Your Guide To 9 Martin And St. Lucie County Neighborhoods
The old neighborhood—it’s just not what it used to be. And that’s a good thing. Across Martin and St. Lucie counties, communities are improving. Others are emerging. All reflect and attract diverse interests, opportunities and possibilities. There’s the ever-bustling energy and charm of the historic—and increasingly hip—downtowns in Stuart and Fort Pierce. There’s the eager anticipation for an arriving resurgence in Rio.
There’s the vision of a true community town square fully realized in Tradition. There’s the dawning of new communities such as Veranda Gardens. Then there are those vastly unsettled frontiers—rural regions beckoning adventurous professionals-turned-modern-day-pioneers. New or refined, these nine neighborhoods are seeing change—and the evolution of these destinations will be exciting to witness.
1. Downtown Stuart
The charm of Stuart’s downtown continues to attract commercial activity by way of restaurants and shops, but an incoming apartment building poses real opportunity for a sustained resurgence. The Triangle Property—encapsulated by Albany Avenue, Joan Jefferson Way and South Dixie Highway—will contain a 49-unit apartment complex built by New Urban Communities.
But for now, inventory for home buyers remains low while demand is high, says John Gonzalez of Engel & Völkers Stuart. “Stuart was voted the happiest seaside town, but we’re seeing a rise in requests for inventory within the core of the city of Stuart,” Gonzalez says.
“People are looking to move downtown because they see walkability as an option, to go to restaurants and visit the shops. We’re getting inquiries from everything across the board from relatively inexpensive homes to high-priced properties.”
In the decades after its onset in the late 1950s, Port St. Lucie’s development pattern unfolded primarily residentially with little emphasis invested in creating a centralized downtown area. Tradition was designed to change this. Core Communities converted the one-time cattle ranch west of Interstate 95 into an 8,300-acre master-planned, mixed-use community.
Intent on enabling walkability and limiting the need for excessive car travel, Tradition’s approximately 3,000 residences encircle the retail, dining and office district—replete with green space and bodies of water. Everything is anchored by Tradition Square—an inviting area that hosts concerts, festivals and expos. “It’s also dog-friendly, which is a major thing,” says Gary Sacrestano, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker.
“It welcomes families and people with pets. As a master-planned community, it’s unbelievable. It’s almost reminiscent of what they have in Italy—those types of small towns, all converged, everything located in walking distance.” Education options include two charter schools, one in partnership with Florida Atlantic University.
Built in 2013, Tradition Medical Center—a Martin Health System facility—features advanced innovations and expertise in medical treatment. Nearby Tradition Stadium is the spring training home of the New York Mets and the St. Lucie Mets, whose rosters include former NFL star Tim Tebow.
A little village near Jensen Beach, Rio numbers fewer than 1,000 residents. The waterside community has struggled for years to regain its financial footing, evident in restaurants shuttered and high-profile properties piled with rubbish and debris. The incoming Rio Town Center gives reason for optimism. In the three years since the project began wending through Martin County’s approval process, architect Raul Ocampo estimates the town’s population declined from 1,200 to about 800. “Rio needed a shot in the arm,” Ocampo says. “You could see that the neighborhood was in a downward mode. We met with the NAC (Neighborhood Advisory Committee)—they see this as a lifeline.”
One of the county’s Community Redevelopment Areas, the NAC is comprised of residents or business owners in the area. Working with county staff, the group reviews project proposals and makes recommendations on approval. The NAC supported the Rio Town Center, which seeks to eventually construct a three-story live-work community with office, retail and residential space, as well as two restaurants, parking spaces and 140 boat slips—over what was originally a trailer park and then the Lobster Shanty restaurant, before it closed. The master site plan was approved last year, but the project must still get approvals for its six phases. Ocampo hopes to see phase one—with 12 studio townhouses, 12 studio apartments, 12 studio houses and 50,000 square feet of retail—completed by early 2018 at the latest. With elevations as high as 14 feet and a view of the St. Lucie River, Ocampo looks forward to what Rio Town Center will bring. “The physical attributes of the site are gorgeous,” Ocampo says. “It will be quite a place for people to come and congregate in the evenings.”
4. Town of Ocean Breeze
The Town of Ocean Breeze is the phoenix of mini municipalities, surprising many with its unscripted rising from setbacks and disappointments. Currently home to 100 people, the story of the mobile home park is filled with determination and new beginnings. When descendants of the Hoke family—the original owners and founders—wanted to put the 45-acre park up for sale, several residents united in 2007 to buy it for $26 million. Unable to shoulder the cost, they declared bankruptcy and the property reverted to the Hoke family. Things looked bleak until Carefree bought the park in 2013 and invested in its renewal. The current renovation includes moving off septic tanks and onto sewer and undergrounding power lines. Seventy percent of the old units have been removed and replaced with manufactured homes—some two stories high, others with as many as three bedrooms, and all rated for 140 mph winds. The new construction and coming amenities, such as a new clubhouse and pool, should reinvigorate interest. “It’s never going to be very big,” says Terry O’Neil, town manager. “But the back 45 acres are being considered for purchase for single-family homes.”
5. Fort Pierce
Those who prefer the quickened pace of city life—albeit a smaller city—hail the historical qualities, stunning waterfront and downtown charm of Fort Pierce. Incorporated in 1901, the city of 41,000 is among the oldest cities on Florida’s east coast. Its Farmers Market is a regional draw, and well-known national acts regularly take the stage at downtown’s Sunrise Theatre for the Performing Arts. Although at times instances of violence grab headlines, the city’s steady progress is redefining its reputation. In 2015, USA Today named Fort Pierce one of the “Most Idyllic and Historic Main Streets in America.” That same year it was honored as No. 1 among the “50 Best Small Town Main Streets” in the nation by the consumer-advocacy organization Top Value Reviews.
6. Hobe Sound
It’s the rarest of real-estate jewels—a small town by the sea. It’s no wonder available properties in Hobe Sound get snapped up shortly after going on the market. “There’s an incredibly short supply and incredibly high demand,” says Michael Dooley, broker/manager of the Hobe Sound/Jupiter Island Illustrated Properties office and a 42-year resident of Hobe Sound.
“What gravitates buyers to us is we’re kind of the best as far as climate and small-town atmosphere. There isn’t anything like this community south of Orlando and on the east coast.” Home to many long-time residents determined to preserve its small-town character, Hobe Sound is also undergoing the incorporation process to ensure stronger local representation in how it’s governed. In addition to quaint neighborhoods and ballfields for youth sports, Hobe Sound is ideal for nature lovers. It’s home to Jonathan Dickinson State Park, St. Lucie Inlet State Park and Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. Beaches in Hobe Sound attract some of the highest levels of sea turtle nesting activity in the southeast, especially delighting viewing parties that take part in the guided nighttime tours during nesting season.
With its rural characteristics and remoteness from the coast, Indiantown’s potential is easily underestimated. Even as canker and greening decimated the citrus industry, Indiantown remained strong agriculturally with farms large and small growing cabbage, sugar, sod, and even farm-raised shrimp.
The housing boom busted before the unincorporated region of western Martin County could see the plans proposed for its residential revitalization realized, but members of the community of 5,000 made improvements that would position it for a brighter future. It’s the site of the world’s first hybrid solar facility, which is operated by FPL subsidiary NextEra Energy and outfitted with an advanced fiber-optic network. Recently, town leaders initiated effort in Tallahassee to make Indiantown its own municipality—a process that involves legislation and a referendum of residents in the proposed town limits. Incorporation, supporters say, allows greater autonomy in decision-making and could finally allow for the construction of affordable housing needed by the local workforce. “There’s a lot of positive energy flowing Indiantown’s way,” says Scott Watson, owner of the Indiantown Marina and active in its incorporation movement. “We’re excited about the chance to control our own destiny, increase the quality and quantity of services for the citizens of Indiantown, and bring the community closer together.”
8. Palm City
For families, Palm City has long held strong appeal—particularly with a school district that has a reputation for its abundance of highly rated schools. Palm City’s proximity to I-95 and the Turnpike only heighten its practical appeal to professionals who work in larger markets further south. Currently, couples in their 30s and 40s with children are showing interest in homes in new communities such as Canopy Creek and Copperleaf. The homes by Kolter and Pulte, respectively, offer ample luxury amenities with floor plans ranging from 2,600 square feet to more than 5,700 square feet. Perhaps the biggest appeals are lot sizes up to a half-acre. “These are people who have that desire for just a little more property,” says Jennifer Atkisson-Lovett, owner of RE/MAX of Stuart, “but they don’t necessarily want the rural lifestyle. “The other thing that’s been popular,” Atkisson-Lovett adds, “is organic gardening and raising your own chickens. I think there are people who are looking for things to be a little more simple.”
9. Palm City Farms
The western region of Martin County is known as Palm City Farms, and for years its rural qualities appealed to a specific type of buyer. “Most people who bought in the Farms wanted the equestrian lifestyle or privacy,” says Joan Rogers, president of the REALTOR Association of Martin County and an agent with the Horsepower Team, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty.
“Now we’re seeing something new. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s definitely trending.” Rogers’ firm enjoys the largest market share in Palm City Farms. The buyers seeking properties in the farms are redefining stereotypes. “They want to live in a manner where they can be self-sufficient,” she says. “So they can teach their children to grow their own food—animals and vegetables. It does go back to this romantic notion of families returning to their homestead roots.” While bound by an ideal, everything else about the urbanities-gone-country is diverse. “The demographic is all over the place,” she says, “from the retired and somewhat wealthy to the professionals.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of John Gonzalez, of Engel & Völkers Stuart.