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Local Government Palmetto Looks to Improve Safety of Farmworker Housing


PALMETTO -- At  the Palmetto City Commission meeting Monday, all agreed that farm-workers are here to stay, and their safety is a valid concern. In front of a packed house filled with farmworkers and business owners, commissioners tried to come to an understanding on just how to best accomplish that.

Current city code allows "conditional use" for farmworker housing in some districts, but not in all. An amended ordinance would provide increased security and safety for workers outside of those districts, says Billy Heller, Chief Operating Officer for Pacific Tomato Growers (PTG). 

"We need a safe environment for our workers." Heller added, "We have spent thousands of dollars to hire off-duty Palmetto officers to provide security." 

One worker after another came to share their comfort with their current housing. David Mendoza, housing manager for PTG, spoke of when he was working labor. "We lived 40 miles from town," said Mendoza. "What if someone in the family was hurt? It is important to be in town for medical." 

To have property "legal non-conforming" won't work, said Patricia Petruff, representing three of the business and property owners. "An act of God could prevent owners from getting permitted."

Mayor Shirley Grover Bryant repeatedly confirmed to the crowd that, "It's not at all our intent for farmworkers to go away." Bryant added, "The farmworker housing and the packing houses are part of our city, our history." 

There aren't current zoning regulations or standards for farm-worker housing within the boundaries of the City of Palmetto. The proposed ordinance offers safety measures that protect and allow them to operate legally. Palmetto's Zoning and Planning Board found many other properties operating illegally, so commissioners believe the amended ordinance will provide an avenue by which all others could follow.

To ease the tension on one of the binding conditions of "conforming use" statutes, commissioners voted to extend the 180-day sunset, which cancels the property permit if the property goes unused, to 720 days. 

A second public hearing is scheduled for August 6, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. on the ordinance (2012-07).


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