The Edgewater City Council voted 3-2 to rezone waterfront property on South Riverside Drive to allow for a restaurant, marina, bait shop and office space despite vocal opposition from neighboring residents and environmental groups.
The project has sparked a great deal of discussion because, along with the rezoning, the city is allowing the developer to place stormwater ponds, dumpster and loading zone for the restaurant in the public right of way on what is now East Boston Road.
The Edgewater Fire Department required many of the people who showed up for the meeting to stand outside, due to fire codes and room capacity. Most were there to oppose the project. Along with residents, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups spoke about their concerns.
When asked after the vote why he supported the rezoning, Mayor Michael Thomas explained, “I’ve been here 47 years. I worked for the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission for 30 years. The site plan as proposed is going to be better as far as the stormwater is concerned. It will help the river, so I am in favor of it.”
Mayor Thomas said he believed the standing-room-only crowd and the 2,000 names on a petition submitted earlier in the meeting represented a small, vocal minority of residents. “I personally polled people in Edgewater. Ninety percent of the people I spoke to are in favor of it. Most of the emails I received against it are people who live on Riverside Drive,” he said.
One change was made to the rezoning ordinance since the first reading, when council members questioned the lack of any mention of a marina in the formal documents. Language was added stating that “it is anticipated that the marina will be constructed in the same or similar footprint as the marina that previously existed on the site.”
Although that language was added, no mention was made as to the number of boat slips, whether people will be able to live on their boats or where the marina clients will park.
The majority of residents who spoke at the meeting voiced concern about traffic, noise and the impact the project will have on the Indian River Lagoon. A traffic study required by the city as part of the rezoning indicated about 400 new trips per day could be expected on Riverside Drive. The study was not updated to include any additional traffic that would be generated as a result of the marina being added to the development plan.
A few neighboring residents, including Maryann Thorhallsson, whose property abuts East Boston Road, were represented at the meeting by attorney Mary Doty Solik, who noted several specific areas where the proposed development was not consistent with the Edgewater Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code.
Ms. Solik pointed out city regulations prohibited sea walls except where there was a threat to life or property. She also noted the city requires a 50-foot building setback from the Indian River, yet the rezoning document allowed for a 10-foot setback. Ms. Solik also said city regulations require a maximum impervious coverage of 30% within 100 feet of the river, but the proposed plans show a 94% coverage.
The proposed development will include a wall along the north side of East Boston Road, touching Ms. Thorhallsson’s property line. The logistics of building this wall were questioned at the meeting. It was stated it would be next to impossible for that wall to be constructed without workers having to go onto Ms. Thorhallsson’s property.
It was also noted there were concrete splash pads shown on the development plans that were on the north side of the wall on Ms. Thorhallsson’s property. It was emphasized Ms. Thorhallsson has not approved of anything being put on her property nor had she provided permission for workers to be on her land during construction.
The developer and the city have guaranteed Ms. Thorhallsson will have four dedicated parking spaces as part of the new East Boston Road improvements. It was noted by her representatives that those parking spaces will be at least 15 inches higher in elevation than her property, creating a vertical drop and making it impossible to drive from the public road right-of-way onto her property.
Council members Gary Conroy and Kimberly Yaney voted against the rezoning and right-of-way use agreement. They provided their comments before the vote.
“The information that has been lacking throughout this has been of grave concern to me with the ability to look at the entire project and make a decision based on all the information at hand,” Ms. Yaney said. “There’s been several inconsistencies, which are a cause for concern. I just want to say it’s a tough decision. We’re all in favor of a restaurant and a marina, but at what cost?”
Mr. Conroy questioned all the variances needed to make the project work. “If you’re consistent with the Comprehensive Plan, which is a document that took a lot of man hours and citizen and staff input, why is there talk about variances?” he asked.
He stressed the need to follow city regulations. “This is our blueprint for developers,” Mr. Conroy continued. “You want to come into Edgewater? That’s our land use plan. Once in a while – it should be very rare in my opinion – there can be a variance because you can’t think of every circumstance. But it should be very rare that we do that because it’s a slippery slope when we start giving variances and the next person who comes in says, ‘Hey, you gave him that, so you’ve got to give this to us.’ It compounds,” he warned.
Immediately after Mr. Conroy’s comments, Mayor Thomas called for the vote. After almost four hours of presentations and public input, Councilwoman Christine Power made a motion to approve the rezoning ordinance and right-of-way use agreement and Councilwoman Meghan O’Keefe seconded. They, along with Mayor Thomas, gave the developer the three votes he needed to proceed.
Later in the meeting, when only a couple of people remained in the audience, Mayor Thomas questioned the city attorney about what may be coming from the people opposed to the development.
“What’s the possibility of them filing a lawsuit,” Mayor Thomas asked the city attorney. The city attorney replied, “They have 30 days in which to do so.”