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Stuart commissioner: City should work toward high-income housing instead of affordable units

NewsStuart commissioner: City should work toward high-income housing instead of affordable units

STUART — New housing here should aim to attract higher-income residents rather than cater to lower-income neighborhoods, according to one city commissioner.

Commissioner Christopher Collins pressed that point in the midst of a recent discussion of affordable housing. The commission was discussing certain development codes, land uses broken down by acreage, the cost of an affordable-housing study and Collins’ own presentation about density and parking.

“We need housing — and this is what’s going to get me in trouble — that appeals to individuals with a higher median income,” Collins said during his Jan. 5 presentation. “Like I said, I believe we’re low-end heavy right now (in taxable value).”

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Commissioner Eula Clarke questioned Collins about housing opportunities for service workers who earn a “fair living wage.”

“What is that saying to people who’ve lived here, who’ve created the fabric and the character of the community?” Clarke asked Collins. “Are we just saying that we want to be a resort town?”

Collins’ presentation showed the residential and nonresidential makeup of the city’s tax base, using 2022 U.S. Census Bureau data comparing Stuart’s median home values to those in surrounding areas. The city’s values were lower than those in Palm City, Port St. Lucie, Martin County overall and overall in Florida.

The data also showed 14.4% of Stuart residents lived in poverty, the highest percentage compared to the same surrounding areas.

Protecting “true affordable housing,” Collins said earlier in his presentation, should be accomplished through units provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“I’m not against affordable housing, I just don’t think that the city needs to be getting involved in terms of using our land. We should be encouraging where it’s appropriate,” Collins said, pointing to specific properties in East Stuart.

Collins declined to comment for this story or to further explain the data he used in his presentation last week.

Additionally, city officials on Thursday said their hands are tied by state law and limited vacant land that prevents potential development of affordable housing. A citywide study would cost $50,000, according to City Manager David Dyess.

“Staff is recommending that we not do that, especially given the limited amount of land that we have available for future housing projects,” Dyess said of the study.

Thursday’s discussion comes about three months after a proposed-affordable housing project on city property was withdrawn. The Housing Solutions Council had been negotiating with the city for a year to lease 2 acres on U.S.1 north of the Roosevelt Bridge and reached its deadline.

Madeleine Greenwood, co-founder of the Stuart-based council, said multiple factors came into its decision to withdraw the project, including funding, the city’s pause on certain multifamily developments and the changing dynamic of the commission.

The proposed project — up to 63 residential units in one three-story building — would have utilized a city code that allows units smaller than 900 square feet to be counted as a half unit, and those smaller than 1,100 square feet to be counted as three-quarters of a unit in the Urban District, Greenwood said.

The City Commission in October voted to pause developments under this code and to host workshops to potentially change it. The commission Monday extended the pause an additional three months.

“While there is a will with some of our commissioners to help our local workforce, there’s not a will from all of our commissioners now to help our local workforce,” Greenwood said.

She hopes the council can revisit negotiations for the city land, but in the meantime will work on educating the community on affordable housing tools, she said.

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