112-unit Aria project is second innovative rental housing complex approved by Fort Pierce in two weeks

FORT PIERCE – The City Commission voted unanimously Oct. 5 to approve the city’s second innovative multifamily housing project to come before the Board in just as many weeks, the 112-unit Aria apartment complex slated for 3000 Okeechobee Road. Developers of innovative residential developments are required to create more imaginative developments through the use clustered buildings that vary in shape and height, lush landscaping, choice amenities and other features in exchange for density bonuses and reductions in various building restrictions.

The Board’s approval of the Aria project closely followed its Sept. 21 approval of the Blue Sky Landing development planned for a 9.1-acre parcel near the intersection of Jenkins Road and Okeechobee Road. Planning Director Jennifer Hofmeister provided further description of such developments in an Oct. 12 email, emphasizing why such novel developmental proposals have only recently come to light.

“Innovative development has been in the Code for a long time but not used,” she said. “Innovative residential developments achieve a more creative and imaginative housing environment by use of the clustering technique, and by employing various other methods to achieve distinctiveness and excellence in siting, design and/or landscaping. Planning staff is now promoting its use for better site planning, architecture, landscaping and public amenities.”

The application for the Aria site plan, design review, and conditional use permit by Arrow Investment Group, LLC had actually been postponed from the Sept. 21 meeting, and the Commission unanimously approved amending the future land use map from General Commercial to Medium Density Residential and rezoning the property in question with the same classification during the latest meeting without discussion. Immediately afterward, City Planner Vennis Gilmore launched into his quasi-judicial presentation of the proposed project slated for the 6.8-acre parcel at the northeast corner of South 31st Street and Okeechobee Road.

“The site plan before you has the following amenities, which are several to consider,” he said. “There will be five, two- and three-story buildings, [with] a maximum height of 39 feet; a clubhouse with swimming pool; tot lot with playground, equipment and benches; a lake with a fountain feature; a walking trail around the lake in the center of the project; a park with picnic tables and benches; and a fenced dog park.”

Mr. Gilmore also pointed out the innovative characteristics of the development, along with the willingness of the developer to swap out a planned gray exterior trim to a blue-green color at the request of staff.

“For the innovative residential development, the applicant exceeds [Code requirements] through its landscaping, site plan and design,” he explained. “The landscaped area required 168 trees, but the applicant is providing 303, which exceeds that by 80.4 percent. For this design, the applicant uses imaginative design features. Among those are the harmonious use of building materials and modern architecture with balconies, pitched roofs, window canopies and open-air stair spaces.”

At the conclusion of his presentation, Mr. Gilmore reminded the Board that the Technical Review Committee had recommended the developer incorporate a gated entryway into the complex due to its location along busy Okeechobee Road. He said the applicant had resisted that idea, which Ms. Hofmeister also admitted would be “really cost prohibitive.”

Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson then asked if the developer had considered connecting the proposed development to South 31st Street and wondered about the possibility of including a connecting sidewalk along that roadway and the western edge of the property.

“It’s just to the west of the property in the bottom left-hand corner there,” he said pointing to the site plan. “Is there a pedestrian connection there, because I believe that the east-west road, which may be Nebraska, does connect to 33rd, which is one of our major north-south connectors.”

Mr. Gilmore, however, recalled a specific impediment to sidewalks on that side of the property.

“I do remember we had required sidewalks, and there was discussion between the Engineering Department,” he explained. “They recommended that they not do sidewalks because there was a huge swale or something located on that street.”

A representative of the applicant, Michael Sanchez with Palm Beach Gardens-based Managed Land Entitlements, then chimed in on the difficulty of fulfilling that particular desire of city staff. He also referred to the existing sidewalk connectivity along the main thoroughfare.

“The west side of the property has a ditch running along there that we’re reconfiguring a little bit, and it runs probably three quarters of the way up the property,” he said. “Aside from building a bridge across there, we wouldn’t be able to cross that. But there is a sidewalk obviously along Okeechobee Road.”

Commissioner Johnson then expressed concerns about the potential difficulty east-bound motorists might have in trying to enter the main entrance on Okeechobee Road.

“They have to get into the middle section of Okeechobee Road,” he said. “If I remember correctly, there are oak trees along that corridor. I just don’t want to create an environment where they’re making that left-hand turn and can’t see the oncoming traffic. If there’s adjustments that need to be made with the partnership with the city and the Department of Transportation, then let’s do that.”

Ms. Hofmeister reminded the concerned commissioner that the city would get a second bite at that part of the planning apple.

“Our requirements for the formal submittal for the landscape plan is actually at the time of building permit,” she explained. “So, Planning staff will have another opportunity to look at this plan, and we can make a note of that and make sure.”

Mr. Sanchez also attempted to allay the commissioner’s traffic safety concerns, emphasizing the applicant’s use of “safe-sight triangles” and curved landscaping set back from the roadway.

“I think there will be plenty of visibility at the driveway,” he said. “We’re actually required to put a left-turn lane as you’re going northeast, [so] you’ll be a little bit over [and] don’t have to go into the median opening. You’ll be sitting in a turn lane, which puts you a little farther over and I think you’ll have a nice line of sight.”

Commissioner Johnson subsequently made the motion to approve the site plan and design review request, which was seconded by Commissioner Rufus Alexander and passed unanimously. The Board also voted unanimously to approve the conditional use of an innovative residential development in a General Commercial area. As part of the approval, Arrow Investment Group must also meet four specific conditions, including the submission of a landscape bond at the time of the issuance of certificate of occupancy for each building; the submission of a signed and sealed boundary and topography survey to the Engineering Department upon the issuance of the building permit; changing the aforementioned exterior trim color; and the inclusion of a landscaped area around the base of the development’s planned monument sign at the Okeechobee Road entrance to the complex.

The previously approved 164-unit Blue Sky Landing apartment complex to be located on McNeil Road will also fulfill the city’s innovative residential criteria with lush landscaping, two lakes, a tot-lot and more.

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