Jensen Beach the first of six CRAs to be rezoned after months of planning and public meetings

STUART – In a move that county staff and many residents feel will jump start lagging economic development in the county’s six community redevelopment areas, the Martin County Commission voted 4-1 July 30 to launch the Jensen Beach revamping process by asking the state’s approval on its new proposed zoning districts.

Growth Management Department staff have repeatedly complained that both Comprehensive Plan restrictions and land development regulations over the Golden Glades, Hobe Sound, Jensen Beach, Palm City, Port Salerno and Rio CRAs had become increasingly convoluted over the years, making most development applications time-consuming and expensive. Senior Planner Irene Szedlmayer provided commissioners a brief overview of the new zoning plan for the Jensen Beach CRA, which is closely related to the new Chapter 18 the Commission had also voted 4-1 earlier that same day to transmit to the state for its purview. Commissioner Sarah Heard cast the lone dissenting vote on both CRA proposal transmittals.

“The intent is to amend the future land use map for each CRA in four ways,” Ms. Szedlmayer said. “One, assign the CRA Center Future Land Use to the urbanized core of the CRAs and allow certain corridors where mixed-use development patterns exist or are allowed; two, assign the CRA Neighborhood Future Land Use to the areas in each CRA that are outside the urbanized core and mixed-use corridors where residential uses predominate; [three] eliminate the Mixed Use Future Land Use Overlay; and [four], delete the underlying future land use designations in the CRAs.”

Ms. Szedlmayer emphasized that a few specific underlying future land uses would remain, such as the Marine Waterfront Future Land Use, Industrial Future Land Use and the Recreation/Public Conservation and General Institutional future land uses. Most of the present zoning designations will soon be history, however, if the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity signs off on the plan.

“CPA1913 proposes to replace the Limited Commercial, General Commercial, Commercial Office Residential and Mobile Home Density designations and the Mixed Use Future Land Use Overlay, which covers the entirely of the Jensen Beach CRA,” she added. “It will change these future land use designations with the exception of the Commercial Waterfront Future Land Use, which will be changed to CRA Center.”

Although the changes sound substantial, the senior planner insisted much will remain the same development-wise in the Jensen Beach CRA.

“In the CRA Center Future Land Use, residential, commercial or mixed-use development are allowed, subject to further restriction by the land development regulations,” she explained. “Generally, the permitted uses and the magnitude and intensity of development permitted pursuant to the CRA Center Future Land Use are very similar to what is permitted now by the Mixed Use Future Land Use Overlay.”

Commissioner Sarah Heard had based her objections to the new Chapter 18 dedicated to the CRAs earlier that same day on what she viewed as massive deregulations that could eventually spread throughout the county.

“You’re doing away with the Martin County difference,” she told her fellow Board members right before the previous vote. “These changes increase density and decrease protections, and I am dismayed these proposals are being advanced.”

During the latter discussion, Commissioner Heard questioned Ms. Szedlmayer primarily on the developmental uses allowable under the new CRA Center Future Land Use Designation in Jensen Beach. The latter then enlisted the aid of Treasure Coast Regional Planning Agency consultant Jessica Seymour, who’s worked hand-in-hand with county staff on crafting both Chapter 18 and the revisions to the CRA land development regulations.

“It’s a mix of uses, and allowable uses will be specified in the LDRs primarily, the senior planner said. “There will three zoning sub-districts established for the Jensen Beach Center Future Land Use, so accessory dwelling units, and other dwelling unit types [will be allowed].”

Ms. Seymour then chimed in.

“Other dwelling types include apartment/hotels, multifamily dwellings and single-family detached dwellings – if established prior to the effective date of ordinance – townhouse dwellings, zero lot line single-family dwellings and family daycare,” she said.

Commissioner Heard particular worried about the number of vacant lots she said would now fall in both the new CRA Center Future Land Use and its more liberal General Commercial Zoning and be available for much denser residential development.

“So now it’s going to be CRA Center,” she exclaimed. “Before there were no residential uses permitted, and now there are hotels, motels, condos, resorts, and they’re largely vacant. Now those are not permitted uses, so what you’re attempting to do on those vacant parcels is make them available for lots of intense residential, including hotels, motels, resorts and condominiums.”

Ms. Seymour then corrected the commissioner’s evaluation, insisting that nothing was really changing.

“They would have been permitted under the Mixed Use Overlay today,” she said.

Commission Chairman Ed Ciampi then asked if other commissioners had questions for staff, but Commissioner Heard was the only one to have more questions.

“Mixed-use would have required that there be a mix of uses, correct?” she said referring to the current zoning overlay slated for dismantling. “And that’s no longer the case. Now it can just be solid residential, and very intensive residential.”

Ms. Szedlmayer then began to read from the development standards that would apply under the new zoning.

“Item by item they may not be exactly the same as what is in place now, but very similar,” she insisted. “For example, in the General Commercial, that was Limited Commercial Future Land Use now, the height limit is 24 feet, except if the property is fronting Pineapple or the west side of Indian River Drive; [then] it can be 35 feet.”

“That is again matching an existing standard that is part of the overlay districts today in the LDRs,” Ms. Seymour confirmed. “As much as possible we tried to keep as much parody of uses in the development standards between what is permitted today in both the zoning overlays and in the Comp Plan overlays.”

The senior planner emphasized that the 24-foot height limit proposed would limit any development to only two stories.

“So, the maximum residential density, 15 dwelling units an acre, is the same as is permitted with the Mixed Use Future Land Use Overlay,” Ms. Szedlmayer explained. “In the Commercial Waterfront, the maximum residential density has been reduced five units per acre. Hotel and motel density remains the same as it is currently.”

Commissioner Doug Smith then made the motion to accept staff’s recommendation to transmit the zoning changes to the state, which was seconded by Commissioner Stacey Hetherington and passed 4-1, with Commissioner Heard dissenting.

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