Stories circulated among Martin County residents often seem to tell a tale of worst-case scenarios. One of the most popular right now is titled, the “Browardization of Martin County.” The doomsday pundits ignore the fact that we have Comprehensive Growth Management Plan rules that truly guide growth in Martin County.
Our Comp Plan, written in 1982, ensures that we experience slow, measured growth. It was accompanied by a strategic vision written 10 years later in 1992 that projected what residents wanted Martin County to look like in 2020.
What was described then, including maps, is eerily identical to what has come to pass. That's because we planned for the future. We were not afraid to look ahead.
Part of that plan was to conserve thousands of acres of Martin County land. Combined with the land owned by the state and federal governments, more than 100,000 acres of Martin County land is owned by government entities, much of which has been removed from local tax rolls.
While that ensures we'll never look like Broward County, it also puts the burden of paying for all our government functions – restoration of our waterways and improving our parks and maintaining our infrastructure – squarely on the backs of our taxpayers.
We would expect, then, that new construction telling its story of new investment, jobs for citizens, and a broader tax base would be eagerly received here to ease that tax burden.
That's the case elsewhere, but not in Martin. Here, alarm bells ring. The “Browardization” tale makes its rounds once again with every new expansion or ground-breaking.
The true story, the one based on facts, not fear, is that we're seeing more construction because the economy is finally recovering from the 2008 economic downturn. Growth Management Department Director Nicki van Vonno tells us that the number of development applications still has not reached pre-recession levels.
So why does it seem we see construction on every corner? Some of this new development is not truly “new.” Even the already-approved projects in 2008 and 2009 with final master site plans and set-in-stone timetables for construction got interrupted by the recession.
Other developments were in various stages of approval when the economy went south. Everything seemed to stop cold. As a result, the state legislature recognized that the recession would hit developers particularly hard, adding even more stress to the economy. They have authorized several two-year extensions in succession that developers could receive – every time the governor declared a state of emergency.
Now, with new development deadlines approaching, financing opportunities and markets improving, many of these property owners are now proceeding to construction.
And it's happening all at once.
What we're seeing around us now in what appears to be a flurry of construction are many of the interrupted projects that normally would have been spread out over the past 12 years, combined with the new projects that landowners have been waiting to begin.
That does not mean, however, that old projects, even those already approved, can escape review by the Growth Management Department. The county staff from numerous departments must still sign off that the final master site plan matches exactly the original master site plan AND that the development complies with all the rules of our Comp Plan, even any of the new rules.
When you see construction now, you can be assured that the development is a sign of a recovering economy. It means fresh investment, new jobs and a broader tax base. You also can be assured that it follows ALL the rules of our Comp Plan.
New construction does not mean that Martin County is being “Browardized,” or that developers have gone wild. It means we're seeing a revived economy that can offer a good quality of life for all our residents.