Nearby residents express concerns while Fort Pierce officials say requested zoning change means less density

FORT PIERCE – The City Commission gave its initial backing Jan. 3 for a request to rezone a 13-acre parcel on Oleander Avenue from Medium Density Residential Zoning to Planned Development so a developer can build 50 single-family homes on the land despite concerns by neighboring residents of worsening traffic in the area.

City Planning Analyst Vennis Gilmore provided commissioners an overview of the requests and proposed development, whose more than four dozen homes would be built along an oval-shaped interior roadway encircling a dry stormwater retention area.

“The current future land use is medium density residential, which is 6.5 to 12 dwelling units per acre,” he said. “The current zoning is R-4, which is medium density residential, 10 to 12 dwelling units per acre. The applicant is proposing the planned development at 3.47 dwelling units per acre, which is actually downsizing the zoning.”

In addition to the requested zoning change, Mr. Gilmore emphasized the applicant was seeking a few variances from existing minimum right-of-way distances. Hie reminded the Board that approving the zoning change to the PD zoning classification would provide the city increased oversight and the ability to implement any conditions it deemed appropriate to ensure public health, safety and general welfare.

“The applicant is proposing a few variations from the R-4 Medium Density Residential Zoning District for the planned development,” he explained. “Two of those would be the right-of-way width of the interior road. Normally it’s a requirement of 60 feet, [and] they’re proposing 50. The front setback would normally be 25 feet, [but] for the planned development, it would be 15.”

The developer’s contracted Kimley-Horn engineer, Blaine Bergstresser, agreed with Mr. Gillmore’s assessment of the project, while emphasizing the reasoning behind the two requests.

“The main reason for going to a PD was so we could string the interior roadways’ right of way [together] so we could have more of a larger setback in the rear of the homes,” he said.

Mayor Linda Hudson, however, still needed further clarification on the variance request.

“Could you explain why those two changes?” she asked.

“The R-4 District requires a 25-foot front setback for the building – we’re proposing a 15-foot,” Mr. Bergstresser replied. “The main reason is kind of the product that we’re putting on here. If you look at the rear, the R-4 only requires a five-foot setback. We want to provide more of a larger backyard area, so we’re proposing putting the single-family home 10 feet closer so we can have more of a backyard for people on this product.”

When Mayor Hudson continued to press him on the roadway variance, Mr. Bergstresser admitted that request was also related to giving the future homeowners more outdoor space.

“We were requesting to take it down to 50 so we also get the larger lots,” he added. “The R-4 District requires a 70-foot lot depth, [and] We wanted to put that to 82, so we could have larger side- and backyards for people. We discussed that with the engineering staff at the city, and they approved us shrinking the right of way to 50 feet.”

Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson then posed a theoretical question to the Kimley-Horn engineer to show what could currently be built on the property without the desired PD zoning.

“Thinking about what it is zoned today versus what you’re proposing, what are the alternatives to your proposal here?” he asked. “You’re looking for bigger yard space in an R-4 Residential. In your professional experience, what are the other options if you had to maintain and keep a Medium Density Residential [Zoning]?”

“That would allow someone to come in and do 10 units per acre,” Mr. Bergstresser answered. “I believe city code allows three-stories for medium density, so you’re looking at 120 multifamily units. What we’re proposing is a much-reduced density of single-family on the property.”

Even so, the engineer’s explanation failed to pacify the concerns of three different residents who addressed the Commission that evening. The first was Jason Fitzsimmons, who told commissioners he had only recently moved into his Sunrise Boulevard home.

“Now we’re adding more houses, so where is this exit?” he asked. “I don’t think the homeowners are going to want to exit to Oleander, which is a commercial area. So, it looks like they might go to Sunrise. If so, what’s going to happen to the backsides of the roads to this community that you’re putting in, because it is only four homes away from my house?”

One of his nearby neighbors on the same road, Margo Barnes, likewise worried about the proposed development adding to her traffic woes.

“Just like the [previous] gentleman said, Sunrise is already getting very crowded [and] they’re really going very fast,” she said. “On Oleander, it takes me awhile to pull out already. If you put a 50-unit development in there, that’s going to take a heck of a long time. I know they’re trying to widen the street, but I can’t see that working very well.”

Another Sunrise Boulevard homeowner, Paul Fitzpatrick, believed even the lower PD density would be too dense and wondered how the development might affect the street he lives on.

“Is there going to be an entrance to Sunrise Boulevard or Royal Palm, or is it all going to be on Oleander?” he asked. “And how can you put 50 units on 12 acres? To me that’s just way too many houses on too small a property.”

Mr. Bergstresser then returned to the podium to address their worries, beginning with the traffic concerns and the entrance to the proposed new neighborhood to be known as Oleander Oaks.

“Our entrance is only going to be off Oleander,” he insisted. “That’s going to be our only entrance onto the site. There will not be any other entrances off Sunrise or any other road. we have to submit a traffic study with every project that we submit to the city. It was approved by both the [city’s] third-party consultant and St. Lucie County due to the fact we are drastically reducing the number of trips from us switching the zoning.”

The Kimley-Horn engineer also responded directly to Mr. Fitzsimmons’s concern of the proximity of the development to his backyard.

“I don’t know the exact distance to Sunrise, but I think his main concern was how close those homes would be to the back of his property,” the former said. “If you look at our site plan, our lots will have a 15-foot setback to the lot line to the home, and then an extra 14 feet of landscape buffer. So, the closest the home could be to our property line would be 29 feet. It looks like they have an existing 25-foot Poinciana Avenue behind their houses, so you’re looking at 54 feet.”

Shortly before the vote on the request, both Mayor Hudson and Commissioner J. Johnson reaffirmed with the developer’s representative that Oleander Oaks would be much less dense than the three-story apartment complex currently permitted by city code. Commissioner Thomas Perona believes the neighbors would be happier with the single-family home development.

“I always ask my question, if not this, then what?” he said. “And sometimes the what can be a little bit harder to digest. This development makes a whole lot of sense when you start talking about an impact of 12 acres and 50 homes. It will have a very small footprint as far as being able to reach out into that part of the community and cause a lot of negative impacts.”

Commissioner Curtis Johnson Jr. reminded the concerned residents that the city would have one more bite at the apple to place any conditions on the Oleander Oaks Planned Development.

“Just as a reminder, this is our first reading, so there’ll be a second reading of this particular item,” he said. “It’ll allow for even more investigation, conversation and those types of things to go forward.”

Commissioners then voted unanimously for approval. The Board will hold the second reading of the request on July 18.

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