Palm City's Lesson In Consequences

Article Posted on September 8, 2021

Dear friend of One Martin,

Palm City's lesson in consequences we all will share.

A missing tool in Martin County's arsenal for reviewing development applications might be a crystal ball to see future consequences of our decisions. We don't have one, of course, but we believe a good dose of common sense and respect for others would work just as well.

We suspect, with those “tools,” the Costco story would have ended differently.

Their story is an example – not the only example, unfortunately – of how localized protests overrode decisions normally governed by common sense and Martin County's Comprehensive Growth Management Plan.

Rewind the previous five years, when just the idea of having a Costco here with its great deals, its above-average wages, and tax revenue that could spell a real difference in Martin County was met with near jubilation.

At first.

County residents were assured that our Comp Plan would prevent construction of a ghastly box building with acres of asphalt surrounding it, oblivious to the environment.

Indeed, Costco changed its site plan, not only to accommodate Martin County's rules, but to create a facade design unlike any other in the Costco chain.

This would not be just another box store.

Our Comp Plan had already designated the 27.5-acre property at the southwest corner of High Meadow Avenue and Martin Highway as an industrial zone, primarily because it was at the outskirts of a suburban area, but still within the urban services district, as the county requires.

Costco would be exactly where the county had planned for that kind of business 30 years ago.

From Costco's perspective – or any retail business perspective – the location between exit ramps from both I-95 and the Florida Turnpike was near perfect. The socio-economic demographics of Palm City households matched the required benchmark of Costco's marketing research to justify its multi-million-dollar investment in Martin County.

It was a win for shoppers and job-seekers, a win for Martin County's tax base, and a win for Costco, but as we all know, the welcome mat got pulled out from under Costco within weeks.

Although Costco's proposed site would keep the bulk of out-of-town vehicles from clogging our county roads, an organized group of Palm City residents could not see beyond the possibility of additional traffic in their own neighborhood.

The majority of protest organizers lived in a gated residential community bisected by a public road, with an entrance at High Meadow Avenue – the exit ramp from northbound I-95. They could see more traffic on High Meadow headed to Costco, but they also saw the possibility that locals would take a shortcut on “their” public road to Costco.

The thought was just intolerable to them. As an alternative, they suggested such spots as US 1, or Pineland Prairie, or Indiantown, none of which have direct access to either I-95 or the turnpike.

They never considered that Costco would NEED the location they had found to justify their multi-million dollar investment in Martin County to have any hope of an acceptable return on that investment within a reasonable time frame.

They also did not consider what else might come to that ideal site between exits from two major thoroughfares, despite warnings even from their own District 5 Commissioner Ed Ciampi that “SOMETHING will be built there.”

On the cusp of their final approval, Costco pulled their development plan as protesters' drumbeats grew louder, not softer, over the nearly three-year review process. A year later, they handed a new site plan to the City of Stuart, and Costco found its new home – still between both exits, just two miles farther east..

And Palm City residents?

They'll now get the traffic going through the heart of Palm City on Martin Downs and Martin Highway, since shoppers will no longer turn immediately off exit ramps into Costco. That gated community with the public road also will have to bear the brunt of drivers exiting from I-95 on High Meadow, then using “their” road to take a shortcut on their way to Costco's new location in Stuart.

At the same time, they'll have to contend with five new stores on the former Costco site – a WaWa convenience store with an 18-pump gas station; a vehicular service shop with a car wash; a Tractor Supply; an Aldi grocery; and possibly a hotel, or another as-yet-unnamed retailer, only one with Costco's limited hours of operation.

Each of them will attract its own following with numerous shoppers that, in total, likely will exceed the traffic generated had Costco been on that site.

Did we need a crystal ball to see the unintended consequences of booting Costco out of Palm City? We don't think so.

All we needed was to treat Costco with a little more respect, follow our own rules, and trust our common sense. Let's hope those are lessons learned.


Rick Hartman

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