Heard, Hurchalla wave false flag
Let’s be perfectly clear here. Martin County’s Comprehensive Growth Management Plan has not been “gutted,” and neither is it facing impending destruction, as environmental activist Maggy Hurchalla and County Commissioner Sarah Heard proclaim.
The Comp Plan’s environmental and quality-of-life protections are safe. They remain untouched, including the four-story height limit, enshrined in the plan’s 19 chapters. You can read them yourself by accessing them from the county’s website. They’re all there.
So what DID the county commission majority vote to enact at its Oct. 5 meeting that prompted such a flurry of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing and email blasts and newspaper opinion pieces that so terrified citizens?
First, the commission majority added one line to Chapter 1 of the Comp Plan, the plan’s preamble. ONE line.
It states that private property rights shall be considered when making local decisions. They also added a one-page chapter, Chapter 19, that replicates the language of the new state law, as required of all local governing bodies.
The commission also deleted from Chapter 2 the summaries written by Hurchalla in 2012 of each of the other chapters.
After Hurchalla’s summaries were adopted in 2013 (enacted in 2016) as part of Chapter 2, which normally lists the plan’s goals and word definitions, the county’s growth management staff had to interpret and debate meanings and intent in the subtle differences between Hurchalla’s descriptive words and the detailed Comp Plan language in their daily reviews of development applications.
Essentially, words matter.
Although time consuming and stressful for staff, attorneys, and land planners, navigating those spaces between Hurchalla’s words and Comp Plan rules became the norm in the Growth Management Department over the past five years.
Florida’s new law, however, requiring that the property rights of private individuals also must be considered in those daily staff decisions put the entire review process under new light, revealing increased potential liability in the county’s decision-making, according to the county’s attorneys.
The recognized legal expert on the Comp Plan, Martin County Attorney Krista Storey, assured the commission that the Comp Plan without the summaries is “legally defensible.” Leaving the summaries in place makes the county more vulnerable to legal challenges.
Heard and Hurchalla, however, claim essentially that the Comp Plan ceases to work without Hurchalla’s summaries.
In response, the majority commissioners seemed to say, “poppycock,” since the Comp Plan still enshrines in its multi-page chapters every environmental and quality-of-life protection that Heard listed as being removed. Every single one.
Remember, it was known as the award-winning Comp Plan prior to insertion of Hurchalla’s summaries, and it will be after they are removed.
Heard’s lament that no workshops or public input took place prior to the commission’s October action was laughable. The county had published notices of changes to the Comp Plan, and the Local Planning Agency held the first public hearing in September. The final public hearing after the state’s review will be Nov. 16.
In contrast, Hurchalla’s rewrite of Chapter 1 and 2 of the Comp Plan nine years ago was the first item of business on the Nov. 20, 2012, agenda, the first meeting following the election of John Haddox and Anne Scott, which flipped power to Heard as chair.
Hurchalla had already written her summaries and presented them to commissioners without prior authorization, public notice, or as part of a state-mandated review, which was not due for at least another four years.
That Nov. 20, 2012, meeting – with Heard seemingly anointing Hurchalla as an unelected sixth county commissioner with commensurate authority – kicked off four of the darkest, most-expensive years in the county’s history.
Well-established Comp Plan rules were ignored. One lawsuit after another by 17 companies either filing separately or joining other lawsuits was filed against the county by landowners seeking to protect their property rights.
The county won few points of any lawsuit and lost many outright. Taxpayers were left holding the bag for millions of dollars in sanctions, attorney fees, and settlements with estimates ranging from $22 million to nearly $50 million.
The county gained little and lost monumentally.
Hurchalla herself was slapped with a $4.4 million jury award – upheld in each of her appeals all the way to the US Supreme Court – after court testimony in the highly publicized Lake Point Restoration case revealed she had lied to the public.
Heard refused to testify at Hurchalla’s trial for interfering in the county’s legally binding contracts and agreements with Lake Point, taking the Fifth Amendment to protect herself from self-incrimination.
And that was just one of 17 businesses that either went to court or joined other lawsuits. The county’s legal staff doubled in size.
Hurchalla and Heard misrepresented facts about all these businesses to residents who care passionately about our environment and quality-of-life protections. They successfully shaped public opinion by stoking anger, perpetrating their hoax, since nothing inflames Martin County residents more than threatening their treasured Comp Plan protections.
Now the Heard-Hurchalla duo just launched another hoax on county residents in an apparent attempt to regain power.
Heard faces a re-election bid in August. The timing is not good for her.
Residents are generally happy with the real progress in Everglades restoration projects, the county’s septic-to-sewer conversions, its repaired roads, innovative flooding solutions, the major purchase of environmentally sensitive land, and the highly visible Community Redevelopment Area projects coming to fruition.
Heard’s most recent record includes her lone vote against the much-anticipated Pineland Prairie (now Newfield) development project, and her rejection of the decrease in the county’s ad valorem tax rate for 2021-22 – and that’s just within the last six months.
Heard knows it’s time to stir up a good environmental crisis, which elevates her public image, even if she has to fake it.