STUART — State officials paved the way for a mixed-use Costco project to start construction here, but the lengthy appeal process could be extended even longer if opponents take it to court.
The Administration Commission — comprising Gov. Ron DeSantis, Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — upheld the city’s land-use assignment for the property on South Kanner Highway, neighborhood special district. The land use was approved in August 2021 alongside the project itself: a Costco Wholesale Corp. store, 18-pump gas station, 378 apartments and stores and restaurant space.
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The 27-page order was approved quickly, with only DeSantis commenting that each officials’ respective office had reviewed it before the meeting. The issue initially was scheduled to go before state commission in December, but was pushed back to Jan. 17, when officials verbally sided with the city.
The final decision reverses a ruling from Judge Francine Ffolkes, of the state Division of Administrative Hearings, who, almost a year ago, found that the city’s analysis of the property was “not supported by a professionally acceptable methodology.”
In contrast, the state’s final order found “the (land use) amendment is supported by relevant and appropriate data and analysis” and “retains the Comprehensive Plan’s internal consistency.”
Is another appeal coming?
Stuart resident Robin Cartwright, who filed the state challenge, has 30 days to appeal Monday’s action to an appeals court. It’s unclear, though, if she will.
“We are still analyzing the final order and will make determination soon,” Cartwright told TCPalm.
Regardless, the city would be allowed to issue a construction permit to Developer Joe Marino if he requested it, according to City Attorney Mike Mortell. It would be at the developer’s discretion to move forward.
Mortell called the final order “thorough” and “well-reasoned.”
“To me, what happened in that Costco case is that the city got a good project (and) did a ton of work on it. The commissioners spent more time on it than any other project in the history of Stuart,” Mortell said.
Marino, of M&M Realty, told TCPalm in a statement that “we’re all-systems-go and looking forward to getting started.”
“We’re very grateful for all our supporters, and we hope to even eventually earn the respect of our skeptics. We sincerely believe when it’s complete and operational, an overwhelming majority of the public will be proud of this addition to the community,” he said.
A Costco spokesperson declined to comment.