Community Redevelopment Agency Board members get update on CRA Code/Comp Plan revision process

STUART – The board members of the Community Redevelopment Agency got their first update Feb. 25 on the ongoing effort to streamline development in Martin County’s six community redevelopment areas through Comprehensive Growth Management Plan amendments.

The County Commission kickstarted the process well over a year ago when its members voted 4-1 in December of 2017 to begin holding community meetings to gather resident input on how to best tweak the Comp Plan to accomplish that goal. During that meeting, Senior Planner Irene Szedlmayer explained that developers of simple in-fill projects found their hands tied by the Comp Plan’s current mixed-use requirements and other restrictions for the Golden Gate, Hobe Sound, Jensen Beach, Old Palm City, Port Salerno and Rio CRAs.

“The staff report identifies several applicable policies that may be making it more difficult to attract infill development in the CRAs,” she said on Dec. 12 of that year. “Any of the benefits you get from having land in the mixed-use overlay is limited to mixed-use projects. If you’re doing a single-use project, you’re still subject to all the generally applicable rules and regulations, and that may make it more difficult to achieve a compact, walkable urban form in the zoning overlays and in the mixed-use overlays.”

Commissioner Heard cast the lone dissenting vote on the streamlining process, expressing concern that any potential changes to the Comp Plan affecting densities might not protect CRA residents who balked at the idea of having a mixed-use project develop next to their homes.

“I need to know what changes are being made to density transition,” she said during the late 2017 meeting. “I don’t think we can force the market, and I don’t think we should force changes on neighborhoods that aren’t desirous of them.”

Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council Urban Design Director Dana Little provided a report to CRA members during the latest meeting on the progress made since the first public meetings were held last August beginning with the Jensen Beach CRA. He credited the success to-date on the work accomplished since the December 2017 vote to county staff.

“Honestly the work that Irene and Growth Management have gone through with the glitch bills over the last two years are huge,” he said, referring to the amendments proposed to cleanup or clarify prior legislation. “We would be in a terrible place without that. It’s been really a group effort.”

Mr. Little explained that he and county staff had already conducted individual interviews with neighborhood action committee members, property owners and developers of the Jensen Beach, Rio and Old Palm City CRAs to get their input on tangling the complicated legislation currently governing the redevelopment areas.

“We have spent a lot of time analyzing all the CRAs so that we can try to forecast and understand what’s going to be the best methodology that will apply to all of them,” he added. “This has been a period of discovery understanding the relationships between the existing future land use, the future land use overlays, the existing zoning and the existing zoning overlays and how they intertwine. We want to clarify these rules for investors and developers, property owners and the existing residents who would like to know and be able to predict what’s going to happen next door to them.”

The urban design director admitted to CRA members that county staff also needed the revisions to the currently convoluted CRA codes in order to more easily advise prospective developers and property owners.

“Sometimes the boundaries between the overlays and the zoning overlays don’t align, so we’re finding some conflicts between them as we go from place to place,” he emphasized. “You can imagine when you’re trying to figure out what you can do: You’ve got to navigate all of these different maps, and the boundaries are not in alignment and it really depends upon what you want to do as to which map you look at. And these are just some of the conflicts that we’re having to address.”

Mr. Little also attempted to alleviate one of the areas of concern expressed over a year before by Commissioner Heard related to changes in the CRA densities potentially affecting the neighboring property owners.

“We’ve said from the beginning that it is not the intention of this effort to up-zone properties or to increase the densities in Martin County and certainly not to increase building heights as prescribed in the Comprehensive Plan,” he said. “There might be some unwitting increase in density for somebody who, say has five units per acre today [and] when the boundaries are realigned may have seven units per acre tomorrow. As we come across these conflicts as we go through the process, we’ll be sure to articulate that and make sure that it’s clear. I think, in general, we want to err on the side of someone being granted a little bit more than take the chance of taking something away from them.”

In addition to highlighting differences in individual CRA regulations and how those complicated development as a whole, Mr. Little explained that he and county staff were actually patterning the new CRA codes after those recently implemented by the county for the private Pineland Prairie development slated for Citrus Boulevard north of Martin Highway. This will include axing the current future land use designations except for recreational and public conservation and replacing them with two new ones called CRA Center and CRA Neighborhood. These will be accompanied by a series of sub-districts such as multi-family, detached and manufactured homes or mobile homes, core district, corridor, general, waterfront and industrial “to more clearly and carefully define the range of densities and intensities.”

“We think the CRA Center can really accommodate the mixed-use overlay areas as well as some of the areas that might have some commercial uses today,” he said. “We’re basically rezoning and changing the future land use map so there’s no longer any ambiguity about what you can or cannot do. This is really a reorganizational effort and an effort to clarify the rules that exist today.”

The new future land use designations and sub-districts will form part of a new chapter 18 in the Comp Plan solely dedicated to the CRAs. This will be coupled with a new Article 12 in the Land Development Regulations also strictly related to the CRAs. Once the Mr. Little and county staff finish the interviews with the Golden Gate CRA, the County Commission can then formally replace the old CRA regulations with the new ones.

“Until we finally rezone and complete Golden Gate, we still have to have all those old rules in place,” he added. “When we finish with Golden Gate, we ‘ll go through a repeal process where all the old rules with be struck out.”

The new CRA codes will also include streamlined architectural guidelines. This aspect prompted questions from CRA Board Member Cindy Hall, who expressed concern over the image of a three-story building in the Jensen Beach CRA and wanted to ensure that the local neighborhood action committees would have a chance to opine on those guidelines.

“I guess my concern is when I saw that one particular rendering,” she said. “In my mind, a bunch of three-story buildings downtown in a little-bitty Jensen would be quite frankly horrifying.”

Mr. Little attempted to allay her fears with the fact that the NACs would contribute to aforementioned guidelines while admitting that getting people to agree on specific designs would be difficult.

“I actually brought that up earlier today because while we’re showing that [image] for Jensen, it escapes me whether or not you can even do a three-story apartment building in Jensen, so that’s why those special sub-districts are going to be so important,” he answered. “The apartment building in one CRA may be illustrated as two stories and in another as three stories because as we’ve discovered, the building heights aren’t consistent throughout the CRAs. The struggle with architectural elements within a code is there are some quantifiable dimensional elements that you can regulate, but you reach a point where you can’t codify taste or style or talent.”

For his part, CRA Chairman Richard Zurich expressed amazement that Mr. Little and county staff had progressed so far in just a few short months.

“When we first started this, I had no concept in my mind whatsoever as to how this could be undertaken or how this challenge could be met because it was just a humongous challenge,” he said. “I think you’ve done an excellent in attempting to simply yet maintain the vision and the desire that each CRA wants. You’ve done just an outstanding job of pointing out the horrors that property owners have had to try and face in trying to develop to-date and why we need to make those changes.”

Mr. Little insisted the next few months would be critical as far as timing out the rest of the CRA interviews while showing the Board a tentative timeline of back-to-back meetings in order to make a June deadline before the County Commission.

“We’re looking at three or four different meetings per month as we go forward and so we’re going to create a sort of critical path type of schedule, what the overlaps are with the specific dates and then on that path really target when the advertising requirements are,” he explained. “The goal is to get to the Board of County Commissioners for the first public hearing, which would be the transmittal of the Comprehensive Plan text amendment and future land use map to the state and the first public hearing of the land development regulations on June 18.”

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