PSL Planning Department fails to win requirement on “solid” concrete wall for rear of carwash

PORT ST. LUCIE – The City Council voted 3-0 March 11 to approve a special exception use and the site plan for a full-service carwash along a busy section of Port St. Lucie Boulevard, rejecting a Planning Department condition for a “solid” poured concrete wall along the rear perimeter of the property.

The Planning & Zoning Board had previously debated in early February whether to support granting the special exception use, a requirement for the placement of a fully automatic carwash in a General Commercial Zoning District. During that meeting, the applicant’s representative, Brad Curry of Engineering Design & Construction, described a disagreement between the sound consultant he hired for a noise analysis, Ron Moulder & Associates, and one chosen by the Planning Department -- Siebein Associates – as a “battle with acoustic consultants.” The conflict arose from the two acoustical engineering firms using different methodologies: Mr. Moulder utilized the dBA rating system [A-weighted decibels], while Siebein used C-weighted decibels -- referred to as dBCs – and wanted the former figures converted to its choice of methodology.

Former Planning & Zoning Department Director Patti Tobin referred to the disagreement as “a stalemate” that would probably only be resolved after construction of the 4,380-square-foot carwash at 229 Southwest Port St. Lucie Blvd.

“They [Siebein Associates] were looking for additional information, and we didn’t get that,” she said Feb. 5. “His [Mr. Curry’s] feeling is that he can meet it [the sound ordinance], and the only way to get it moving was to present it to the City Council with the assurance that if there are noises that exceed the noise ordinance, then they will have to deal with it, whether it’s at CO [certificate of occupancy] or after CO.”

Principal Planner Holly Price spoke during both hearings and emphasized the Department had required the applicant pay for the Siebein & Associates study but insisted it remained incomplete afterwards.

“They were to evaluate the analysis provided by Moulder & Associates,” she said. “The Siebein & Associates methodology uses a state-of-the-art, data-modeling program to run a noise analysis, in which case they would get very precise numbers in terms of the type and brand and horsepower of the equipment and for the mitigation features such as filters or insulation. They can actually tell you how much mitigation is going to be required and how much noise is going to be produced from this particular facility. This study was incomplete, so we were not actually able to find that information.”

Ms. Price also said in the earlier meeting that estimates predicted the proposed carwash would exceed the current city maximum of 55 dBAs by 12 decibels. As a result, she and the rest of the Planning Department staff placed three conditions on the carwash if approved by City Council.

First, that post-construction noise levels not exceed 66 decibels on the east and west [commercial] sides of the building and 74 dBCs and on the north [residential] side of the facility; second, the site would include an eight-foot-tall, solid-concrete wall in the rear parameter landscape buffer along Southwest Chapman Avenue; and third, post-construction noise levels be measured using professional grade equipment by an acoustical engineer prior to the issuance of a CO.

“If the city finds that this is consistent with the criteria, you could move for approval,” she said March 11.

Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo then questioned the principal planner about the rationale behind the two competing sound studies.

“In the applicant’s application, was there a requirement that a sound study needed to be completed?” she asked.

“There is an option in the code that allows the Planning Department to request a certain study if they think it’s necessary,” Ms. Price responded. “It’s also a special exception use -- it’s not an approved, permitted use -- but there’s not a specific language that says they need to get a sound study.”

Councilwoman Caraballo then emphasized her line of questioning was meant to ensure fairness both “to the applicant as well as to the residents.”

“So, there’s not a requirement for the study,” she added. “So as far as where it says that it’s incomplete, there’s not an actual requirement for the application to require a sound study, and I just want to make sure that’s on the record.”

Vice-Mayor Shannon Martin, acting as mayor pro tem, then peppered Ms. Price with questions about the solid-concrete wall requirement, which she admitted she found “a little strange.”

“Do we require different types of walls of different applicants?” she asked.

Ms. Price emphasized that Mr. Moulder had recommended “a precast concrete wall” along Southwest Chapman Avenue, while admitting she had come up with the idea of the solid wall that the applicant subsequently resisted.

“Often when you’re dealing with sound, you’re trying to get mass, weight or thickness in order to stop it, so that was my idea of what could work in that situation,” she answered. “It was brought up that they really don’t want to make that a solid wall: They don’t want to have to pour the cells in that concrete block wall. So, we’re thinking they could probably use other options to achieve the result that they’re looking for, such as sand or some other insulating materials that’s going to function as a sound wall.”

Unsatisfied by that response, Vice-Mayor Martin continued to question whether the city had required different types of walls from the adjacent businesses on either side of the property in question other than a standard concrete block wall. Interim Planning & Zoning Director Teresa Lamar-Sarno then chimed in, explaining that the Planning & Zoning Board originally believed the Moulder & Associates sound study to include a solid wall for additional sound buffering.

“Later there was clarification that a complete wall that was filled would reduce the decibels by two and three decibels, so that’s why that was in there as part of their action,” she said. “About a week ago, we did meet with the applicant, and I thought we had a very productive meeting. We were able to go through various points with Mr. Curry, and I believe he was amenable to looking at other options at filling the space in-between the holes of the wall. This is a recommendation… and today you have the option to remove it or keep it.”

For her part, Councilwoman Stefanie Morgan believed the whole wall issue may have simply resulted from differences in phraseology.

“A lot of times when you hear a solid-concrete wall, you think it’s going to be concrete blocks and not have to be a solid pour,” she said. “I think it was maybe misinterpreted from Mr. Moulder when he said a solid-concrete wall; he did not mean it was going to be filled and poured. I mean when I hear solid-concrete wall, I think it’s going to be concrete block.”

City Manager Russ Blackburn concurred with that assessment.

“Remember that this is also in our conversation area, which does require a wall, and it’s solid to appearance,” he explained. “I think the question that came out through this discussion is when you say solid, does that mean it’s filled? There are different ways to fill it, but a concrete block wall is solid to appearance.”

Councilwoman Caraballo then made a simple wall request of Mr. Curry due to the potential impact to the residences behind the planned carwash.

“Being it looks like it’s going to be adjoining the wall of RaceTrac, that you would get it as close to that [as possible], as well as aesthetically as close to that wall,” she said. “Because it’s going to be the neighbors behind that are going to be seeing that every day.”

The councilwoman then asked the carwash developer, Brian Matz, to come up to the podium.

“Obviously this is a carwash in a residential neighborhood,” she told him. “I will be supporting this item this evening but with the understanding -- and I need you to confirm on the record that you understand -- that you have to pass the sound ordinance before the CO is issued.”

“I understand,” Mr. Matz responded.

“For me there will be no leniency,” Councilwoman Caraballo continued. “If you don’t pass your sound code, there’s nothing I can do for you at that point.”

The Council subsequent voted 3-0, with Mayor Gregory Oravec and Councilman John Carvelli absent, to approve both the special exception use and the minor site plan for the carwash.

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