Smart Growth Stories: Resourceful Development in Martin County, FL

bonitaWhen envisioning ways to create jobs and revitalize business in a community, stormwater and sewer projects might not typically be at the top of the list. But one county in Florida showed that with some creative thinking and a resourceful application of funds, projects that might otherwise seem one-dimensional can go a long way toward building stronger communities.

Planners in Martin County, Florida realized that a stormwater and sewer project on a neglected commercial corridor in the Golden Gate neighborhood of Stuart, FL, was an opportunity not just to provide vital infrastructure, but to spur private investment that would create jobs and help revitalize the neighborhood.

In 2012, the Martin County Redevelopment Agency (CRA) completed the ‘BCD Sewer Project’ referring to Bonita, Clayton and Delmar Streets that were part of the reconstruction. The aim of the project was to increase the availability of basic sewer services in the Golden Gate neighborhood, which relies heavily on septic tanks. The construction would require a near complete replacement of the area roads, so the CRA conducted extensive public outreach to find out what improvements residents would want to see incorporated into a new design.

The outreach conducted by the CRA at project inception ensured local businesses and residents were included in the planning and design process. As a result, they were able to contribute to the decisions about what the project would look like at the end of construction, how it would function, and what the benefits would be.

The end result of the project was impressive. In addition to new gravity sewers and better management of stormwater runoff, the reconstructed roads featured Complete Streets design elements including wider sidewalks, pedestrian medians, landscaping featuring native plants and on-street parking. These features mean the street will better accommodate everyone who uses the road, including pedestrians of all ages and abilities, cyclists, transit users and drivers.

In a short time frame, many local property owners have updated the interior and exterior of their properties to coincide with the street makeover, and enjoyed the increase in on-street parking as well as improved access for pedestrians and cyclists.

“This was a great example how public investment can be a catalyst for driving private investment into the community,” said Nakeischea Smith, a Community Development Specialist for Martin County Redevelopment Agency and manager of the project.

Martin County’s innovative project was made possible by a Community Development Block Grant, or CDBG for short. This flexible program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides communities around the country with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs.

The CRA also applied these funds to another neighborhood corridor revitalization project in the area, identified through a participatory planning process called the Neighborhood Opportunity Workshop or ‘NOW Vision’. Through this process residents in Golden Gate targeted an informal dirt roadway, flanked by a freight railway line on one side and commercial businesses on the other, as prime for redevelopment. Known as the ‘Railroad Avenue Commercial Revitalization Project’, the CRA used CDBG funds to create a new street and provide formalized access to business along the blighted corridor as well as adding curbing, sidewalks, landscaping, on-street parking and drainage facilities. The new features are intended to draw private reinvestment and business activity to this underutilized area, while improving local infrastructure and stormwater treatment capabilities.

“Engaging local residents and businesses were really the keys to the success of both projects,” added Smith. “They were part of the process from the onset.”

In addition to demonstrating the importance of community participation in the identification, planning and design of neighborhood improvements, both projects are excellent examples of how communities can move beyond the conventional application of CDBG funds; transforming vital yet basic projects into holistic development models that foster revitalization, reinvestment and smart growth.

Complete Streets