There are many long-standing myths in Martin County that create divisiveness in our community. One of our goals is to educate the public and create a more informed citizenry by exposing these myths and providing the facts to our friends and neighbors.
In this issue, we discuss Myth #5:
Stopping all growth is the only way to protect Martin County.
One of the most pervasive myths circulated in Martin County is that any kind of growth will turn us into Broward, Miami-Dade, or Palm Beach counties. Often called the “Browardization” of Martin County, especially during election season, the myth morphs into fear mongering that unfairly targets some political candidates by those who reject the notion of change of any kind.
The truth is they do not understand our history, or our Comprehensive Growth Management Plan, or do not know the facts. For some, their objective simply is to stop all growth, regardless of the damage or the means, operating under a protective shield they call “environmentalism.”
A recent letter to the editor reveals the broad brush of negativity used to paint all county commission candidates supported by chambers of commerce, favoring instead those from their preferred environmental groups. The writer accuses anyone who owns a business, builds a house, or is a farmer or rancher as wanting to abandon our environmental rules to “speed” growth, and that only members of these preferred groups respect the Comp Plan sufficiently to hold office.
That's bunk. Pure and simple.
These critics do not own a lock on environmentalism, defined as caring about and for our natural environment. Environmentalism does not mean “build nothing.” It means to take the environment into consideration when you build, to do so thoughtfully and intelligently. It is exactly what our Comp Plan says.
Our Comp Plan is a “growth management” plan that anticipates we will grow. It simply tells us how to proceed in a thoughtful way that brings balance to all elements involved in creating a high quality of life – economically, educationally, environmentally, recreationally and artfully.
No matter who the commission majority is, no matter the accusations thrown at it for disrespecting the Comp Plan, Martin County has always grown slowly, around 2 percent a year or less, and the threat of “Browardization” is so remote as to be nearly impossible. Look at the facts:
FACT: Martin County's environmental awareness began to grow in the '70s, long before any of the most vocal environmental groups was formed, and before the first Comp Plan was adopted in 1982. Our residents had recognized that we did not want skyscrapers lining the shores of Hutchinson Island, and the four-story height limit was born and remains intact. Today, nearly 50 years later, four-story buildings anywhere in Martin County still are the exception, rather than the rule.
FACT: Soon after the county enacted the rules for building height, a public campaign began to buy waterfront parcels to ensure public access to our beaches and our coast, a tradition that continued until 2012. The 22 miles of public beaches in Martin County is about the same as Broward County, which has double the coastline. It's two miles more than Miami-Dade County, which has a coastline of nearly quadruple that of Martin County's. Our skyline will never look like Broward's.
FACT: More than 26 percent of Martin County's acreage is designated as conservation lands, including Allapattah Flats, and that's not all. The county owns about 40 percent of the county's land for parks, recreational fields, as well as public safety and administrative needs. In addition, we have state and federal parks and preserve areas and thousands of acres owned by the South Florida Water Management District. The parks around Hobe Sound alone total 18,000 acres, comprising Jonathan Dickinson and the Atlantic Ridge state parks, as well as the federal National Wildlife Conservation Area. In addition, a minimum of 25 percent of every developed parcel must preserve the highland habitat and all wetlands are preserved, which are owned and maintained by landowners. We cannot ever become another Broward County.
FACT: Our Land Development Regulations follow the policies outlined in our Comp Plan. As a result, development in Martin County not only limits the height of buildings, demands preservation of upland habitat and protects wetlands, it ensures that stormwater remains on the property. It requires that homes and commercial properties hook up to sewer lines if they're available and that 50 percent of the property is in open space. The Growth Management Director, Nicki van Vonno, reminds residents that development today is entirely different than the development by previous generations – or the development found in other counties.
Martin County residents place a premium on the natural environment to enhance and enrich our man-made environment. The commitment to the environment is shared and respected by builders, real estate agents, farmers and ranchers, bankers, and anyone else who lives and works here. We all are environmentalists.
Instead of applying false anti-environmental labels to county commission candidates, we should be looking at candidates' character, integrity and respect for the law. Without those essential traits, we threaten even the quality of life that we have spent generations trying to attain.