The Martin Redevelopment Agency recommended approval of new Chapter 18 provisions in the Comprehensive Growth Management Plan.

STUART – The Martin County Community Redevelopment Agency unanimously recommended approval June 17 of the final sections of the new proposed Chapter 18 for the Comprehensive Growth Management Plan.

County staff has worked for the past several months on forming the new chapter as a way of streamlining the document that rules development in the county and creating a new home for all CRA-related regulations. Senior Planner Irene Szedlmayer presented the CRA Board the three final sections dealing with county policies and objectives regarding stormwater, roadways and shoreline protection zones in the Golden Gate, Hobe Sound, Jensen Beach, Palm City, Port Salerno and Rio community redevelopment areas. She highlighted seven specific policies directed toward improving stormwater management in the six CRAs and particularly emphasized the first two.

“The objective with regard to stormwater is to plan, design, finance and implement community stormwater management systems in each CRA that are consistent with a small town compact urban form and protect the St. Lucie and the Indian River Lagoon from non-point-source pollution,” she said. “The county shall determine what infrastructure is needed for each CRA to adequately protect the CRA from flooding, assuming maximum lot coverage pursuant to the future land use map. The land development regulations shall encourage to the fullest extent possible the use of innovative engineering and best management practices, including but not limited to, green infrastructure and low-impact design to manage, treat, retain and detain stormwater runoff.”

When Agency members had no specific questions regarding stormwater policies, Ms. Szedlmayer proceeded to detail the specific provisions of CRA roadways under the chapter’s Goal 18.4 of protecting and enhancing the quality of life and business climate in all CRAs through adoption and implementation of urban design standards.

“Objective 18.4A is about neighborhood and building design, and 18.4b is regarding roadways,” she explained. “Roadway design in the CRAs shall facilitate a compact, walkable small-town urban form that is safe and inviting for all roadway users. Roadway design in the CRAs shall exhibit a high degree of connectivity: Gated roads shall be prohibited, and the use of cul-de-sacs shall be limited to circumstances where barriers such as water, wetlands, preserve areas or railways make connectivity impossible or unwise.”

The last two provisions, however, sparked significant interest and discussion among Agency members. Catherine Winters asked the senior planner for an example of what a gated road would be in a CRA.

“It’s basically a private gated community – primarily a residential community – when you need a passcode or a key to get into the neighborhood,” Ms. Szedlmayer answered. “That would be considered inconsistent with a high degree of connectivity.”

In response to a question by Board Member Michael Readling, Ms. Szedlmayer affirmed that Langford Landing in Rio was a perfect example of a gated community in a CRA, which the county was now proposing to prohibit in the future.

“Why is that being added?” asked CRA Member Richard Kennedy.

“I believe that it was intended all long,” Ms. Szedlmayer responded. “The policies and the land development regulations have emphasized a high degree of connectivity, and that you should only have cul-de-sacs when there are physical barriers that really prevent you from connecting. I was just trying to make it explicit. If the policy makers don’t think it’s advisable, then that’s a different thing.”

Community Development Manager Susan Kores agreed with that assessment.

“It does follow with general CRA policy that you don’t have areas that cannot be connected, like Irene was talking about the cul-de-sacs,” she said. “It’s the same thing with a gated community. We’re looking for the compact, walkable feel and having gated-off areas does not really work with the whole vision.”

CRA Chairwoman Saadia Tsaftarides, a resident of Golden Gate, expressed concern about a specific prohibition against cul-de-sacs since she feels her community really needs more of them.

“In Golden Gate in our vision, we asked for the cul-de-sacs,” she said. “For example, where I live is a dead end, and we get people from all over turning around on our property and in our driveway, and we do have the ditch. Can we have them now, because we’ve been talking about them for years in the Golden Gate community?”

Ms. Szedlmayer told the chairwoman that the ditch at the end of her street did serve as a natural barrier and therefore qualified as exempted under the new regulations.

“I think that’s something for your capital improvement program moving forward,” she explained. “If those roads were being designed today, they might provide for a turnaround of some sorts to discourage people from using residential driveways. This policy isn’t saying that all those existing roads have to get bridges over the ditch into the adjacent gated community, [but] if you’re creating new residential subdivisions, you should integrate with the existing urban fabric and not create a separate neighborhood.”

Ms. Winters wanted to know if prohibiting gated roads would deter a potential builder wanting to construct “a little gated planned unit development within the CRA.” Ms. Kores answered affirmatively.

“It would actually prohibit that,” she replied. “But think a little bit about your CRAs and where anybody could actually do that: There’s very few places or areas that would even support that because there’s just not enough land.”

Agency Member Richard Kennedy then insisted he could not support an all-out ban on gated communities.

“I guess I could envision a potential development in Rio, where there would be access for the public to the waterfront, including restaurants or whatever, but there might be a residential part of that development that they may wanted gated for security reasons,” he said. “I don’t know that we want to be in a position to prohibit that kind of development. I think we could have the policy discouraging gated communities but not an actual all-out prohibition because there may be times that we may want to consider it.”

Ms. Winters concurred.

“I agree with you – adding another ‘no’ onto something is just really not advantageous,” she insisted before making a motion to strike the prohibition from Section 18.4B1 of the new Comp Plan chapter.

Mr. Kennedy then seconded the motion, but Agency Member Cindy Hall questioned their actual intent.

“Are you sure you want to strike it?” she asked. “I thought it was to be discouraged. Wouldn’t you want to reword that to say that gated roads are not encouraged within the CRAs, so that any potential developer would know, yeah, you probably could do it, but it’s not really part of the vision of the CRAs?”

Acting County Attorney Krista Storey then offered her opinion on the matter for purposes of simplification.

“Remember this is a planning tool, and some of the reason for language is to convey the vision,” she said. “So, speaking to the issue of gated roads, that you want to discourage them is valuable, as opposed to just striking it completely. You have a concept of what you want to do with cul-de-sacs shall be limited, and you also have a concept and you’ve thought about gated roads and you want to discourage them as opposed to completely staying silent.”

After the CRA voted unanimously to discourage rather than prohibit gated roads, Ms. Szedlmayer described the new policies pertaining to stormwater areas in the CRAs, which she said primarily pertained to the land designated with a Marine Waterfront Commercial Future Land Use. The new policy reduces the 75-foot shoreline protection zone to 25 feet on those properties, which she insists would affect less than 10 acres of CRA land.

“Something like 84 percent of the land is already subject to a 25-foot shoreline protection zone, so it’s only a few parcels that are getting a little more flexibility,” she emphasized. “For example in Rio, all along the river, those residential lots that are not a part of the Mixed Use Overlay and do not have Waterfront Commercial Future Land Use, we’re not touching the policy that governs those residential lots. In Old Palm City, those residential lots along the shorefront there, they’re not affected by this. These policies will apply to particular parcels, to these land use designation within Jensen Beach, Port Salerno and Rio.”

Rio activist Julie Priest was the only member of the public to speak during the hearing and expressed concern that some residential lots in Rio were being hindered by current stormwater restrictions and needed relief through new Chapter 18 policy changes as well.

“What has come to my attention recently is someone is trying to put in a swimming pool, and we’re dealing with a 75-foot setback from the water,” she said. “I have a concern that people wishing to put in a swimming pool will have great problems on our small lots trying to get their swimming pool in their backyard along the waterfront. Can this residential, 75-foot setback be reevaluated since it is a hardship? What I’m suggesting is you take it back to the 50 feet so that you can put a swimming pool in.”

Neither Ms. Szedlmayer or Ms. Kores responded to that question, and The CRA voted unanimously that evening to approve both the stormwater and shoreline protection amendments to the Comprehensive Plan as proposed by staff. Two days later Ms. Szedlmayer presented the same Chapter 18 policies to the Local Planning Agency, which approved them as proposed, including the proposed ban on gated roads in CRAs and not addressing the CRA’s wishes on the matter.

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