The Martin County Local Planning Agency again found itself divided over infill project

STUART ― The Martin County Local Planning Agency gave a divided green light May 7 with its 3-2 recommendation of approval for a controversial 47-acre infill housing development wedged between Southeast Cove and Salerno roads just east of Southwest Kanner Highway.

Both Chairman James Moir and District 2 Board Member William Flanagan cast the dissenting votes in their ongoing opposition to the proposed higher residential development on the land. The two voted last Sept. 5 against the request by Cove/Salerno Partners LLC to change the future land use on the property from two units per acre to five units per acre. They continued their opposition during the latest hearing on changing the underlying zoning from Rural Estate District to Planned Unit Development District, even though Principal Planner Peter Walden told them the revised project came in at less than the maximum density allowed.

“The 167 proposed residential units developed on the 47 acres result in a net density of 3.5 units per acre,” he said. “The applicant requests approval of the Showcase Project Planned Unit Development zoning and master site plan for the development of 88 townhomes and 79 detached single-family homes.”

The property has remained undeveloped for several years after a former owner closed a fish farm on the property and the County Commission approved filling in the fishponds in 2010. The county approved an extension on that project last July, which had never been finished. The current development proposal is planned in two phases beginning with the detached housing.

“Phase 1 will consist of the single-family homes, adjacent lakes and supporting infrastructure, including the access to Southeast Salerno Road,” Mr. Walden continued. “An emergency entrance only will be provided on Cove Road as part of Phase 1. Phase 2 will consist of the townhomes, supporting infrastructure and access to Southeast Cove Road. No construction is authorized until a final site plan has been approved for the site.”

The applicant’s representative, Stuart-based Landscape Architect Morris Crady, told Agency members that his client decided to change both the scope and type of housing on the site after holding several meetings with area residents opposed to the project for various reasons. Cove/Salerno Partners originally proposed last September to build a larger number of townhomes and duplexes on the property before deciding to amend the plan.

“The biggest concern was the density, and we were looking at 235 units, the maximum density that we could allow based on this PUD,” he said. “What I explained to the residents was that the [future] land-use amendment allowed us to go up to five units per acre, [but] we’re not guaranteed five units per acre. This is the process [today] that locks in the density, the type of units we can build [and] basically how it’s designed because it’s a PUD.”

The decision to eliminate the duplexes and incorporate single-family homes apparently satisfied the nearby homeowners in the Tres Belle development who’d expressed concerns about their property values. Unlike in previous hearings, no members of the public spoke out in opposition this time.

“So, there is no rental component here, no apartments and no condominiums,” he said. “There won’t be any units over units.”

Mr. Crady said the same property owners also approved the developer’s plans to only open the Salerno Road side of the land for the first phase and to set aside more land along Cove Road for landscaping similar to that of their own neighborhood.

“We’re going to match the entry to Tres Belle,” he added. “It’s going to be the same quality of design and the same landscape components.”

In a nod to Board Member Flanagan’s previous concerns about traffic congestion, Mr. Crady described his work with traffic engineers to evaluate any potential traffic impacts.

“What we’re finding out is that the impact is not necessarily capacity,” he explained. “It’s the intersection of Cove Road at Kanner Highway because there’s only a dedicated left turn to go out towards 95, and then there’s a shared left and right turn, which creates the major backup. You can work within the existing right of way and essentially modify the median to create two dedicated left turns and one dedicated right turn. That would fix the problem very quickly.”

Mr. Flanagan agreed with that suggestion.

“The numbers that we had a while back, it was like 14,000 cars a day on Cove Road, and I’m sure it’s increased now,” he said. “I like the idea of putting a right turn lane on the west end of Cove as it comes into Kanner.”

Chairman Moir continued to express his opposition on several fronts, ranging from density and traffic concerns to high school capacity in the county and drainage and flooding issues. He has repeatedly expressed his opinion of the area’s poor drainage ever since the project came to light.

“Tres Belle has the Atlantic Ridge property and the South Fork to drain into, [but] this is an island that does not have a drainage outlet anymore,” he said. “This property was flooding when it was a fish farm.”

The engineer of record for the project, MilCor Group President Melissa Corbett, then attempted to correct his viewpoint of the drainage of the property in question, emphasizing that she’d overseen the initial filling in of the fishponds.

“The control structure for this site has been in place for many years now,” she said. “We have an established discharge rate that we will be required to meet in the post-development. This site has long since established what our control elevation is, what are discharge rate is, where the drainage goes and how it flows.”

Chairman Moir, however, continued to disagree with both Ms. Corbett and Mr. Crady on the stormwater issue.

“Cove Road is pinching off drainage that used to go to the south, and all of the drainage is now going through that control structure underneath Salerno Road and eventually across Kanner and to the river, but it’s not getting any better,” he exclaimed. “We have a serious drainage problem and… without that kind of connectivity, we’re going to flood, we’re going to pond.”

The chairman then complained about the lack of more affordable housing in the project, but Mr. Crady insisted the developer removed that component to please the opposing residents.

“We aren’t trying to address affordable housing because it’s really hard to do,” he told him. “Frankly we’ve got a lot of pushback from the surrounding residents: They don’t want to see subsidized housing here or any type of low-income housing.”

In his closing comments, Mr. Flanagan admitted someone in recent months had accused him of being against private property rights, but he told that person his responsibility was simply “to filter through some of these things and determine what’s necessary.”

“They’ve been trying to do something with this property going on 20 years and they have a right to try and build something there and make a profit,” he said.

Even though Mr. Flanagan bragged on Mr. Crady’s “many tweaks” on the plan since the last presentation here, he still, ironically, cast the other dissenting vote in the 3-2 approval of the request.

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