Trendy luxury waterfront housing heads upstream from Jupiter to Stuart


New waterfront condos have been approved on St. Lucie River

More waterfront development expected in Stuart to meet high demand

Booming high-end residential waterfront development in Jupiter is starting to make its way up the coast to Stuart.

Construction is expected to begin early next year on Seminole Bluff, a four-story complex with 20 condominiums starting at about $900,000 each on the St. Lucie River.

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Twenty more condos, with about 4,300 square feet of retail, were approved for a three-story building on the St. Lucie River in February.

And on Nov. 7, Stuart voters approved selling the three-acre waterfront NorthPoint property. The land is now owned by the town. Local developer Richard Geisinger plans a restaurant and offices.

The big question lurks — is Stuart about to experience the same transformation that has taken place in Jupiter the past 20 years?

“We’re looking to revitalize our downtown,” said Stuart Mayor Troy McDonald, who is president and founder of Duces Tecum Process Serving, a company that hand delivers legal documents.

Not so fast, said several longtime Stuart residents.

Jenny Price, a life coach taking her daily walk Tuesday along the city’s Riverwalk, gives thumbs down to Seminole Bluff. The condo will replace the two-story former Clifton Guest and Fishing Lodge built in 1915.

“The new condo will be too big. It will hurt the appearance of Riverwalk,” Price said, referring to Stuart’s public walkway along the St. Lucie River that passes in front of the Seminole Bluff property.

More waterfront development means less parking and more traffic, said Richard Lauriello, owner of a tailor shop next to the one-acre site of Seminole Bluff.

“Old Stuart is going away. It’s never coming back,” Lauriello said.

Short supply of land along St. Lucie River

Stuart and the rest of Martin County has been known as a place “where growth is a nasty word,” said Joe Catrambone, the president and chief executive officer of the Stuart/Martin Chamber of Commerce. An example is the Stuart regulation that requires city voters approve in a referendum any any lease or sale of city-owned land.

The Stuart projects are the first major waterfront developments in a decade in the 17,000-resident city many Palm Beach County residents know as the home of Confusion Corner and the Lyric Theater.

Why the change?

New Stuart residents want to increase the tax base and waterfront housing is in high demand. Stuart’s four-story height limit, as well as a short supply of available land along the St. Lucie River, assure there won’t be a tidal wave of sky-scraping, sunshine-blocking waterfront condos, Catrambone said.

“When they put those babies up,” Catrambone said, referring to the Seminole Bluff condos, “people will line up to buy them.”

Like Jupiter, Stuart is a waterfront community that is mostly built out. That means both communities are relying on infill development — placing new development near existing services such as transit, local attractions and downtowns — to grow.

Proponents, such as Seminole Bluff developer John Doyle, say he is supplying a demand for waterfront residential housing.

“There’s no incentive for people to stay in Stuart. There are not a lot of alternatives. We want to keep people here,” said Doyle, who is also developing Hobe Sound Station, a retail/residential complex on U.S. in Hobe Sound.

Lifelong Stuart resident Rick Evans, 59, supports Seminole Bluff as a means to keep a vibrant downtown.

But Evans fears the latest waterfront developments may ring the dinner bell for bigger and more dense development.

“I’ve been to cities where they start allowing a little building. Then it gets out of hand,” said Evans, who is Pastor of the Life Church of Jensen Beach.

Can development and small-town feel coexist?

Catrambone, Doyle and other supporters of Stuart waterfront development counter that they are keeping the small-town feel, as well as the history, of Stuart.

The 1915-building being replaced by Seminole Bluff condo is scheduled to be floated on the St. Lucie River on a barge about 1,000 feet south to a new location by Steven Vitale, a Stuart attorney and owner of the Old Colorado Inn. The 2,500-square-foot building will become part of the collection of historic buildings in the area, said Vitale.

“It fits perfectly into our historic neighborhood,” said Vitale, who is buying the building from the developer of Seminole Bluff.

The sentiment from opponents to waterfront development in Stuart are similar to those in Jupiter:

- When Richard Witham proposed demolishing the Profile Art Gallery and replacing it with a five-story, 15-unit condo with a marina on the Intracoastal Waterway across from Harbourside Place, some residents said it would bring too much traffic.

- The developers of Fisherman’s Wharf, a proposal to build three six-story residential buildings on the west side of The Intracoastal north of Indiantown Road, pulled their plan. It’s too big, said opponents.

- The plan for Inlet Waters calls for 33 townhouses for about $700,000 each on A1A walking distance from DuBois Park. A1A is already too developed, say those against the plan.

Waterfront development always brings opposition. But supporters say it can’t be stopped.

“People want to live near the water. They want to be close to downtown, boat docks and other destinations. There will be more,” said Mike Matakaetis, a Stuart developer.

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