Southeast Sharon Street homeowners worry county might open up their road to Flamingo Avenue

STUART – A handful of Hobe Sound homeowners pleaded with the Martin County Commission during public comment Oct. 5 to permanently nix the idea of ever connecting two neighborhood streets currently divided by an earthen berm.

Nothing related to the potential connection of Southeast Sharon Street and Flamingo Avenue appeared on the agenda that evening, but residents opposed to the idea have addressed the Board in almost every meeting since Aug. 10, when commissioners approved the Southeast Flamingo Drive South Municipal Service Benefit Unit. In addition to funding the paving of Flamingo Drive, the new MSBU resolution also incorporated Southeast Sharon Street into the road inventory of the county. Since the berm dividing the two streets at times appears to be a de facto dividing line between those in favor and those against unification, District 3 Commissioner Harold Jenkins worked with county staff to draft a ballot mailed to residents in September to uncover the majority opinion. An initial ballot mailed last February showed the battle lines drawn primarily at the berm.

According to Steven Burdelski, the second ballot initiative fell flat on its face.

“On 9/21, I received a new ballot from Martin County Public Works regarding the connection of Southeast Flamingo and Southeast Sharon Street,” he said. “It was apparent it was written in an effort to convince the respondents to vote for the connection of the two roads. It states trash pickup on Flamingo Road would be contingent on the paving of the road and its connection to Southeast Sharon Street. This is a false statement. If the road is paved and taken over by the county, we all know the county will service that paved county road and provide pickup.”

Mr. Burdelski also believes removing the berm will bring more traffic down his street and wants the Commission to bring the matter to a formal vote.

“The ballot falsely asserts the connection of the two roads will not increase traffic,” he continued. “The connection may not increase traffic in the whole of Papaya Village, but it will immediately increase traffic on Southeast Sharon Street.”

One of his neighbors, Rick Heinman, also believed the ballot wording was anything but neutral.

“The verbiage on the new survey not only contains inaccuracies such as Waste Management won’t collect garbage in front of each house without a connection, but it is very biased and misleading instead of being neutral,” he said. “This survey lists reasons to vote yes while ignoring the valid reasons for voting no.”

His wife Tonya Heinman followed him at the podium and pleaded with the Board to leave the berm in place

“I come before you making the request for you to end this two-year attack on our community and vote to protect our dead-end and preserve our community, our safety and our wildlife in the area,” she said. “The reasons for destroying the dead-end have all been refuted and are well documented. Our community is right off U.S. 1, and personal safety is a big concern.”

Barry McLaughlin was one of two other Sharon Street residents who spoke that day and emphasized his support of the new MSBU to pave Flamingo Drive. He fears removing the berm, however, might have a domino effect.

“I’m opposed to replacing the berm that divides Flamingo Drive from Sharon Street because once it goes away, east of me is another berm, and that one will be taken away too,” he said. “Now Sharon Street becomes a through-way all the way to Highborne [Way] and all traffic going south on U.S. 1. I don’t want increased traffic. I love the peace and quiet and hope it stays that way.”

During the subsequent opening comments by Board members, Commissioner Jenkins insisted he had no dog in the fight, since at least one Sharon Street resident insinuated that he backed the connection. He also proposed the idea of a community meeting to help resolve the dispute.

“We have a ballot that went out that I thought was fair, [and] we seem to have some disagreement with that,” he said. “This is turning into something that it shouldn’t. I thought using the democratic process would be the most appropriate way to handle it.”

Commissioner Jenkins admitted he didn’t know whether the MSBU paving project would require the removal of the berm but said other separation options might be on the table.

“I don’t know whether the berm at the end of the day is actually going to be there,” he added. “The whole [MSBU] project is to do drainage and stuff like that, so you’re going to end up with bollards at dead ends to separate a street.”

Afterward Commissioner Doug Smith asked the district commissioner if he could provide his own insight since he’d previously dealt with similar controversial issues in his own district that were amicably resolved through a series of neighborhood meetings.

“In one neighborhood, we had three through-streets that were getting an inordinate amount of traffic on them,” he said. “We had probably three or four community neighborhood meetings to do exactly what you’re going through. We probably gave them 20 different options of things we could do to change the character of the neighborhood.”

In Commissioner Smith’s example, however, most residents initially wanted to close off three streets to through traffic. After staff presented the options, that majority of residents then opted for traffic-calming measures instead of creating a series of dead-end streets.

“It might help just to pull everybody in the room together at one time and say here are the options,” he continued. “Then let the neighborhood figure it out amongst themselves.”

When Commissioner Jenkins worried that residents from other parts of the county might attend and further stir up dissention, Commissioner Smith said the former needed to be firm about who actually got to make the final decision.

“If somebody from the other side of Hobe Sound wants to come and talk, fine,” he said. “But the neighbors are the ones really impacted and affected, and they’re the ones really who should be given the right to vote at the end of the day.”

Commissioner Ed Ciampi, on the other hand, worried about the passions he’d seen expressed in emails flaring up in such a meeting. For his part, he believed the berm should stay in place.

“I wouldn’t take it away and put bollards or anything else,” he said. “I’d just leave it alone. You bought in that dynamic on Flamingo or Sharon, and 25 years later the county should not just magically decide it’s changed.”

Though no one expressed support of the berm removal during the latest meeting, Flamingo Drive homeowner Greg Britt did speak out in favor of just that during the Sept. 28 Commission meeting. He believes connecting the two roads would facilitate garbage collection and emergency services in the neighborhood.

“Right now we only have one exit from each,” he said of Sharon Road and Flamingo Drive. “Join the two streets together [and] then we’d have two exits in case of emergency.”

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