Rural Lifestyle Amendment - Good For Martin County
Article Posted on September 9, 2022
Note: It's our goal at One Martin to provide reliable, fact-based information so citizens can be better informed about our government and our community.
As part of a family with a hundred-year history in Martin County, I’ve seen a lot of changes over the decades. I’ve also seen a lot of debate about how Martin County should or shouldn’t grow. One thing I’m sure about: the misinformation and myths that are used to scare residents have been very effective. I’ve watched those tactics play out with the recent Rural Lifestyle Land Use Amendment and Atlantic Fields project.
Thankfully, there are many people who understand and appreciate the value of the new Rural Lifestyle Land Use. One Martin believes it can be a valuable planning tool to help preserve rural lands, prevent sprawl, and strengthen our economy and tax base.
Two respected local voices, Tom Campenni and Len Sucsy, also share their opinions below.
We hope you will lend your voice to this important discussion and speak in favor of the amendment at the Martin County Commission meeting on Tuesday, September 13.
President, One Martin
Big Challenge, Bigger Solution: Rural Lifestyle Safeguards our Rural Character, Creating Green Buffer between Urban, Rural Lands
Guest Column by Len Sucsy
Over my more than 50-year career in economic development, land planning and architecture, I’ve both heard or come across hundreds if not thousands of ideas. Many were forgettable. Others weren’t so bad. A few were pretty great.
I’ve recognized three common characteristics of great ideas: They address big challenges, they evolve with changing circumstances and events, and they succeed not solely on their own merits but due to the persistence and dedication of individuals willing to put forth a special effort.
By this standard, the Martin County Rural Lifestyle Amendment is indeed a great idea. It is a proposed planning tool to allow limited, low-impact, self-supporting, economically-positive development projects.
Initially, some residents worried that the original Amendment could impact an estimated 132,000 acres in western Martin County. The applicant responded by significantly reducing its scope by an impressive 90 percent—affecting only 11,924 acres and six properties which have 1,000 acres or more, one qualifying threshold.
The first application being considered under Rural Lifestyle is Atlantic Fields (Becker/ Discovery). The project would cluster 317 high-end residential homes on about 400 acres of their 1,530-acre property. To receive the requested residential density, the applicant must acquire an additional 800 acres (one acre off-site for every two acres of residential on-site) for permanent preservation.
The off-site land must have value as prime agriculture, environmentally important or natural habitat. To ensure the land remains preserved, it will be placed under a conservation easement, deed restricted and administered jointly by a government entity, the landowner and an existing conservation not-for-profit entity.
The amendment also requires the applicant preserve a minimum of 70 percent of the 1,530-acre parcel in “open space,” defined by the county as clear “from-ground-to-sky.” In addition, all of the 800-acre donated parcel will remain in agriculture, ensuring that nearly 80 percent of the total of 2,300 acres will be preserved in open space and never developed.
Martin County taxpayers rightfully demand that growth pay for itself. Rural Lifestyle requires projects such as Atlantic Fields to prove—by a third-party reviewed, professional economic study—that it will provide a significant economic benefit to the county.
Further, the Amendment stipulates that no financial burden be transferred to existing taxpayers. The developer bears all costs, including creation of a fund to maintain the offsite conservation/agricultural lands.
In addition, allowing extension of water utilities to a project, the Amendment requires that infrastructure lines be sized solely for that one site, preventing neighboring properties from connecting.
Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council—created to provide planning and technical assistance to local governments and assist in carrying out Florida’s growth management programs—reviewed the Amendment, stating: “The County is to be commended for developing an alternative approach to ranchette development on rural lands to minimize sprawl and reduce environmental impacts.”
The Rural Lifestyle Amendment addresses a big challenge of allowing reasonable growth while safeguarding Martin County’s rural character, natural resources and quality of life. It creates a significant green buffer and transitional zone between our urban and rural lands.
Its blended density calculation is one residential unit for every 7.3 acres. This low impact use complements the county’s existing rural zonings of Ag Ranchette, one unit for each 5 acres and 20-acre ranchettes.
The current version of this Amendment reflects positively on the applicant’s regard for public concerns and priorities.
Finally, this “great idea” needs a champion to carry it to completion. Martin County Commissioners, please provide leadership and do right by citizens committed to managed growth, quality projects and preserving vast amount of our natural environment. Vote in support of the Rural Lifestyle Amendment.
Leonard G. Sucsy is a founding member, director, and officer of The Guardians for Martin County. Nathaniel Reed and Maggie Hurchalla were advisors to the Board. He served for many years on the Martin County Business Development Board and currently resides in Hobe Sound with his wife, Sue.
My Questions have been Answered regarding Rural Lifestyle
Guest Column by Tom Campenni
The Discovery folks invited me, and a few Martin media people to the Hobe Sound Polo Club for an informational meeting about the Rural Lifestyle amendment. The new amendment is a very pared down version of the original presented back in February.
At the time, I was not ready to embrace the amendment because it was county wide and I didn’t think there were enough public information meetings explaining it. I also had questions about where the water and sewer lines were going to be run and how far they would extend. Every one of my concerns have been addressed in the new amendment.
The acreage that would be entitled to the designation has been substantially reduced from the entire county to 11,924 acres. The Discovery development is adjacent to the urban services boundary (USB). To qualify for the designation, the land must be along the boundary. The water and sewer lines cannot extend or piggyback onto adjacent properties. So, the idea of leapfrogging to other properties should be out of the question.
There have now been four public meetings throughout the county held in the libraries of Indiantown, Hobe Sound, Stuart, and Palm City. They were moderated by Nicki van Vonno, the past director of the Martin County Growth Management Department. A few of those meetings also had Zoom participation.
Though it is a developer amendment, if adopted, it can be used by any landowner who meets the qualifications. There are precious few owners that do. Here is the list I received from the applicant’s consultant:
Along Bridge Road:
Discovery/Atlantic Fields: 1530 Acres
Whitworth Ranch: 2824 Acres
Harmony/DiVosta: 2727 Acres
Three Lakes Golf Course: 1218 Acres
Atlas Family IV: 1695 Acres
Agri-Gators Farm: 1930 Acres
Everyone speaks about the sacred comp plan as if it is Holy Writ. It wasn’t until the 1980s when adopted that we were required to have one by the state. It is required to be updated (changed) periodically to adjust for circumstances such as population increases within the USB. At some point in the next few years, the line of the USB will be moved.
The two ways we can preserve our rural lands are to encourage infill development and greater density within the USB and to allow limited development using planning mechanisms such as Rural Lifestyle. In Discovery’s case, 70% of their proposed development will be green lands and another 800 acres will be a permanent agricultural trust with Conservation Florida as the nonprofit owner.
We need to accept that these type developments will attract very wealthy people. They will pay a great deal in taxes and ask for few services. Martin County will be another playground to them. But is that bad?
I was in favor of leaving each project to stand on its own but then that may trigger a spot zoning claim. Spot zoning refers to when a piece of property or groups of property have special zoning laws applied to them that differ from the zoning laws surrounding them. By giving alternatives to landowners, the sprawl that these large parcels may engender could be avoided.
I am now convinced that the Rural Lifestyle is the way to proceed for Martin County in these very limited circumstances. I urge the commission to embrace and pass this amendment. Without it, I believe we will end up with western lands that may look like St. Lucie County or, heaven forbid, Broward.
But we need to remember there is a second piece to this puzzle. It is to increase density and development within the Urban Services Boundary preferably within the CRAs. If we do not do this, Tallahassee will do it for us in a one-size-fits-all bill. That may be a great boom to Miami-Dade but will be the end of the Martin County lifestyle that residents cherish.
Tom Campenni is founder and editor of Friends & Neighbors of Martin County. The articles are a labor of love for the people of Martin County so they may continually stay informed.
Martin County Commission Meeting
Tuesday, September 13 at 9 a.m.
Martin County Administration Center, 2401 S.E. Monterey Road, Stuart
Please contact commissioners and ask them to vote “Yes” for Rural Lifestyle and Atlantic Fields.