The majority approve final tweaks to design standards while two members express opposition

PORT ST. LUCIE – The Planning & Zoning Board voted 4-2 May 7 to recommend approval of an amendment to the Becker Road corridor design standards that the City Council gave its final approval to Nov. 13 after years of planning and neighborhood charrettes to gather public input for the future of the primarily residential area. Principal Planner Holly Price reminded P&Z Board members that she had originally previewed the proposed changes to the design standards of the 3.75-mile stretch of the road between I-95 and the Florida Turnpike on April 2 and would only provide them a brief recap.

“We’re proposing changes to the existing Becker Road overlay design standards that were approved in November of 2018,” she said. “What we hope to do with these design standards is create a transition between the Becker Road arterial street and the surrounding neighborhoods, and also to provide services to the residents in the general vicinity. Some of the principal objectives for these design standards are to create the features that we’d like to see.”

The changes including the placement of parking to the rear of any future businesses along Becker Road; the requirement of a continuous landscape buffer along Becker Road including open spaces in the form of plazas and courtyards that incorporate features such as benches, fountains, public art and gazebos; the requirement for any mixed-use projects along the corridor to be at least two stories in height; and incentives offered to the developers of office projects to encourage two-story development. There will be no on-street parking along Becker Road.

“We want to promote the development of buildings that have windows and other building articulation as a means to foster a more attractive architecture,” Ms. Price explained. “We want to create an interconnected system of sidewalks for both walkability, and driveways to make access to the nearby development more convenient.”

The planner did have good news for some Board members who’d asked in the previous meeting about the possibility of precluding the future placement of assisting living and other residential-type homes along the corridor.

“At our last meeting on April 2, there were a couple of questions that the Board asked, and one of them was if there were any legal issues removing the assisted living facilities and the community residential homes from the zoning permitted uses,” she said. “We spoke with Legal, and they indicated they see no problem doing this since we’re removing it from the whole entire area and from the whole design standards. The second question was whether there were any plans to install bike lanes along Becker Road. At this time, Public Works does not have any plans to do that.”

Ms. Price’s response to the latter is what prompted a brief discussion between her and Board Member Deborah Beutel, who ultimately cast one of the two dissenting votes on the approval. Ms. Beutel had expressed concerns during the April meeting about safety for bicyclists along the corridor and questioned the planner about the possibility of incorporating bike lanes or other solutions.

“Since you have bicycle racks already proposed, so the bicycles can just use the sidewalk for safety purposes?” she asked during the latest meeting.

Ms. Price said the Public Works Department might be the best source to answer that question.

“You know, I’m not sure what the requirement for that is, but I don’t think they’re supposed to be using the sidewalks,” she said. “I would like to confirm and somebody else here might know better than I, but I think they would just need to use the street at this time.”

“Wow,” Ms. Beutel responded.

Board Member John Corzine had also expressed concerns about cyclists and pedestrians sharing a proposed sidewalk along the corridor April 2 but ultimately voted in favor of the recommendations.

“It looks like it’s going to be a mixed use of bicycles and pedestrians sharing a sidewalk, he said during the earlier meeting. “Is 10 feet wide enough under that? I don’t know.”

Ms. Price only responded that there would be two sidewalks similar to the shopping area along Ocean Drive in Vero Beach, which utilizes a narrower sidewalk along the store fronts and a wider one closer to the street. Mr. Corzine worried that the five-foot sidewalk closest to the businesses might not be wide enough with the doors opening into the walkway, but she insisted the idea worked adequately in Vero Beach.

“I’ve seen it work in Vero,” Ms. Price insisted. “It’s not going to be a heavy pedestrian area like it would be if there were parking in front of the building, but there will be some people using it. I’m sure most people are going to enter the area from where the cars are.”

Board Member Melissa Stephenson cast the other dissenting vote without offering any explanation or further comments. She did express fears on April 2, however, that the street might end up like other major thoroughfares in the city.

“I live in the area and use the Becker Road corridor daily,” she said. “I appreciate the time and effort that both the Planning & Zoning Department and [Vice-Mayor] Shannon Martin invested in 2017 and 2018 doing the presentations to let the city and the residents who live in that area have some input on what we’d like our area to look like. There were a multitude of comments that we don’t want a Port St. Lucie Boulevard, and we don’t necessarily want to be a St. Lucie West Boulevard either. We want our own identity being on the southernmost part of town.”

During the same April meeting, Ms. Price explained that city staff had determined to limit any new commercial and residential development facing Becker Road to one of only two currently permitted architectural styles to address that concern.

“The residents had expressed repeatedly that they did not want Becker Road to look like Port St. Lucie Boulevard, and in a participant survey, most residents preferred the Florida vernacular or Mediterranean architectural styles,” she said April 2. “The development on the west side of Becker Road would be mostly Mediterranean, and the development on the east side and at the intersection of Port St. Lucie Boulevard and Becker Road would be Florida vernacular.”

Ms. Price also explained during that meeting that Planning Department staff had decided to limit the faux roofing features on flat roofs along the corridor at the request of Mayor Gregory Oravec, who cast the lone dissenting vote Nov. 13 on the amendment to the Future Land Use Map changing the zoning of the approximately 787 residential lots along the corridor. During that meeting, Principal Planner John Finizio told the Council that the approximately 196 acres of single-family residential land in the area would now be divided into 25.5 acres of limited commercial; 15.7 acres of residential/office/institutional zoning; 83.12 acres of office zoning; 59.28 acres of medium density residential; 7.11 acres of mixed use; and 9.84 acres of open space recreational zoning.

Upon explaining his opposition last November, Mayor Oravec expressed a concern similar to that expressed by P&Z Board Member Stephenson.

“For me, we’re dealing with such a scale and time horizon that I think it can be difficult to picture in our mind’s eye and take in all the factors,” he said. “I continue to hope for a road that feels more like Gatlin [Boulevard] and have sections similar to Gatlin such as between Savona and Rosser versus recreating elements of Port St. Lucie Boulevard. I continue to be very concerned about this one. I hope staff will take advantage of opportunities to create green space and interconnect the spaces as we have done in other areas of the city.”

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