Our Comprehensive Growth Management Plan is similar to the U.S. Constitution – it sets the policy, goals and objectives to fulfill the people's mission and vision expected of its government.
Both plans anticipate that amendments must be allowed to accommodate changes in our society, to meet our expectations, and to address the unanticipated consequences of previous rules.
A difference is that Constitutional amendments always are applied broadly. They cannot be site or conditionally specific, as can Comp Plan amendments.
And there's never a mandate to amend the U.S. Constitution, as in Florida, which requires counties to amend their Comp Plan every seven years to ensure they comply with new or revised state laws.
Thus, the county's Comp Plan, like the U.S. Constitution, is not etched in stone; however, the Comp Plan will have many more amendments. It will always be a fluid document that complies with state law and our intention to create the highest-possible quality of life for all residents.
Perhaps the most important point to remember is that every new development in Martin County must comply with the county's Comp Plan. If it does not, the application is rejected.
In some cases, however, a development's contribution to the wider goals and objectives of the Comp Plan can warrant a new amendment; however, the county commission must agree that an amendment to the Comp Plan is justified.
Requesting a Comp Plan amendment is complex, costly, time consuming and risky for an applicant, and often requires changes to Martin County's Land Development Regulations and the Future Land Use Map, as well. The lengthy review by staff can cost more than $45,000 in fees, depending on size and complexity of the application.
More than a dozen department heads and the county's land-use attorney scrutinize the development application to ensure that the project not only meets county rules, but federal and state laws, as well.
Multiple developer workshops with these same county staff can span 18 months, or longer, yet nothing guarantees that at the end, during the last of three public hearings, that the proposed Comp Plan amendment and the development application will be approved, allowing construction to begin.
Growth Management Department planners base their recommendation for passage or denial on the results of the final county staff report, which they present first to the Local Planning Agency in a public hearing that has been advertised in advance. Developers also are required to mail return-receipt letters to all residents within 1,000 feet of the project and are encouraged to meet with them, as well.
The staff recommendation holds great weight, as do the recommendations from the LPA, and comments from the public at the County Commission's first advertised public hearing. The commissioners will vote then as to whether they agree to transmit the application to the state's Department of Economic Opportunity for an additional review.
If the county commission majority votes no during either its first public hearing or the final hearing after the DEO review, then the application is denied. The developer may appeal to the courts, or start over with a new application.
Most often, the changes requested by a developer are site specific and do not unilaterally change the whole of the county's planning document, such as the Comp Plan amendment for the Pineland Prairie project in Palm City. It created an entirely new land-use concept (mixed-use village) that no other development application will be able to apply.
Not all amendments to the Comp Plan are initiated by developers. The County Commission may also propose amendments, which undergo the same scrutiny. Those amendments are usually applied broadly, and new projects would be required to comply with the new rules, such as the recently adopted Comp Plan amendment changes to our Community Redevelopment Areas.
But not always.
Commission-initiated amendments also can be site specific, such as the amendment to allow water and sewer lines to be extended from the Village of Indiantown's utilities into Martin County, in order to relocate the Martin County Fairgrounds from Stuart to a parcel across the road from Timer Powers Park.
Most of us agree this is a logical step, because without water and sewer access, the fairgrounds project is dead. But logic and common sense have not always been a factor in commission decisions.
For example, the 2012 county commission majority initiated the Comp Plan amendment that banned the extension of utility lines into the county or outside of the urban services district in a flawed attempt to stop growth, regardless of the negative impact of septic tanks on our water resources.
The current county commission majority did not eliminate that ban. Instead, they approved an amendment that will allow the commission to consider each request on an individual basis to ensure that it's justified. That's leadership.
And that's exactly what happened when the current commission majority voted to protect our waterways at the same time they met our citizens' desire to expand the fairgrounds. For once, common sense and a balanced approach prevailed, which is our hope for all Comp Plan amendments, now and in the future.