A newly proposed gated community of 92 upscale “row houses,” priced from the high $200,000s to the middle $300,000s, has south Martin County residents talking. The townhouses would be built between U.S. 1 and the predominately African-American neighborhood of Banner Lake, in Hobe Sound’s Community Redevelopment Area.
Some wonder if expensive row houses belong in a CRA. Others worry that plopping a fancy gated community next to a neighborhood faced with challenges is asking for trouble. Banner Lake has had problems with drugs. Some 30-year residents remain in the historic community, but other longtime residents have fled to safer neighborhoods.
A preserve of native trees would screen the townhouses from U.S. 1 and provide a buffer of about four acres of woods between the development and the private Pine School to the south. A few trees, open fields and drainage ditches would separate Banner Lake from the townhouses — along with the gates blocking Banner Lake traffic from entering Hobe Sound Village.
Traffic from the gated community could cut through Banner Lake, however, to reach Bridge Road and U.S. 1.
Jeffrey Gelman, whose Palm Beach Capital Consultants LLC is developing the property, lives on nearby Jupiter Island. He owns several other parcels near Banner Lake, as well as a big chunk of land adjacent to U.S.1 where Algozzini’s, a store that sold Hawaiian shirts and other tropical clothing, reigned for decades.
Gelman tried to develop the 14-acre parcel he’s now pushing for townhouses a few years ago with a mixed commercial and residential project nobody liked. Residents and Neighborhood Advisory Committee members complained that plan would have created competition with businesses already struggling in Hobe Sound’s business district.
Landowners in the business district, along Bridge Road between U.S. 1 and Alternate A1A, plus several blocks along A1A, have been the happy recipients of millions of dollars worth of sewers, parking spaces, extra landscaping and buried electric lines via the CRA. Banner Lake has gotten sewers in some areas.
Business district landowners hope to get more underground electric lines if the redevelopment areas survive the critical scrutiny they’re getting from Martin’s commission majority.
Gelman’s project is just the latest in a series of issues for Hobe Sound, which is part of the county and has no separate government. Some complain the proposed townhouses offer Banner Lake nothing for the added traffic hassles the neighborhood will face. Residents hoping the gated community might provide jobs were discouraged to learn no construction jobs will be available, just possible work as housekeepers or yard workers.
Lisa Dames, a former NAC member, said she opposes the townhouse project unless the developer makes changes.
“If the gated community was affordable for Banner Lake residents,“ Dames said, “or the developer put money into the Banner Lake community, or did something to help the community rise up… but putting up a gate or a wall causes people to feel like outsiders.”
Others say Gelman should be allowed to develop his property, and the townhouses are better than his previous plan to build homes and business spaces outside Hobe Sound’s established town center. But as Commissioner Anne Scott points out, “That’s not the best guide for good development.” The gated community “further isolates Banner Lake and it’s insensitive to the neighborhood’s needs. It’s not consistent with other development in the area.”
I agree both with those who say the townhouses aren’t as bad as Gelman’s last plan and with Dames and Scott, who want the developer to make Hobe Sound Village a better neighbor to Banner Lake — maybe by improving roads, adding street lights, donating park equipment or providing other benefits residents want.
I also worry the project sets a bad precedent that could turn Hobe Sound into a string of gated communities. Gelman already may have that in mind. He named the corporation that owns the nearby Algozzini property Hobe Sound Townhouse II.
Sally Swartz is a former member of The Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is [email protected]