Change in conversation marked by slanted facts, yet again

Article Posted on December 10, 2020

Did you notice? The conversation dominated by COVID-19 over the past eight months has turned toward more “normal” topics, at least in Martin County. 

We're starting to hear again the familiar chorus of questionable claims to keep growth at bay.

We could take some solace in that return to normal, except – yet again – the cited facts are missing or mangled or misaligned.

Published comments by one commissioner that fell well short of the whole story recently were prompted by what we consider common-sense decisions by the Martin County Commission majority to support economic development.

In case you've forgotten, the economic health of Martin County residents and businesses commands an entire chapter of our much-lauded Comprehensive Growth Management Plan. 

You may have been unaware of it, because it's been so often previously ignored.

Now our county commission majority are being maligned because their decisions the past two years comply with our Comp Plan – all of the plan, not just selected chapters.

Under fire is their decision to create over the past two years a separate chapter in our Comp Plan and corresponding article in our Land Development Regulations for our six historic Community Redevelopment Areas that will eliminate property owners' confusion as to what and where they can build anything, from a driveway to a new store. 

Homeowners and businesses in Rio, Golden Gate, Jensen Beach, Port Salerno, Old Palm City and Hobe Sound now have a chance to fulfill their 20-year-old, citizen-crafted vision plans.

We will see new life in our old neighborhoods, which will foster economic development and broaden our tax base countywide.

At the same county commission meeting that approved the final zoning map for the new CRA chapter in October, the commission majority took additional steps to expand our tax base by increasing the potential for new industry on 250 acres west of the Kanner Highway intersection at Pratt-Whitney Road.

No project plan was submitted; however, it looks as if a distribution center is in the works for about one-tenth of the property, leaving room for another two or three other industrial projects. 

Due to some unusual circumstances tied to the property owned by KL Waterside LLC, a creative solution by growth management staff was required prior to approval on a 4-1 vote.

The Army Corps of Engineers holds an easement across acreage along the C-44/St. Lucie Canal between Kanner Highway and SW 96th Street (the northern extension of Pratt-Whitney Road). The portion along the canal was zoned for commercial waterfront marine development, a zone within the urban services district targeted for development.

Since the ACOE has no intention of giving up their use of waterfront land for dredging operations, development was not possible.

The solution to that dilemma eliminated the commercial waterfront zoning, replaced that with agricultural zoning, and moved the industrial zone to 250 acres of the 500-acre parcel to front on Kanner Highway, creating a freestanding industrial urban services district along Kanner to replace what could no longer be developed.

No acreage was lost or added, so the number of acres within the county's urban services district remained exactly the same. Changing the land use map to reflect the new zones complied with Comp Plan rules.

Commissioner Sarah Heard attempted to block the change, despite commissioner comments noting that the swap would move industrial truck traffic out of a residential neighborhood, away from an elementary school, to the four lanes of Kanner Highway. It made no difference.

She took the same intractable stance in 2013 when EcoGen, a proposed biomass facility, needed to locate near FPL's transmission lines in Indiantown and requested a simple swap of the urban services district from one side of a parcel of land to the other side of the same parcel.

The commission majority's cold shoulder then, despite the pleas of Indiantown families to allow a “green” industry to create new jobs, triggered Indiantown's incorporation.

As justification for attempting to block construction anywhere in the county, Commissioner Heard pointed to the recent flooding in Hobe Sound. She willfully ignored the fact that its 50-year-old infrastructure was not designed to handle the storms of this past summer. 

In June alone, Hobe Sound received twice its monthly average of rainfall in just three days, and already this year has experienced close to 150 percent of its normal precipitation. 

New construction has demonstrated that it's much more capable of handling these types of events. The challenge comes in finding the multiple millions of dollars we need to retrofit our old infrastructure to end flooding and improve water quality, not just in Hobe Sound, but countywide.

We can choose to broaden our tax base by adding business and industry that will spin off other new businesses, adding even more impact fees, tangible personal property, and property tax revenues, or heap this daunting cost on the shoulders of residential homeowners.

We applaud our Martin County Commission majority for making decisions with foresight to broaden our tax base and treat landowners fairly, while remaining true to our Comp Plan. We like the choices they made. 

Sincerely, 



Rick Hartman

 

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