Are you excited? Election season is here!
In Martin County, this means lots of conversation revolving around whether or not a political candidate believes in following the Comp Plan, that is, if you can call it “conversation.”
Usually, it's just inflammatory rhetoric and unfounded accusations based on faulty premises.
To get ahead of that – and as a public service – we're providing our readers with a short primer on sound planning practices. After all, knowledge is the best armor against disinformation and fabrication.
Perhaps the first, and most important, point is this: As long as we accept the premise that growth is inevitable, instead of thinking we can close the gates, we won't get runaway growth that threatens everyone's quality of life. The key, however, is to plan for growth and adopt smart growth policies.
With the underpinnings of good planning then, growth will more likely contribute to – not detract from – a sustainable future and better quality of life attainable to all.
Let's pause a bit here to talk about developers, and the building construction projects we see underway now, likely to be offered this election season as “proof” that our county commission has run amok. Rest assured, it hasn't.
Neither commissioners nor developers created this growth. They simply responded to the state of the economy. When the economy is bad, you'll not see construction anywhere – regardless of who is or is not sitting in a county commission seat. Instead of complaining about construction, we should be celebrating a return to a robust economy.
Fortunately, we've come out of the Great Recession of 2008; therefore, landowners who have held on to their properties, perhaps for years, are beginning to get a return on their long-held investments, either by developing the property themselves, or selling it to a developer. Would you really want to deny them that right?
And that does not make them the enemy, although we tend to treat them that way.
We often expect developers to pay for outdated past practices of other developers, lumping them all in one basket, or we expect them to pay more than their fair share to boost a government's revenues.
This us-against-them mentality, just like an excessively bureaucratic regulatory process, makes it impossible for developers to produce affordable housing, an essential element in our residents' quality of life.
How often has a member of our family, or a friend's family, or even our employees have found they must go live in Port St. Lucie, simply because homes here are too expensive. It does not need to be that way, and we can do it without imitating our neighbors to the north and south. Not even close.
We need to allow our Comp Plan to dictate growth management and to allow developers to follow that plan. We need to eliminate unnecessary and counterproductive duplication, and streamline the approval process.
In other words, make the rules that are fair, sensible and consistent … then get out of the way.
So, what do we need to include in our plans? We can shape sustainable, desirable neighborhoods by adopting patterns of mixed uses, including a range of home sizes, and by awarding developers a slight boost in density in return for including modest homes among their plans.
It would be wise also to designate specific growth centers, thereby reducing the pressure on places that are less suitable for development, particularly when we need to preserve our distinctive environment.
We accomplish the same by clustering development on large parcels in order to preserve wetlands or wildlife habitat, or provide for open spaces, rather than carving large land tracts into small parcels, often sacrificing wildlife corridors or the natural flow of water to do so.
We need to promote infill development and the revitalization of urban areas, which in Martin County are largely our historic areas. We need to pay attention to the needs of our agricultural communities, increase conservation easements, and rethink new rural communities.
Environmentalists are not alone in wanting to restore and protect the environment. Our business people, our Chambers of Commerce, our state governor, all “get it.” Losing or degrading the environment destroys the market, and economic incentives are far more powerful than regulatory chains.
We can work together to create an even more desirable and sustainable place to live as we protect and enhance our environment. Let's stop making enemies out of anyone.
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