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Neighborhood makeovers



Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo greets a participant

Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo greets a participant during a workshop to discuss a new name for the neighborhood that is temporarily known as Oakridge. Looking on are Carmen Capezzuto, left, director of Neighborhood Services and Mark Hamel, project manager. CITY OF PORT ST. LUCIE PHOTO

City and residents work together to create a friendlier community image

BY SUSAN BURGESS

Pat Simmons remembers the days when Port St. Lucie was a top-down city. The city council and city manager were at the top and many of its residents were pretty sure they were at the bottom.

But things are changing, she says. The city is reaching out to residents, fostering a better relationship by making itself more accessible, issuing invitations to participate in decisions, expanding its social activities to bring people together and helping residents create neighborhoods of which they can be proud.

Turning large areas of the older eastern part of the city into many small neighborhoods has been underway since 2015. The residents have met with planners to list what is desirable about an area, describe concerns and discuss the enhancements they would like to see.

Future meetings will give residents a chance to come up with names for their neighborhoods, choose attractive entranceways such as signs, pillars or arches, and pick logos to represent them.

MAPS LOCATE PARK AMENITIES
Action plans for some of the neighborhoods, mapping out locations for parks, gathering places, fitness trails and other amenities, have already been drawn up and are available in the neighborhood planning section of the city’s website. Amenities in the plans will be built as the money becomes available from the city’s recycling fund.

After the neighborhoods are named, it’s anticipated that block parties and special events will encourage people to get to know their neighbors, planning director Patti Tobin says.

The city hosts communitywide events that encourage people to get out and make friends. For instance, several times a year the city hosts River Nights, an outdoor waterfront social gathering with music, a cash bar and food at the Riverwalk on the North Fork of the St. Lucie River at Veterans Memorial Park.

In May, the popular event moved to the Westmoreland Riverfront Park, which residents helped to design last summer. Proceeds from River Nights will be used to extend the scenic riverwalk from the north side of Port St. Lucie Boulevard to the new park on the south side.

One of the more unusual community events occurred during the annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival in March at the civic center. The city hosted a rock painting session in collaboration with the 17,000-member Facebook group called PSL Rocks.

Hidden in parks around the city, 10 of the 1,000 brightly colored rocks were worth prizes. After they’re found and turned in, they’ll be made into an outdoor sculpture.

City officials said the painting party met three objectives. It brought residents together to enjoy the popular pastime, it encouraged the use of parks and it dovetailed with the state and local health departments’ initiative to promote an active, healthy lifestyle.

PLANS FOR PUBLIC ART PROJECTS
Looking to increase its cultural appeal, the city advertised recently for volunteers to serve on a public art advisory board that will be responsible for drafting a public art master plan, recommending art projects, selecting works of art and even suggesting architectural enhancements and special landscape treatments.

With city expenditures constantly being scrutinized by residents and businesses, the city council decided in March to revive its citizens budget advisory committee to make sure residents have a say in the annual budget.

In April, planners held a workshop for residents to discuss features for a new park off Becker Road. Suggestions for the park included hiking trails, a small playground, lots of trees, a dog park and an open area for games. About $850,000 from the city’s recycling program will pay for construction by the end of this year.

The city also has Facebook and Twitter accounts and encourages residents to visit them.

“I definitely see a big change,” Simmons says. “There is a lot more transparency now. In the past, councils wanted to have their way and didn’t seem to care much about what the people said. Today, especially with (the app) Access PSL I feel like they know me and I know them.” The app allows people to report problems or concerns directly to the city.

RELATIONSHIPS CANTANKEROUS
Simmons moved to Port St. Lucie in 1991, during the “water, sewer, fire, design decade” as the city planners called it. It was the decade of fiery battles, in particular over the 1996 plan to expand water and sewer lines. Residents didn’t want to pay the fees and assessments associated with the $145 million project and even took the city to court over it and lost.

With much of the most disruptive infrastructure construction era out of the way, the city turned to quality of life issues like creation of neighborhoods with names — something eastern Port St. Lucie has never had.

“At first you dealt with the big picture,” says Mayor Gregory Oravec, explaining that the big picture meant all the infrastructure such as roads, sewer, water and drainage that the city had to put in. “And now, we’ve made enough progress to get to the neighborhoods.”

The new neighborhood services planning division, a part of the Neighborhood (formerly Community) Services Department, works directly with the residents to create an identity for their neighborhood and find ways to enhance it.

Chief among the ideas is renaming what city staff knows as numbered planning areas into neighborhoods with names like Oakridge.

“Then if you tell someone you live in Oakridge, they’ll know exactly where you mean,” Oravec said.

Tradition and St. Lucie West, west of the turnpike in Port St. Lucie, serve as good examples for what the city hopes to do on the east side of the turnpike in areas where homes were built between 1960 and 2000.

“You can’t just be new and shiny in one area, the whole city has to prosper together,” Oravec says. “So we are working with residents (in the eastern planning areas) to find out what they want. Anywhere else you have areas with names, we have numbers. We don’t give kids numbers, we give them names because we love them.”

COMMUNICATIONS IMPROVING
Patty McCurdy, who lives near Veterans Memorial Parkway in what is known as Planning Area 6, said the city did a good job of notifying residents about meetings. She gives the city high marks for its communication efforts. “They’re very responsive and they’re reaching out.”

“The meetings were wonderful,” she says. “The city was very prepared. They asked us to tell them what was good and what was not so good and what they might improve.” Sidewalks and bus stops were two of the group’s priorities, she said.

Planning Director Tobin said the meetings with residents from areas 6 and 7 showed her that “they really love where they live. And that’s exhilarating to see. City Hall is really about the people of this city.”

The city has 15 planning areas. Two, the Southbend area and North St. Lucie, have had neighborhood plans since 1998. Six are undergoing neighborhood planning.

The city has maps on its website showing where the planning areas are. But generally speaking, the six under consideration are all in the areas sold and built by General Development Corp. between 1960 and 1990. Until names are chosen, they are known as planning areas 1, 3, 4 North, 4 South, 6 and 7.

NAMES REFLECT NEIGHBORHOODS
A neighborhood in Area 3 temporarily named Oakridge is serving as the pilot program for finding permanent names. It stretches from Port St. Lucie Boulevard on the north to Oakridge Drive on the south, between the turnpike and the North Fork.

City staff starts the ball rolling by suggesting names and then asking residents at a workshop if they like those names or want to suggest others.

At the city hall winter retreat in March, the city council was told that the planners walked into the Oakridge meeting with two names and came out with 11, with no clear majority. At the next meeting, the choices will be whittled down and five chosen. Property owners will receive ballots in the mail and a meeting will be scheduled after the vote to reveal the results and discuss what will be done next.

The action plans for planning areas 3, 4 North, 4 South, 6 and 7 are on the city’s website in the neighborhood services section.



WHAT IS NEIGHBORHOOD PLANNING?

It helps neighborhoods in the city’s eastern section obtain identities, names and amenities that will distinguish them from other areas.

For more information, go to:

www.cityofpsl.com/neighborhood-services/pdf/2016-03-25-Volume%201_Neighborhood-Planning-Program-Optimized.pdf


ACTION PLANS

For more information on individual areas go to:

Planning Area 4 South (Volume 2)
www.cityofpsl.com/neighborhood-services/pdf/2016-03-25-PA4S_Volume%205_Neighborhood-Action-Plan-Final-Optimized.pdf

Planning Area 3 (Volume 3)
www.cityofpsl.com/neighborhood-services/pdf/2016-03-24-PA3_Volume%203_Neighborhood-Action-Plan-Final-Optimized.pdf

Planning Area 4 North (Volume 4)
www.cityofpsl.com/neighborhood-services/pdf/2016-03-24-PA3_Volume%203_Neighborhood-Action-Plan-Final-Optimized.pdf

Planning Area 6
http://www.cityofpsl.com/neighborhood-services/pdf/2017-05-03-PA-7Neighborhood-Action-Plan_03082017.pdf

To review the planning timeline go to:
www.cityofpsl.com/planning-zoning/pdf/port-st-lucie-planning-history.pdf