Long-awaited, long-debated, Costco wholesale store gets OK from Stuart City Commission

Lina Ruiz
Treasure Coast Newspapers

STUART — It's been years in coming. And when the City Commission approved a controversial Costco project early Tuesday morning, the decision was greeted with both cheers and jeers from the public.

The eight-hour meeting — held in the Blake Library to accommodate the expected crowd — drew more than 100 people with about another 100 watching on Zoom. The commission's unanimous decision came after about 40 people weighed in. 

Costco Wholesale Corp. is expected to open its store here by 2024, according to city records. Developer Joe Marino of M&M Realty Partners said he wants to break ground as soon as possible. 

The 49-acre project is to include a 162,020-square-foot Costco warehouse store, 18-pump gas station, 378 apartment units and retail and restaurant space on South Kanner Highway, south of Martin County High School and Lychee Tree Nursery. 

Marino addressed the commission’s list of a dozen changes requested in May, most notably reducing the number of apartments by 5%, or 20 units.  

The Costco store is to create at least 150 jobs with hourly pay starting at $16. The apartments are to cost at least $1,400 a month for a one-bedroom and $1,800 for a two-bedroom.  

The commission approved the project under the condition that endangered and threatened plant species on the property be protected and incorporated into the landscape when possible.

"So I urge you to take it in consideration, carefully, of Costco's well thought out plan," said Heather Schneider, of Palm City, at the end of her comments in support of Costco, during public comments session of the Stuart City Commission meeting on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, at the Blake Library in Stuart. The meeting was moved from the Stuart City Hall to the auditorium in the Blake Library to accommodate the socially distanced crowd attending the meeting.

Wildlife- and wetland-preservation policies outlined in the city’s comprehensive plan were the focus of opposition from local residents Linda Kay Richards and Brian DiVentura, who were given an hour each for formal presentations. 

“This is not the appropriate place for a development of this magnitude. This is not about ‘not in my backyard,’” Richards said. “It’s ‘not in our backyard.’”

Richards, whose family owns Lychee Tree Nursery, argued the environmental assessment done by the developer and reviewed by the city was incomplete. 

The City Commission determined the wetlands on the property were “highly disturbed” by invasive vegetation that has reduced their quality. The wetlands are scattered throughout the property, making it difficult to avoid disrupting them, so wetlands of the same size would be created at Bluefield Ranch Mitigation Bank in Martin and St. Lucie counties, according to the city. 

Robert Yago, of Stuart, urges the Stuart City Commissioners to vote no during public comments on the Costco proposal at the commission meeting on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, at the Blake Library in Stuart. Several dozen community members spoke out during the first public comments session before the developer and the two intervenors made their formal presentations to the commission over Costco's plans to open off South Kanner Highway in Stuart.

Elements of the controversial project have been reviewed by multiple engineers, consultants and agencies such as the state Department of Economic Opportunity and Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. 

Nevertheless, opponents still dominated public comment Monday with worries about quality of life, increased traffic, environmental impacts and the site location. 

City of Stuart Vice Mayor Merritt Matheson (bottom right) is seen overlooking one of the slides showing the location and features of the proposed Costco site off South Kanner Highway during the developer’s presentation to the Stuart City Commission about a proposed Costco location on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, in Stuart. The commission approved the build after an eight-hour meeting.

“I beg of you, keep Stuart the way it is. Keep what we like about it,” said Patty Beonde, a retired Martin County High School teacher. “There’s nothing wrong with Costco coming here, but we don’t want to give up our wonderful community to benefit somebody from New Jersey.” 

Bob Raynes, an attorney representing the developer, said he sympathized with concerns about preserving Stuart’s small-town feel, but asked the commission to look at the project as a whole. 

“I believe the project will be a great asset to the city of Stuart,” he said. 

“Costco has bent over backwards from what I see," said Debbi Greer, who was watching on Zoom. "People who want the Costco are driving to Palm Beach County and their taxes are going to Palm Beach County,” she said of the closest Costco location, about 29 miles south in Palm Beach Gardens.

She was greeted with a chorus of boos. 

Lina Ruiz is TCPalm's watchdog reporter for Martin County. You can reach her at lina.ruiz@tcpalm.com, on Twitter @Lina_Ruiz48 or at 321-501-3845.