Political newcomers Christopher “Doc” Collins and Campbell Rich have been elected to the Stuart City Commission, pledging to create a higher threshold for developers.
Rich and Collins campaigned to refuse developments that require zoning and land use changes. Rich garnered 54.72% of the vote while Collins garnered 51.31% of the vote.
Collins upset incumbent Merritt Matheson, who as mayor worked closely with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials to get cleaner water to the St. Lucie River, which cuts through the downtown Stuart.
Campaign platforms:Stuart City Commission election focuses on development
Candidate questionnaires:2022 Martin County Election
Editorial Board:TCPalm recommendation for the Stuart City Commission
Rich, a retired certified financial planner, defeated Mark Brechbill, a certified public accountant, in the Aug. 23 primary election. He will succeed one-term city commissioner Mike Meier, who said he did not seek re-election for the Group 1 seat as he did not have time to engage in public service.
Collins, 38, a chiropractor who has lived in Stuart for six years, said he was surprised to have beaten Matheson but was eager to serve his constituents.
“I’ve knocked on many doors and everyone wants clean water in this small town and no one is happy with the growth,” Collins said. “Merritt did a great job and ran a great campaign and I have nothing but respect for him. I hope to remain friends.”
Matheson was stunned by the results.
“As commissioner, I’ve voted against more developments than anyone. During my time here, I’ve tried to engage Stuart in the fight for clean water. I hope it lasts at least,” he said. Matheson said.
Voters also re-elected incumbent Eula Clarke on Tuesday, who beat William Laughlin for the Group 5 seat with 53% of the vote.
Stuart Town Commission Issues
Development has been at the forefront of the city’s issues, particularly over the past four to five years, as an influx of multi-family developments have entered the pipeline. Commissioners have become more critical of the projects – and developers have withdrawn their proposals – as residents fear overdevelopment will chip away at the town’s quaint lifestyle.
Rich and Brechbill said they ran for office to preserve Stuart’s small town charm and alleviate overdevelopment. Rich, 68, has lived in Stuart for about 30 years while Brechbill, 66, has lived in Stuart for about four years. They came to Martin County in 1982 and 1986, respectively.
Rich will enter the city’s political sphere with prior knowledge of its development code as a member of the local planning agency for four years. The council reviews most project proposals before submitting them to the city commission for a vote.
While Meier highlighted the need to increase the city’s limited housing supply, which could help stabilize rising rents, Rich wants to pause residential developments that require code changes and analyze what has already been approved.
The line between “pro-growth” and “slow growth” labels has blurred in the city. The committee rejected a Project of 77 townhouses which required a change of land use. But it also unanimously approved the Atlantic Point Yacht Club and Marina as well as the Elizabeth, a mixed-use project with 52 apartments and 5,855 square feet of office and retail space. Meier voted alone for the townhouse project.
Brechbill also campaigned on limited growth as well as zoning and land use changes. He said he wanted to limit development approvals for out-of-town builders who propose max-density projects.
The TCPalm Editorial Board recommended Rich in the race.
August 23 primary election
Nonpartisan municipal elections don’t usually involve large sums of money, but here’s how much each candidate has raised and spent on their campaigns:
- Brechbill: Spent $15,598 of his $17,428 campaign fund
- Rich: Spent $10,704 of his $26,761 campaign fund
- Collins: Spent $8,074 of his $9,707 campaign fund
- Matheson: Spent $11,378 of his $33,498 campaign fund
- Clarke: Spent $12,675 of his $18,747 campaign fund
- Laughlin: Spent $4,456 of his $6,767 campaign fund
The main winners will be sworn in on September 12 and will receive $18,000 per year for the four-year term.
TCPalm outdoor writer Ed Killer contributed to this report. Friend Ed on Facebook to Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at email@example.com.