Will Bridge Road lead to another Abacoa?

Yellow signs sprouting along the Bridge Road corridor like raceway caution flags warn drivers of changes ahead. Instead of car crashes, though, the posted signs signal to residents that changes to the county’s current plan to control urban sprawl, the Growth Management Plan and its attendant Future Land Use Map, have been requested by developers. The abundance of county notices verify Martin County Commissioner Patrick Hayes’ recent observation that Bridge Road and southern Martin County have become the “sweet spot” for land developers.

“Who can blame them?” says Hayes, who represents the county’s District Three precinct that includes Hobe Sound. “Look at their options, and you can see why they want to go there.”

Three potential developments opening onto Bridge Road encompass a total of 7,293 acres from I-95 to Federal Highway in Hobe Sound targeted by developers to change the land use from agricultural to agricultural ranchette. If approved by the Board of County Commissioners, the number of units will increase from one per 20 acres to one per five acres, from 365 units to potentially 1,458 units.

Another of the yellow signs announces that a request for a change from a General Industrial District to a Planned Unit Development District, as MCFL Properties of Hobe Sound seeks to create eight “permit-ready” lots on 32.28 acres. “This means that a business can go in there and immediately seek building permits,” says Martin County Principal Planner Joe Banfi. “They don’t have to worry about any of the other processes, because they’ve already been taken care of.” More than 11 acres of the MCFL property are wetlands, which, along with 8 additional acres of buffers to the wetlands, will become part of the preserve, if approved. Their application is still under review, says Banfi.

Hobe Grove
The largest of the developments, the Becker B-14 Groves Development of Regional Impact at the junction of Bridge Road and I-95 called Hobe Grove, targets 2,832 acres, currently a citrus grove, as a planned community to include 3.9 million square feet of research, office and educational space; a 650,000 square-foot town center and 4,300 houses in a stand-alone urban services district. The widely publicized preapplication presentation Feb. 16 from grove owner and CEO Tom Hurley before the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council was designed to garner the public’s support for its proposed “employment center” that would purportedly create 11,000 jobs with the incentives proposed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to attract new businesses, as well as to share information with county planners. Their preliminary plans were submitted in January to the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

Confidentiality agreements prohibit Hurley from disclosing the names of the two potential employers he says are currently expressing interest in moving to the Hobe Grove development. A less-aggressive proposal was made for a 445-acre portion of the same 2,832-acre tract last year, a Targeted Business Industrial District, which was withdrawn last August due to commission opposition. “This new proposal of theirs is not going to happen overnight,” Commissioner Hayes says. “They want to do this spread out over 20 years.” Water and sewer facilities will be built on the site, as well as a water reuse system for irrigation. The plans also call for storing excess fresh water from the Okeechobee Waterway, cleaning the water then releasing it into the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River.

The project calls for land for school facilities for an estimated 2,000 students in grades K through 12, as well as a higher education campus for another 3,500 students. Their permit request for a planned unit development also will need to be approved, and a reported pesticide spill in the citrus grove last August may prompt the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to conduct an environmental assessment of the property, delaying the approval process. The first public hearing is before the Local Planning Agency on Thursday, March 17, at 7 pm. in the Martin County Administrative Center. The Hobe Sound Polo Club, another major development on Bridge Road, will make a presentation at the same LPA meeting.

Polo Club
The Polo Club is requesting a planned unit development of potentially 320 lots on 1,756.89 acres adjacent to its polo grounds, an increase of 232 lots under its current zoning restrictions. Its development currently has 50 lots of 20 acres each. Developers have offered to donate 70 acres to the county at the northern edge of the Polo Club development for waterways improvement. They also intend to limit the number of lots to 121; however, a number of those lots will be smaller than the five-acre lot size required by agricultural ranchette zoning.

Canopus Sound
Farther along in the approval process is the Canopus Sound development of 3,081 acres south of Bridge Road (across from the Hobe Sound Polo Club) and west of Jonathan Dickinson State Park, 500 acres of which would be donated to the county for waterways restoration in exchange for amending the Comprehensive Growth Management Plan to change the zoning on the remaining acreage from agricultural to agricultural ranchette.

The LPA recommended to the Board of County Commissioners denial of the Canopus Sound request in March 2010, and their project currently is being reviewed by the State Department of Community Affairs, after which it will go to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration. If approved, with or without changes, the application goes back to the State Department of Community Affairs to review. If accepted, then a Notice of Intent is published for public comment.

Hobe Grove, similar in concept to the Abacoa development in Jupiter that attracted the Scripps Research Center, is expected to draw considerable public input. “I don’t think people want a bunch of Abacoa’s up and down I-95,” says Commissioner Hayes. “On the other hand, maybe they do. They’re gonna have to tell me what they want.”

The public may attend any of the hearings, or they may submit written comments to the Martin County Growth Management Department, 2401 SE Monterey Road, Stuart, FL 34996, on any proposed development, which will become part of their permanent public record. The public may also email Commissioner Hayes, [email protected]

For additional information, go to the Martin County Growth Management website>Comprehensive Planning>Application Summaries or >Staff Reports, or call the Growth Management office and talk to the planner assigned to the application. To be put on a mailing list for information about the Hobe Grove DRI, call the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council at (772) 221-4060, which has prepared and will mail to interested parties a summary of the application.