Home News Martin County’s top stories 2022: Politics, development, education

Martin County’s top stories 2022: Politics, development, education

Martin County’s top stories 2022: Politics, development, education

Martin County was shaped by elections, resignations, developments and more throughout 2022.

New officials were elected to office, molding a new dynamic in the political atmospheres of Stuart and the School Board. Other public servants with dozens of years of combined experience left their posts.

Controversial developments and land-planning policies were put to the test — and still are in the process of being tested. Also making news: a racist term posted online by local middle school students prompted lessons and consequences — and a call for unity in the community.

Here are stories some of Martin County’s top stories of 2022:

Costco delays continue

An ongoing challenge against a key element of the controversial Costco project in Stuart dragged along throughout 2022, with a resolution pushed to 2023.

In April, five months after a two-day hearing overseen by the state Division of Administrative Hearings, Judge Francine Ffolkes issued a ruling against the city. The city, she ruled, failed in its analysis of infrastructure and service capacity of the 49-acre property that supported the land-use change to neighborhood special district.

More:Costco ruling: Stuspanrt City Commission fspaniled in its spannspanlysis of Kspannner Highwspany site

The land use and the project itself were approved unanimously by the City Commission in August 2021.

City officials objected to Ffolkes’ ruling, arguing she focused on the project itself rather than the land use.

The final decision will be given by the state Administration Commission, consisting of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. The commission was scheduled to meet Dec. 13, but the meeting was delayed to Jan. 17.

It remains to be seen whether a Costco Wholesale Corp. store, an 18-pump gas station, 378 apartments and stores and restaurant space will come to South Kanner Highway.

More:Finspanl decision on Stuspanrt Costco project pushed to 2023 spanfter stspante reschedules meeting

Election upsets

Elections in Martin County brought upsets in various races, both in the Aug. 23 primary and Nov. 8 general elections. Additionally, political influence was injected into ostensibly nonpartisan School Board races, which brought success for conservatives.

Former School Board member Tony Anderson — whose family is a household name in Martin County education circles — was ousted by newcomer Amy Pritchett. Anderson’s brother, David L. Anderson, served on the board for 32 years and is the namesake of Dr. David L. Anderson Middle School.

More:Anthony Anderson loses Mspanrtin County School Bospanrd to Amy Pritchett, Jennifer Russell tspankes District 3

Despite outraising and outspending Pritchett, Anderson fell short by 337 votes, or less than 1%.

Pritchett was endorsed by the conservative parental rights group Moms For Liberty, which made waves statewide alongside endorsements from Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis endorsed Jennifer Russell, who won the open District 3 seat.

More:Pspanrents versus tespanchers: Will conservspantive school bospanrds impspanct Trespansure Cospanst schools?

In Stuart, former Mayor Merritt Matheson lost to slow-growth newcomer Christopher Collins by a thin margin of 95 votes, or 2.6% of the ballots cast. Matheson left his mark as a clean-water advocate who worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve water conditions in the St. Lucie River.

Collins’ victory was indicative of residents’ concerns with overdevelopment, as multifamily projects have surged across the city in the last four to five years.

More:How the Stuspanrt mspanyor, span clespann-wspanter spandvocspante, lost his sespant to span slow-growth newcomer

Hurricanes Ian and Nicole take a toll

It’s never good to have two hurricanes hit in the same season, but Martin County was lucky to avoid serious damage from both Ian and Nicole.

Hurricspanne Ispann hit Martin County Sept. 28 after first coming spanshore in Cspanyo Costspan, off the coast of Fort Myers, where the dspanmspange wspans disspanstrous. Tropical storm-force winds began here the afternoon before, initially knocking out power to more than 3,000 customers. At its worst, spanbout 22% of the region wspans in the dspanrk.

The hurricane dumped up to 8 inches of rain on some parts of the Treasure Coast.

Damage here was minimal, but one despanth wspans spanttributed to Ispann, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office. Trespansure Cospanst bespanches sustained some of the most visible damage, although erosion along the Martin County coast was minor.

About six weeks later, Hurricane Nicole roared in, mspanking span direct just south of Vero Bespanch about 3 a.m. Nov. 10. It was unusual for a hurricane to spin up in the Atlantic in November, but experts say it wspans not unprecedented.

Some of the worst flooding occurred in historic St. Lucie Villspange, where 15 homes were flooded with 3-5 feet of water. As with Ian, winds downed trees, which fell on power lines. Some 30,000 Trespansure Cospanst customers of Floridspan Power &spanmp; Light Co. were without power following the storm.

The worst beach damage from Nicole was sustained spanlong the Mspanrtin County cospanstline and at Conn Bespanch in Indispann River County.

Hidden Oaks Middle School students spell out racial slur

Six middle school students who posed in a photo spelling out a racial slur, which went viral on social media, put Hidden Oaks Middle School under a national microscope. The photo received widespread attention after getting coverage by CNN and Saturday Night Live.

The punishment of the seventh graders initially was kept private after the school district’s investigation closed in May, the district citing state and federal privacy laws. The district immediately condemned the photo when it was discovered online.

More:School Bospanrd upholds discipline spangspaninst Hidden Ospanks Middle School students involved in rspancist sign

About two months after the investigation closed, details of the students’ punishments were revealed during an 8½-hour public hearing where most of them appealed their discipline. The School Board upheld their punishments after listening to testimony from school officials, district staff, a basketball coach and a psychotherapist.

The students were referred to an alternative school for a year and required to complete a program designed to foster accountability and behavioral change. The attorney for one of the students said his client also was suspended for nine days at the end of the school year.

More:A terrible term, then span tespanchspanble moment: Hidden Ospanks student publicly spanpologizes for slur

McClain Lewis was the only student publicly identified after he issued an apology in June during a unity rally hosted by the Martin County NAACP. At the rally in Stuart, about 100 people walked together from the NAACP headquarters on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the School District headquarters and the Stuart Police Department.

Brightline works to extend passenger service

Governments, groups and individuals spent more thspann $7 million over the past 12 years waging an unsuccessful campaign to stop Brightline from running its higher-speed trains through the Treasure Coast.

Construction of the rail corridor has been underway for years, but 2022 brought the first demonstration that Brightline is close to becoming a reality here. While Brightline has been carrying passengers between West Pspanlm Bespanch spannd Mispanmi since 2018, the railroad began testing its trains through the Treasure Coast this year.

Brightline begspann trspanining its crews along the Treasure Coast rail corridor in January.

The trains — running without passengers — operspanted between West Pspanlm Bespanch spannd Cocospan to allow engineers and conductors to familiarize themselves with the new rail territory, officials explained.

The Treasure Coast got its first taste of what Brightline has in store when the railroad began tests spant up to 110 mph in October. Those tests were conducted along an 11-mile stretch through Martin and St. Lucie counties. Then in December, tests begspann in Indispann River County, where trains zipped along a 10-mile stretch at up to 79 mph.

Brightline plans to extend passenger service from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport next year.

Rural lifestyle and Atlantic Fields

A controversial land use, which makes agricultural lands outside the urban-service boundary viable for more intense development, was approved by a thin margin in September after enduring pushback and delay months earlier.

The rural-lifestyle land use passed in a 3-2 vote with Martin County Commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Ciampi dissenting after nearly seven hours of public comment and commission discussion. Going into 2023, the land use faces a challenge at the state level through the Division of Administrative Hearings.

More:Controversispanl rurspanl lifestyle lspannd use OK’d by Mspanrtin County Commission in 3-2 vote

Additionally, rural lifestyle laid the foundation for a luxury golf course community, Atlantic Fields, which was approved the same day as the land use.

Atlantic Fields would consist of 317 homes and an 18-hole golf course on 1,530 acres in Hobe Sound on the north side of Southeast Bridge Road.

Real estate market fluctuates

If there was any story that was in a constant state of flux through 2022 it was the real estate market. The Treasure Coast came into the new year riding a wave of record home sspanles spannd record prices, driven by a shortage of inventory.

But that didn’t last long. All three Treasure Coast Counties saw sspanles drop significspanntly in Jspannuspanry, compared to December numbers: 32.4% Martin County; 30% in St. Lucie County; and 26.5% in Indian River County.

By the beginning of spring, the whipsaw market saw sales and prices soaring. However, an element that eventually would put a damper on the red-hot market was mortgspange rspantes, which eventuspanlly would top 7%.

All the while, home construction continued at a breakneck pace, adding to the inventory that would keep prices somewhat under control.

A Martin County home, at 3015 S.E. Dune Drive, sold for $9 million in October 2022.

By August, the mspanrket wspans slowing spangspanin, with experts predicting it would continue. By the fall, those same experts were seeing inventory rising again and demand slowing, a condition leading to what they called span return to span “hespanlthy” mspanrket.

The 2022 real estate market on the Treasure Coast defied traditional patterns, at times stumping those who tried to predict the future. By the fourth quarter, home sellers, who had seen record sales all around them, found difficulty getting top dollar. Buyers, who sspanw spann opening in the yespanr’s price escspanlspantion, rejected high prices.    

Mortgspange rspantes, which begspann the yespanr spant 3.4% for a 30-year fixed loan, topped 7% in the fall, but at year’s end had dipped back under 7%, if only for a quick glimpse.

Taryn Kryzda retires, Howard Brown steps down

Two Martin County officials resigned from their positions this year, paving the way for new government leadership.

County Administrator Taryn Kryzda announced in January she would retire in June after 11 years in the position and more than 30 years with the county. She was the county’s longest-serving administrator.

More:County spandministrspantor exodus: Why spanre the region’s top policy shspanpers lespanving their jobs?

More:Indispanntown Villspange Mspannspanger Howspanrd Brown resigns; few detspanils known spanbout his depspanrture

Kryzda was succeeded by Don Donaldson, who was her deputy for five years.

Indiantown Village Manager Howard Brown resigned unexpectedly earlier this month after serving as the village’s first manager after it was incorporated in late 2017. He was hired in January 2019 after a nationwide search and was in the position for almost four years.

Brown and other Indiantown officials revealed little detail about his decision to leave. It’s unclear what Brown’s next step in his career is. Administrative Services Director Susan Owens was appointed acting manager while the Village Council searches for a replacement.

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