County Commission transmits new wording for Chapter 18 in hopes of protecting CRA waterfront commercial

STUART – The County Commission struggled March 23 with updating the newest chapter of the Comprehensive Growth Management Plan focused on the community redevelopment areas in order to achieve the difficult balance of preserving marine waterfront commercial industries while ensuring public access.

Although Chapter 18 strictly serves Martin County’s six redevelopment areas – Golden Gate, Jensen Beach, Hobe Sound, Old Palm City, Rio and Port Salerno – the latest debate centered around county staff’s desire to insert the Marine Service Area Designation from Chapter Four’s future land use designations to further protect the commercial waterfront areas of Jensen Beach, Rio and Port Salerno. The county has striven and succeeded with preserving the thriving commercial waterfront in the latter and enabling it to coexist with existing residential uses. That’s not always been an easy conversation, however. During the course of the latest debate, Commissioner Sarah Heard – who cast the lone dissenting vote on the new language and had opposed the creation of Chapter 18 three years ago – particularly worried about the potential impact of allowing more waterfront residential units in Port Salerno, which lies in her district.

“Port Salerno, of all of the CRAs, does have working waterfront,” she said. “It’s incredibly important, it’s historic and we’re preserving a historic residential neighborhood that’s always had these water-dependent businesses. So, some of these proposals would absolutely destroy the character of Port Salerno.”

Commissioner Heard particularly opposed a proposal by Principal Planner Irene Szedlmayer to enable companies that don’t need the shoreline for their marine operations to ask the county to approve the Marine Service Area Designation from Chapter 4 to apply to the CRAs in order to open up the waterfront for more public access and potential residential development.

“This proposal, in order to give flexibility so that we can move marine water-dependent services to dry land, is just not feasible [and] it’s not workable,” she said. “I don’t want the CRAs to turn into Delray Beach. I don’t ever want to be Delray Beach in any of my CRAs. I want them to retain their character.”

Commissioner Doug Smith then described Martin County’s historical lease agreement with the Port Salerno Commercial Fishing Dock Authority and that industry’s sometimes complicated relationship with the adjacent homeowners. Tempers have sometimes flared between the two groups, particularly during the Authority’s annual seafood festival. The commissioner also hinted that Commissioner Heard might be straddling the fence as far as the residential component since she opposes any zoning change that would open up the working waterfront to new residential development.

“We established that lease, the essence of all that was – from my perspective – to protect the commercial working waterfront,” Commissioner Smith said. “Interestingly enough, the comments made about that and the residential adjacent to the commercial working waterfront was just supported. The inference is that it is protected, and we want to protect that. It was great that the example was brought up in Port Salerno because I think that’s a perfect explanation of how those two uses can coexist. There may be needed language Irene how that works and how both residential and working waterfront can coexist.”

Seeing a potential impasse in the wording, Comprehensive Planning Administrator Clyde Dulin attempted to broker a compromise since the revised future land use map shown by Ms. Szedlmayer depicted all the marine service areas of Jensen Beach and the other CRAs with hatch marks, meaning they were off limits to any residential development.

“We would like to offer another option,” he said. “If it meets the needs of the Board, we can remove the Marine Service Area language from Chapter 18 and leave it only in Chapter 4 and only applicable to the Commercial Waterfront Future Land Use Designation outside the CRAs. However, we will need to come back at a future date and take the hatching off these maps through a separate amendment.”

That idea particularly pleased Commissioner Smith, since his district includes Jensen Beach, the CRA depicting the most Marine Service Area on the map.

“If we were to redefine the commercial waterfront areas in our CRAs that have waterfront designations, can you create language that is specific to those uses or to those areas that apply to the CRA that recognize the idea that they have to have public access?” he asked. “There needs to be the protection and the continuation of the commercial working waterfront area, especially in Port Salerno. Existing Marine Service Areas as a use need to be acknowledged in a planned unit development or a site plan if brought forward to us.”

In response, Mr. Dulin reminded the Board that the staff request was for transmittal to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and that the language would not be set in stone.

“We can certainly try to revisit this language,” he said. “We are requesting it to be transmitted, and so I would ask if we could have a vote. If you wish to direct us to come back to you at another date, we can revise this language.”

“Can’t we transmit it with revised language?” Commissioner Smith continued.

“We can revise language at your direction right now and then transmit, yes,” Mr. Dulin replied.

Commissioner Smith, however still had a final question.

“In that transmittal process and in the review process when it comes back to us, if the Board agrees to do so, can we adopt language that you all put together between now and then?”

Mr. Dulin’s affirmative response encouraged the District 1 commissioner.

“That would further define how we protect the commercial waterfront aspect in a CRA [and] allow for residential to be compatible, but [we need] some kind of a language that adamantly makes it public,” Commissioner Smith concluded. “We ought to be able to draft language that supports the ability to do that.”

He then made a motion to transmit the amendments to Chapter 18 to the state, with the Marine Service Area language removed and the condition that staff craft new language in the interim that would define how residential, commercial marine, and working waterfront could coexist. Commissioner Harold Jenkins seconded the motion, which then passed 4-1, with Commissioner Heard dissenting due to the lack of the final wording and her worries over the potential impact on Port Salerno.

“I’m just very fearful of the ability of creating even more flexibility for more conversion because I don’t think it will come to a good end,” she said. “The state doesn’t have anything to review. We’re going to transmit this, but we’re going to change it in-between the time we transmit the doc.”

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