When I first arrived at Martin County, a development application for a Sunoco Gas Station proposed on a Mapp Road was in the development review process. This gas station was replacing a gas station that had been destroyed during the 2004 hurricanes. The problem is that Mapp Road was visioned as the walkable Main Street for the Community.
This application had already been in development review for 3 years prior to my arrival. In a battle of wills, the county and the property owner battled over allowable uses, property rights, and design regulations. After three years, it was clear that this station was permitted, but the proposed plan did not fit into the community vision.
Old Palm City has a strong vision. The Community spent several years exploring and developing their community vision. The community vision include new commercial businesses, and the market demanded a replacement gas station. The task at hand was how to make this development contribute to the community vision.
This development took many working sessions with the developer and architect. The Community refused to compromise on three critical items.
- The retail portion had to be built to the street
- The retail portion had to have a customer entrance opening onto Mapp Road
- The entire development needed to developed in a traditional Florida architectural style
The review of this development required numerous design sessions in person and over the phone with the development team. I was important for me to work with the development team. It was not easy and it did take a long time for the developer to understand how important is was to the community to have a building on the street with an operating front door. These sessions also provided the development team the opportunity to educate the review team on the operations of a gas station.
This communication led to designs from both the County and the Developer. We communicated through sketches, which led to additional collaboration. For example, it was critical for the gas station to have access from all of the surrounding streets, which the county could advocate for from the Florida Department of Transportation.
This Sunoco was the first new development on this street, and several amazing things happened. First, the manager of the station bought seats for the front porch. She went out to Walmart and purchased two sets of furniture with her own money. The porch soon became the official morning coffee shop in the community.
The business owner is also reporting greater then expected sales, and higher then normal walk-in customers. One of the things I learned during this process is that gas stations do not make money on gas. They make money on the candy bars, beverages and snacks they sell out of the convince store. Its kinda of big deal that the retail portion is over performing.
I also had several calls to my office for people looking to build a home in the neighborhood. They explained that they wanted a home that looks like the new Sunoco. There is a separate commentary on this, but the fact is that the development was embraced as a contributing part of the community.
This project illustrates the importance of form when developing in an established neighborhood. Development regardless of use, should be complementary to the community. It is important that these investments contribute to the community vision. Development needs to be additive to the community.