A Miami lawyer, downtown property owner and community activist oppose the city’s proposed ordinance addressing rooming/boarding houses.
At Monday’s city council meeting City Manager Julian Deleon said a draft copy of the ordinance was provided to the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens, and there has been no opposition from either organization.
Jim LaRue, of LaRue Management Planning Services, provided an overview of proposed changes to the city’s housing code and land development code.
He noted that the land development code (LDC) references boarding houses, but not rooming houses. He recommended an identical boarding house/rooming house definition for use in both the LDC and the housing code.
The proposed ordinance on rooming houses/boarding houses states a maximum of four adults can reside in a dwelling with one bedroom, LaRue said.
Councilman Terry Heston said four adults in one bedroom seems like a lot of people.
He asked what municipality’s ordinance provided the basis for Avon Park’s proposal.
LaRue replied Palm Beach County.
City Attorney Gerald Buhr noted specifically the City of West Palm Beach.
After LaRue’s presentation, council heard public comment on the proposed ordinance.
Attorney John De Leon said it is clear that the regulations for boarding houses are aimed at the property at 1 W. Main St., owned by Fernando and Yudith Fernandez, whom he is representing.
The Fernandez’s renovated the second floor of the two-story building so they could rent rooms to farm workers. Their plans have been delayed as they have disputed city code requirements, including the parking requirements.
John De Leon said, unfortunately there has been racial animosity in the community toward agricultural workers. There have been comments from some in the community who don’t want Hispanic, Mexican or migrant workers living in the downtown area.
“The redefinition of a family that has been proposed here raises a bunch of constitutional issues,” he said.
“We are well aware the courts have ruled that the council has the opportunity of defining who can and cannot live in certain types of dwellings in the community, but you can’t have unlawful regulations, which would ban certain groups of people in certain parts of the community,” John Deleon said.
Community activist Patricia Austin asked what prompted the decision to propose the ordinance and revise the housing code.
She persisted in her questioning when Buhr interjected, you can ask a question, “But, we are not going to be interrogated. If you are asking rhetorically, you just did that.”
Austin said people are concerned about what is going on and will be “shocked and upset.”
Councilman Parke Sutherland said anyone with concerns can contact him or any of the council members.
Yudith Fernandez said, “It’s not fair to try to pass an ordinance that is prejudiced against Hispanics.”
She said this may prompt a class action suit.
Everybody is equal, Fernandez said.
Julian Deleon asked the council if the occupancy level is acceptable.
Schuler and Heston said four adults in one bedroom are too many.
Deleon said the city will have a public hearing for more input on the ordinance.
John De Leon, who is with the Miami law firm Chavez and De Leon PA, is the consulting attorney for the Consulate of Mexico in Miami.