STUART — Environmental policies were the focus of expert testimony Monday during a Zoom hearing that challenges a key aspect of the controversial Costco development.
The first day of arguments before a state Division of Administrative Hearings judge, Francine Ffolkes, heard about the South Kanner Highway property where a Costco Wholesale Corp. store, an 18-pump gas station, 378 apartments and retail and restaurant space were approved for development by the City Commission.
At question is whether the city assigned the 49-acre property an appropriate future land-use designation: neighborhood special district.
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About 60 people tuned into the virtual hearing, which could last until Wednesday, officials said.
Ecologist Greg Braun and land-use planner Charles Gauthier testified on behalf of Robin Cartwright — a Stuart resident who filed the challenge — and talked of the development property itself and city environmental policies.
Braun raised points similar to those brought up during the City Commission’s final reading of the Costco project. They stem from an environmental report he did that showed threatened plant and animal species on the property.
The city’s Comprehensive Plan calls for the protection of all endangered and threatened plants and animals. The City Commission approved the Costco development Aug. 9 with the condition that those plant species be protected and incorporated into the landscape when possible.
Braun pointed to other developments where the city has preserved environmental aspects amid development.
“In my opinion, that is what should have been done on this site,” he said. “I believe that a development could move forward on this property that would have some intensive components and some environmental preserve areas.”
Moreover, Gauthier testified, the city should have put certain areas of the property “into conservation” to preserve the environmental value of wetlands and other natural features.
“In regard to the land-use planning, the placement of an intense future land-use category on top of wetlands is not a pattern that avoids or minimizes the impact of development on wetlands,” he said.
Shai Ozery, an attorney representing Cartwright, agreed that the neighborhood special district designation was too intense for the parcel.
“Quite simply, the city cannot justify this square-peg-into-a-round-hole approach when the future land-use designation sought is simply not suitable, given the physical characteristics of the property,” he argued.
City Attorney Mike Mortell defended the City Commission’s approval of the designation, arguing that it was based on analysis of elements such as traffic and environmental makeup of the property.
“The evidence is going to show that, in fact, the city of Stuart’s process and procedure was in compliance with Florida statutes.”
Lina Ruiz is TCPalm’s watchdog reporter for Martin County. You can reach her at [email protected], on Twitter @Lina_Ruiz48 or at 321-501-3845.
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Environmental policies focus of hearing on Stuart Costco property