Sometimes the problem is proportion: A new building is too big for its neighborhood, dwarfing nearby homes. Or a developer chooses Spanish-style architecture for an area that already has several Key West-style houses.
Building new homes, townhouses, condos and businesses while respecting the old architectural elements in a neighborhood can be a challenge for developers and the cities and counties that regulate them. Stuart hasn't escaped this South Florida problem, and this week, commissioners decided to take action.
Not a moment too soon.
Across from downtown Stuart, nine new condominium buildings, each a different tropical color, rise on the north bank of the St. Lucie River, extending along the railroad tracks under the Roosevelt Bridge. Across the bridge, a huge building on a tiny lot on Osceola Street looms above downtown businesses. Italianate columns adorn one new East Ocean Boulevard building, while another nearby is painted in dark rusts and greens that would seem more appropriate in the blustery Midwest than balmy Stuart.
Mayor Mary Hutchinson, whose husband Kevin and his father Jim Hutchinson are well-known artists, pegged Stuart's problems perfectly. "Too often it seems like people are just thinking, 'How much can I fit in this box?' " she said, resulting in projects that are too intense and seem out of place.
The commission and city advisory boards will meet separately to talk about what kinds of development they envision for neighborhoods, then meet as one group to work on Stuart's urban code.
They plan to include pictures to clarify architectural elements appropriate for different parts of the city. That's a great idea. Judging by what has been built recently or is under construction, the commission's 2003 rewrite of the code has not helped preserve the best of old Stuart.
Commissioners also could invite local architects to help them define and codify the "Stuart look." Without a clear set of rules, the town is headed for hodge-podgeville, where Spanish and Italian meet Old Florida tropical with overtones of 1950s small town Main Street. The urban code needs fixing - fast.
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