True Facts, Not Spin about Rural Lifestyle

Article Posted on April 18, 2022

Note: It is our goal at One Martin to provide reliable, fact-based information so citizens can be better informed about our government and our community.

There’s a whole lot of spin going on out there. It’s enough to make even sensible people feel a little dizzy.

So we were really pleased to get this email from Tom Hurley. Here’s a guy who actually knows the facts---pretty rare in these times---about the background to the Rural Lifestyle amendment and what it does and doesn’t do.

I could tell you again that the sky isn’t falling, the urban services boundary isn’t being blown up, and Martin County isn’t turning into Broward. But I’d rather turn it over to Tom for the straight story.

Help One Martin share this info far and wide. Bad decisions get made when the loudest voices drown out the truth, so let’s be sure the Commissioners and public hear the facts.

Rick Hartman
President, One Martin
You've been bombarded with falsehoods, now learn the truth about Atlantic Fields, Rural Lifestyle

On Tuesday, Martin County Commissioners will consider Discovery's Atlantic Fields proposal for Hobe Sound Polo Club, although to do so, they’ll first need to vote in support of the proposed Rural Lifestyle land-use that enables it.  
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, an incredible amount of misinformation, disinformation and scare tactics is being spread around to create confusion and fear instead of clear consideration and open discussion about what could soon prove an excellent planning option to protect Martin County's rural lands from sprawl, overdevelopment, annexation and other elements that exist outside the county’s control.  
At the end of this email, you'll find my guest editorial at (also online here). As a third-generation farmer and landowner who's the visionary of and a partner in this effort, I’m incredibly excited to partner with Discovery in this phase of stewarding the property my family has been blessed to farm for more than 60 years. 
In addition to creating some of the highest caliber communities in the world while adhering to sustainable practices that protect water quality, wildlife habitat and the overall environment, Discovery also has a generous foundation that raises millions for children in need. As a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Martin County’s Board of Directors, you can imagine how much this philanthropic focus resonates with my convictions.  
First, here is summary of the key facts: 
Discovery Land Company, originator of 24 luxury residential resorts around the world, is bringing its first Florida project to Hobe Sound with Atlantic Point, which proposes 317 homes on 1,500 acres (75 percent of which will remain in permanent open space). Homesites will start at more than $3 million. 
An economic study on Atlantic Fields, reviewed by a third-party organization, projects that these 317 homes will create:  
  • 436 permanent jobs (direct and indirect) 
  • $15.5 million in annual associated wages and salaries 
  • $39.5 million in annual ongoing economic activities  
  • $22.4 million in annual revenue generated from the project 
  • 10,755 temporary jobs over 10-year period during construction 
  • $543 million generating annual from temporary jobs in associated wages and salaries 
  • $1.6 billion in gross economic output during construction 
  • $21 million in annual recurring tax revenue, or as one commissioner said, the "equivalent of 8,000 homes."  
Atlantic Fields also has a lot to offer the general public as well. Its public benefits include: 
  • Creating a southern access road to the 5,800-acre Atlantic Ridge State Park 
  • Donating an existing equestrian center to the park service for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders 
  • Restoring a 125-acres wetland and wildlife habitat that will benefit regional drainage issues 
  • Relocating and donating the Hobe Sound Train Station to the Hobe Sound Historical Society for a museum of local history 
  • Placing the 800-acre Becker Tree Farm (along I-95) into permanent agriculture 
In order to consider Atlantic Fields, county commissioners must first vote in support of the Rural Lifestyle land use. Sadly, this language has drawn a lot of disinformation. Rural Lifestyle DOES NOT create an automatic entitlement over all the western lands.  
Rather, it's an option that qualifying properties must meet a high standard of strict requirements to even attempt using, and the results can help permanently protect rural and ag lands. 
In reviewing it, Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council recently stated: "The County is to be commended for developing an alternative approach to ranchette development on rural lands to minimize sprawl and reduce environmental impacts." 
Rural Lifestyle requires
  • A minimum of 1,000 acres 
  • Placing 70 percent of that 1,000 acres in permanent open space (defined by the county as "clear from ground to sky") 
  • Placing another set-aside parcel in Martin County--which must be at least 50 percent of the land mass designated for development, or a minimum of 500 acres--into permanent agriculture or conservation preservation 
  • Ensuring that set-aside is preserved permanently by covering it with a conservation easement controlled by the landowner, local government and existing nonprofit with an established track record for conserving land 
  • Dedicated funding source to properly maintain and manage the preserved land 
  • Creating a third-party reviewed economic study showing the project's financial benefits to Martin County 
  • Potentially allowing water/sewer to the site, but limiting them to the site so no neighboring property could automatically hook up 
  • Strict Planned Unit Development agreement that contractually ties the landowner to all obligations 

It will take a high-quality, well-researched project to succeed with so many restrictions, but the results could be high net revenue for Martin County, compelling public benefits, rural density, at least 500 acres preserved and large tracts of land permanently preserved and therefore prevented from being developed in the future. 
We appreciate your time reading this. We respectfully consider these facts, question the critics and—if comfortable—speak in support of this item by sending an email to county commissioners. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions.  
Thank you. 
Tom Hurley

Rural lifestyle land-use designation would help preserve Martin County's roots | Opinion
By Tom Hurley 

As a third-generation farmer who grew up with my brothers working in the groves, I’ve experienced firsthand the tremendous challenges inherent in agriculture. 

Although our family is celebrating 60 years farming on the Treasure Coast, it wasn’t long ago when citrus canker, greening and hurricanes devastated our groves—and not ours alone. Today, no commercial citrus operations exist in Martin County. 

Further, the prospect of intense residential development places additional pressures on agricultural landowners. Fortunately, the proposed "rural lifestyle" land use — which offers an option for qualified landowners to potentially apply to their property — could provide an appealing alternative. 

Tuesday, Martin County commissioners will consider adoption of the proposed comprehensive plan amendment bearing the Becker name. But we cannot take sole credit for this amendment. 

It’s the product of an evolving process incorporating diverse voices from the planning, agricultural, conservation, and environmental communities. 

Originally, we planned to ask for an exception to the comp plan for our Atlantic Fields project with Discovery Land Company (more below). 

But after feedback from the public, county staff, and advocacy organizations, we embraced rural lifestyle as the best way to preserve the urban service boundary, provide a blueprint for large scale rural conservation, and set high standards by which an opportunity with broad-based community benefits could emerge. 

Thanks to input from community stakeholders, rural lifestyle language is much different than what was first presented. 

Most recently, another option recently introduced is that rural lifestyle will not apply to the entire county, but only to areas adjacent to the urban service boundary — where services can be efficiently supplied. 

Additional safeguards require: 

  • Minimum 1,000-acre parcels, 70% of which must remain in permanent open space —clear from ground to sky. 
  • At least 50% of the site designated for development (or minimum 500 acres) must be set aside for permanent agriculture or conservation. 
  • Set-aside parcels must be controlled by a local government entity, the landowner, and an established conservation nonprofit — ensuring permanent preservation. 
  • Funding source to ensure the set-aside property is properly maintained. 
  • Economic study — reviewed by a third-party — demonstrating the project’s financial benefit to the county. 
  • Any extension of water/sewer services must remain solely on site, preventing any property nearby from connecting. 

Atlantic Fields aims to embody and establish the best of this amendment. Conceived in partnership with Discovery Land Company, creator of 24 luxury resort communities around the world, Atlantic Fields would feature 317 homes on the 1,500 acres of what’s currently the Hobe Sound Polo Club

Public benefits include permanent preservation of the 800-acre Becker Tree Farm, creating a southern access point to the Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park, gifting to the park an elaborate equestrian facility and public meeting place, gifting and relocating the historic Hobe Sound Train Station to the local community, and restoring a 125-acre wetland habitat area. 

Featuring golf courses by local legend Tom Fazio, Atlantic Fields offers high-quality amenities, enabling home sites to start at more than $3 million. 

The economic study projects annual tax revenues exceeding $20 million — reportedly equivalent to 8,000 traditional homes. 

It’s exciting Discovery chose Martin County for its first project in Florida. 

From Hawaii to Montana to the Bahamas to Barbuda, Discovery works in environmentally sensitive areas, protecting the surrounding area and supporting —through its generous foundation — local charities and nonprofits. 

Protecting western Martin County’s rural character is extremely important to us. This priority reflects in our vision through, among other initiatives, sustainable development practices, habitat protections, and dark skies lighting restrictions. 

Interestingly, before the comprehensive plan was drafted, our property was zoned for one unit per 2 acres. We were asked to accept the down-zoning of one unit per 20 acres with an understanding that in time our zoning would change again. 

Please understand, we’re in no way upset that our family made this sacrifice. It was the right decision for the time and helped preserving our rural character. 

But one unit per 20 acres requires no environmental or agricultural protections and no public benefits. It accomplishes nothing for the community at large, much less for the family agricultural legacy we aim to honor and preserve. 

Rural lifestyle, however, simply enables consideration of select properties with select projects. But it demands that more land be given for preservation than the county could easily attain otherwise. 

That’s a goal we all share. 

If you want your voice to be heard, contact the Martin County Commissioners directly and share your thoughts with them.  Their contact info is below.

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