Martin BCC: Developers gone wild


From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: Tuesday’s Martin County Board of County Commissioners meeting features more development approval requests than can possibly be addressed in a single session, which may well be the intent of Commission Chair Ed Ciampi, who has earned a reputation for approving agendas that are either blink-of-an-eye quick or mind-numbingly long.

This week falls into the latter category, with two widely discussed proposals – Harmony Ranch and Pineland Prairie – scheduled for BCC votes as well as four less-publicized projects, two neighborhood water/sewer assessment resolutions, and the usual spending spree.
Although the public comment period usually begins at 9:05 a.m.Tuesday’s 9:05 a.m. slot is assigned to a public hearing on the Harmony Ranch proposal that would allow a nearly 20-fold increase in the number of residential units that can be built on property at the intersection of SW Bridge Road and SW Pratt Whitney Road.
Harmony is asking for a Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map Amendment to change the land use on more than 2,650 acres from Agricultural (one unit per 20 acres) to Residential Estate Density (two units per acre), Rural Density (one unit per 2 acres) and Agricultural Ranchette (one unit per 5 acres).  The project would allow 2,400 to 2,600 residential units to be built on the property.  A text amendment is also being requested to expand the Urban Services Boundary to allow public water and sewer utilities to be extended to the Harmony property.
Staff is recommending that the BCC reject both the FLUM and text amendments.
Harmony developers say they’re not asking the BCC to approve the proposals on Tuesday; they only want the amendments transmitted to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for review and comment.  But a majority vote of the BCC is required to forward proposed amendments to the DEO, and agency comments are limited to specific impacts to state resources.  
Commissioners who vote to transmit the amendments to DEO will be implicitly approving the Harmony proposal.
The agenda has set aside only 15 minutes for the Harmony amendments discussion – Agenda Items 6A and 6B.
The other major proposal on Tuesday’s agenda is the Pineland Prairie project, which is scheduled for the same amount of time – just 15 minutes – beginning at 1:30 p.m.  Residents who want to speak about both of these projects will have to show up early and stay through lunch.
(Chairman Ciampi frequently takes items out of order on the agenda, making it difficult to plan for public participation.)
Like Harmony, Pineland Prairie seeks both a Future Land Use amendment and a text amendment to the Martin County Comprehensive Plan.  Agenda Items 6C and 6D.
Like Harmony, Pineland Prairie would require expansion of the Urban Services District.
Like Harmony, Pineland Prairie would increase the number of residential units that can be built on the developer’s property, which consists of just over 3,400 acres on the Martin/St. Lucie County border north of Martin Highway and east and west of SW Citrus Boulevard in Palm City.  Pineland Prairie will preserve a large portion of the property as open space or for agricultural use, with 4,200 residential units to be constructed on about 1,000 acres.
Unlike Harmony, staff recommends approval of Pineland Prairie, which, through a Comp Plan text amendment, would establish a new land use designation called Mixed Use Village.  The Pineland Prairie project would include industrial and commercial uses as well as residential units.  The Mixed Use Village designation would apply only to the Pineland Prairie property – as the AgTEC land use designation that was previously approved applies only to specific property that also is located in Palm City.
Traffic is a serious concern for Palm City residents who are wary of the Pineland Prairie plan.
As with Harmony, the BCC is being asked to transmit both a FLUM amendment and several text amendments to the state for review and comment.  Some of the text amendments are proposed to benefit Pineland Prairie by exempting the Mixed Use Village property from regulations that apply to other property with residential or agricultural land use designations.
Harmony and Pineland Prairie together are anticipated to use up all of the County’s residential capacity projected for the next 15 years.
There are four other development proposals on Tuesday’s agenda:
– Item 6E is a proposal to transmit a Future Land Use Amendment for four parcels on Berry Avenue in Palm City which seeks to change land use designations from Commercial Office Residential (COR) to Limited Commercial and General Commercial.  Staff recommends rejection of all proposed changes, except changing one parcel from Rural Density to COR, leaving the other parcels with the COR designation, which allows for high density residential development.
– Item 6F is a proposed revised final site plan for development of a 5,411-square-foot convenience store and 16-pump Racetrac gas station on the corner of US #1 and Pettway Street.
– Item 8B is an amendment to the Southwood Plaza PUD agreement for a storage facility on Kanner Highway to extend the timetable for development for another year or two years to accommodate a new owner that recently purchased the property and cannot comply with the existing development timetable.
– Item 4C2 on the Consent Agenda is a proposal to extend the timetable for development of the required infrastructure and improvements on the Avalon Ventures property on US #1 and Seabranch Boulevard to provide an additional six years for the developer to complete the work.  No reason is provided for the request to extend the original timetable, which expired last month.
Also on the Consent Agenda as Item 4B2 is the now familiar list of “warrants” (checks) paid by the County for the last two weeks at a rate in excess of $1 million per day.  As usual, there is no explanation as to where these tax dollars are going aside from employee salaries and benefits. 
Item 4B1 on the Consent Agenda seeks approval of an additional $39,000 to pay a consultant for more work on the environmentally questionable Jensen Beach Mooring Field and its less-favored companion, the Manatee Pocket Mooring Field.
Two other big ticket items are resolutions to approve special assessments for water/sewer projects in North River Shores (at $11,700 per household) and Palm Lake Estates ($5,900 per home), which are Agenda Items 6H and 6I, respectively.
On other matters on Tuesday’s BCC agenda:
– Agenda Item 4B3 on the Consent Agenda is the annual report of the Community Redevelopment Agency outlining projects in the seven CRA areas during the past year.
– A Proclamation declaring Hurricane Preparedness Week in Martin County, Florida, is set for approval as Agenda Item 4B11.  While the proclamation says that the BCC “encourages everyone to prepare for the 2018 hurricane season,” the County still has made no effort to establish a pet-friendly shelter, leaving Martin as the only County on the Treasure Coast that refuses to provide a place where residents can evacuate their homes if necessary and ride out a storm with their pets.
– Agenda Item 6G is a request by the operator of the Symphony at Stuart assisted living facility for a waiver of the 300-foot separation required between a park and a building where alcoholic beverages are consumed.  The Symphony is adjacent to Mary Brogan park.
Download or view Tuesday’s agenda items, including the individual items for Harmony Ranch (about 700 pages) and Pineland Prairie (about 900 pages), at:
Please attend the meeting beginning at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday at the Administration Center, 2401 SE Monterey Road, Stuart, to express your views on these or other issues or e-mail commissioners at, and, with copies to the County Administrator and the County Attorney at and

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