More than a dozen Verano residents begged PSL Planning Board members to reject 7-11 application

PORT ST. LUCIE – As far as 7-11’s plans to build a modern 7-11 convenience store in the Publix Shopping Center near the northeast corner of Crosstown Parkway and Commerce Centre Drive, more than dozen Verano homeowners begged the members of the Planning & Zoning Board Oct. 1 not to permit it in their backyard.

Like most of his neighbors, Southwest Torriente Lane homeowner Max Krupo worried that the projected 841 additional vehicles coming into the area for the proposed convenience store and gas station would clog up the roundabout leading in and out of their gated community.

“What are we going to look like six months from now, a year from now?” he asked. “Verano’s projected to sell 300 or 400 homes a year. So the increase in traffic is really something we need to step back and look at. I think our biggest problem is there are a lot of promises – this will be done, this will happen, traffic will be okay – in all our attempts to gather data for this, nobody’s seen a traffic flow chart.”

His fellow Verano resident, John Chaplik, concurred and questioned why this part of Crosstown Parkway was being allowed to develop commercially.

“We don’t see any commercial activity between Publix Verano and Route 1, and that’s because every time you put commercial activity, you create a bottle neck,” he said. “Let’s talk about convenience stores: Almost always, they’re on a corner. That tells you immediately this property has ingress and egress problems. Where’s all the traffic going to go? It’s going to go on the circle at Verano.”

His wife, Carolyn Chaplik, was one of several residents worried about the potential for crime in their neighborhood in addition to increased traffic concerns.

“The 7-11 should not be open 24 hours,” she said. “This is a very isolated spot, Publix is going to be closed at 10 o’clock, and we have no street lights on Commerce. It’s going to be a petri dish for crime.”

Joyce Kennedy agreed, requesting that 7-11 conduct a crime analysis study in conjunction with the Port St. Lucie Police Department on criminal trends associated with 24-hour establishments near I-95.

“I have an immediate family member who is in law enforcement who advises me that criminals gravitate to businesses that operate 24/7, especially looking for a lull in the activity,” she said. “The I-95 corridor is heavily traveled from Miami to Jacksonville with drug trafficking. At night those people are heavily armed and target businesses like 7-11 that would be open 24/7 with immediate egress to 95. That alone impacts the safety of the residents of Verano.”

For his part, Southwest Visconti Way homeowner Peter Porten discounted the need for a 24-hour convenience store in an area primarily populated by northern retirees.

“This is a retirement community, and everybody’s in bed a nine o’clock,” he said. “At midnight, there is no traffic. The only traffic that we’re going to have is people looking to cause some trouble, and so I don’t see a reason why this should be open 24 hours.”

So many of the speakers complained about 7-11’s plans to remain open around the clock that Board Member Daniel Kurek asked Planner John Finizio if that could be a condition for approval of the company’s needed special exception in order to sell gas on the two-acre parcel.

“Can we regulate the hours of operation?” the former asked.

“You can,” Mr. Finizio responded. “It’s been done before.”

Mr. Kurek also asked the city planner to describe a list of other kinds of businesses that could legally operate on the same piece of property. Mr. Finizio then read a list directly from the city code, which included everything from furniture and household appliance sales and service to horticulture nurseries, garden supply sales, enclosed kennels and medical marijuana dispensaries.

“My point is that this is not the only use for this piece of property,” Board Member Kurek emphasized. “These uses that he itemized are in the code, [and] basically any of those could be there without ever coming to a meeting like this. So I want to make sure you all understand that what things can be, including the marijuana distribution point.”

Ms. Kennedy was also one of several residents complaining that they failed to receive adequate notice about a neighborhood meeting on the proposed 3,109-square-foot convenience store and presented a petition with the signatures of 212 Verano residents in opposition.

“Notice of the neighborhood meeting that was held on the 24th was neither posted or circulated to any of the residents other than those in the 750-foot radius,” she fumed. “Verano has 700-plus residents, so therefore a very small group attended. We’re respectfully requesting that you table this agenda item for 60 to 90 days in order to have a true neighborhood meeting held in the Verano Clubhouse in order for all or most of the Verano residents to attend and address their concerns.”

The last speaker that evening, Louis Gonzalez, complained loudly because members of the public were not allowed to get immediate answers to their questions from Board members. Traditional public board policy is to address questions during deliberations after all public speakers have spoken.

“Where is it that we get to ask questions?” he fumed. “I guess it’s not here. Where is the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] on this matter? There are several bodies of water within close proximity. Are they going to be protected? Another concern that I have is the notification. Why is it that only a few people were notified about the neighborhood meeting or this meeting? I’m sure that if the entire neighborhood was notified, you wouldn’t have room enough for people to sit in here.”

Afterward, Chairwoman Deborah Beutel and other Board members attempted to answer all of the residents’ questions, with Mr. Kurek first tackling the EPA question.

“As far as the gas tanks that are put into the ground, the Department of Environmental Protection… requires multiple monitoring wells all the way around the facility,” he said. “I don’t think there’s much of a cause for concern over tanks in the ground. The tanks these days are fiberglass, they don’t rust and the whole situation is monitored very tightly.”

A representative of the applicant, Planner Josh Long with the Gunster Law Firm of Stuart, agreed.

“If anyone tries to permit these, they are so heavily regulated, especially in Florida with our permeable soils and the wetlands that are in the area,” he affirmed. “They have double, triple, quadruple checks in place.”

The planner also emphasized went beyond the minimum distance to invite Verano residents to the neighborhood meeting.

“We did have a meeting on Sept. 24 and we mailed out notices within a thousand feet,” he added. “We answered questions for over an hour.”

Mr. Finizio also addressed the notification issue at the request Chairwoman Beutel.

“The code specifies that we have to notify anyone living within 750 feet of the property, and we sent notification letters out prior to this meeting,” he said. “We also post signs up on the property. That’s what the code requires, that’s what we do. Many people have contacted me via email, but very few have called, so I don’t know where the disconnect is. If you want to change that requirement to make it longer, that’s fine, but the code is 750 feet.”

Chairwoman Beutel insisted, however, that she didn’t want to change the requirement but worried about the high number of complaints.

“You’ve got 200 signatures on a petition, and it’s clear that not everyone had the opportunity to speak to the applicant on this matter to clear some things up,” she said.

Mr. Finizio, however, insisted those same residents had known about the upcoming P&Z meeting.

“It’s on the petition, so they actually knew about it before the meeting,” he said. “They could have contacted me any time before then, and most did with an email.”

Board member Kurek then asked Mr. Long if his client would consider relinquishing the right to be open around the clock in order to pacify some of the resistance.

“Twenty-four hours a day is a requirement for 7-11,” the latter answered. “That is their marketing because they serve a need for the third-shifters, those who work emergency services, nurses and firemen and police officers and those who are caregivers. They also provide late-night service for those hundreds and hundreds of residents that do have something come up in the middle of the night.”

Board Member John Corzine admitted he struggled with the potential traffic congestion and noted one particular problem he had studied first-hand, the lack of a turning lane for patrons needing to make a U-turn after visiting Publix. U-turns are currently illegal at that spot, forcing shoppers to go around the Verano roundabout.

“They should have put a cut-through in – I measured it, and you’ve got 19 feet there,” he said. “You’ve got the room to do the cut-in to have a safe U-turn… so that would keep traffic off of the circle, they would exit Publix, make their U-turn and go back onto 95 or go back west.”

While some residents and Chairwoman Beutel worried about the risk to golf carts in the traffic circle from increased traffic resulting from the proposed 7-11, Port St. Lucie officials told the Hometown News that the city’s Golf Cart Ordinance had not been finalized and so golf carts were not legally permitted on any roadways outside of Verano.

Mr. Corzine subsequently made a motion to approve the special exception for 7-11 with the condition that the developer pay for and construct a U-turn cut on Crosstown Parkway, which was seconded by Board Member Kurek. The motion passed 4-3, with Chairwoman Beutel, Vice Chair Melissa Stephenson and the seconder Mr. Kurek dissenting, without the latter explaining why.

The Port St. Lucie City Council is scheduled to take up the issue sometime on the evening of Oct. 28 in the City Hall at 121 S.W. Port St. Lucie Blvd.

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