PORT SALERNO, Fla. — Countless lawn signs and a mural advertising a group called "Save Our Salerno" are being placed across town in Port Salerno, a neighborhood of about 10,000 people in Martin County.
The group, which is also known as SOS, was formed after developer James Corey Crowley supported a movement in August to add parking spots near the Florida East Coast Railroad to support an open-air market at his property located at 4878 Southeast Commerce Ave. The effort ultimately failed, but the nonprofit is still organizing events and meetings.
According to Save Our Salerno's website, the organization's mission is to preserve the unique identity of the town while encouraging development respectful of the town's historical and cultural roots. The group encourages people to attend local government meetings and organizes clean-up efforts around the area.
WPTV reporter Ethan Stein saw countless homes and businesses with signs and stickers showing their support for the group around Port Salerno. Those signs also criticize Crowley and his nonprofit called Salerno Development Authority.
Crowley said he's experienced groups against development, but not with the amount of negativity from SOS. He said he's even seen a church with signs criticizing him in the area.
"They can only be angry for so long," Crowley said. "They can only hate me for so long."
Martin County Code Enforcement cited Crowley twice for turning an empty lot into a recreational vehicle parking lot, as well as adding plants, stones and food trucks on the property. According to documents received from a public records request, an official with the county asked it to get reimbursed for $575 for conducting the code enforcement investigation and receive a $100 fine each day if the property isn't in compliance by Feb. 29.
Crowley said the complaints led to him canceling a car show on the property, which he now plans to turn into a three-story apartment complex.
Records, which WPTV received from an open records request, show the county received at least six complaints about the property. Each complaint came after Casey Cass, who is one of the organizers of SOS, asked members to "flood code enforcement" with complaints about Crowley's property on Facebook.
He also asked people to stop calling code enforcement once they were on the property and encouraged people to go to Crowley's hearing over the code infractions on the platform. Cass also encouraged people to honk their horns when passing by the property, which neighbors said still occurs occasionally.
Save Our Salerno also sponsors a road adjacent to the property at 4878 Southeast Commerce Ave., which is also near Cass' business called Casco Tools Inc.
Cass and Save Our Salerno's President Mary Grace declined to talk to WPTV about their organization or role in Crowley's code enforcement complaints.
Crowley said he believes Cass has made their dispute over parking spots in August, which were near the railroad and Casco Tools, into a personal grudge. He also said opposition while trying to develop land is part of the job for developers. He also said opposition while trying to develop land is part of the job for developers.
"It's part of doing business," Crowley said. "Whether it's Jupiter or the Veterans Memorial Bridge or hotels in downtown Stuart, there's always groups of people. Nobody wants anything in their backyard. Everybody complains about things in their backyard. That's why the state keeps usurping local powers."
He also said he likes how Save Our Salerno has made people more engaged with their community and conversations around development in the county.
"It's like an ant pile," Crowley said. "I kicked it over and now they're like, 'There are a lot of things that need to get done.'"
Martin County is currently updating its comprehensive plan this year. People in white "Save Our Salerno" T-shirts have been seen at public input sessions.