at Dixie and Seaward (valued then at around $987,000 and would have expanded parking considerably), as well as funds to build a retail fish market to sell fresh catch directly to consumers. Plans also called for a dock facility for storage, plus four new docks.


A stipulation of the grant was to purchase a house on Park Street for around $200,000 with funds from Port Salerno’s own CRA budget to use for meetings, offices and education; however, the house was valued at $138,000. Heard refused to allow the CRA to purchase the house, leading the commission majority to order the grant returned to the state.


That explains why Heard never wins their precinct in an election, but there’s more Crowley should learn.


Heard is well known throughout the county for her willingness to break contracts, which have resulted in three major lawsuits by developers during her four years as commission chair. Taxpayers paid millions in attorney fees and court sanctions, and she stood trial for public records violations.


Heard reneged on a plea deal to resign from office in return for reducing her most serious criminal public records charge to a civil infraction, according to court records. Heard’s acquittal for lack of evidence led the judge to drop all other charges against Heard and her co-defendants, Anne Scott and Ed Fielding.Crowley and Heard seem to be using each other to get what he or she wants, but it may not be at all what either expected.


—Barbara Clowdus

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