Martin County's Path to Preventing Browardization - Part 4

Article Posted on May 13, 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.

Hidden Agendas Lead to Undesirable Outcomes

Martin County's future direction dominated the 2008 election of county commissioners in the District 3 race that pitted challenger Patrick Hayes, an environmental advocate, against pro-business incumbent Lee Weberman.

Many Martin County Conservation Alliance members campaigned in support of Hayes, who had spent 10 years actively working to restore the Loxahatchee River in southern Martin County where he lived. Their affection for Hayes, however, quickly waned, as he, in turn, became increasingly disillusioned with the Conservation Alliance's agenda and messaging.

He publicly challenged speakers calling themselves environmentalists. He said they obviously lacked a key commitment to restoring Martin County's historic water flows to improve water quality and environmental protection, thus in his opinion could not be considered true environmentalists or conservationists.

“Restoring water flow should be the number-one priority for everyone who lives in this county,” Hayes still says. “Our wild critters depend on water flow and on our rivers to survive. Humans build water plants or dig wells to pipe themselves water … and they can always go someplace else to live. Critters can't.”

Hayes rebuffed the idea that dividing rural acreage into 20-acre lots was environmentally sound or sustainable. During his term, he embraced the potential of the new Valliere Amendment to obtain large swaths of environmentally significant lands, particularly along Bridge Road to unblock water flow into Kitching Creek that feeds the Loxahatchee River.

He worked with four landowners in Hobe Sound who had proposed housing developments along Bridge Road that would place nearly 6,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land under permanent conservation easements in return for only a slight increase in density.

Some proposals had NO increases in the number of housing units as allotted in their assigned agricultural zoning, yet all were rejected after vitriolic public comment and a flurry of emails. They argued that approval of any housing development on Bridge Road would open the door to widespread urban sprawl, especially to the western DRIs (Developments of Regional Impact), and inevitably to the “Browardization” of Martin County.

Hayes was particularly perturbed after one landowner had agreed to donate 1,500 “beautiful acres, critical for restoring water flow” south of Bridge Road in return for clustering his allotted 150 homes among 20-acre lots, 10-acre lots, and 5-acre lots, buffered by native habitat along Bridge Road's right of way. The vote failed to approve the project.

“I don't think they understood what I was trying to do,” Hayes says now of his critics.

What Hayes did not (and still does not) understand is that any housing development on Bridge Road, which leads directly to Jupiter Island and Hobe Sound Beach, likely would be rejected, regardless of its environmental significance or its removal from more intense development in the future.

The final onslaught of criticism came after Hayes supported a change in land use for a triangle of land trapped between the turnpike and I-95 on Bridge Road unsuitable for farming due to its large lake, yet zoned for agriculture only.

At the time, no other uses were possible, since the Comp Plan banned farmers markets, packing houses, farm-to-table venues, or any other enterprise to provide alternative revenue streams for agricultural landowners.

(That all changed on July 1, 2013, when the state passed legislation to override local bans of agri-tourism facilities and operations.)

The anti-growth contingent had taken firm hold of public opinion, thus the ski park and RV park were rejected, as was Hayes. He was labeled an environmental turncoat in the pocket of developers, which undermined his re-election bid.

Ushered in to take his place was former Jupiter Island Commissioner Anne Scott in a 2012 landslide victory, who joined Conservation Alliance members Ed Fielding and Sarah Heard in majority control of the Martin County Commission.
The County's Darkest Chapter

We've often talked about the 2012 commission majority's decisions by commissioners Sarah Heard, Anne Scott, and Ed Fielding through 2016 that resulted in numerous major lawsuits – and ultimately grand jury indictments for public records violations – costing taxpayers an estimated $20 million to $50 million in sanctions, settlements, legal department costs, and attorney fees.

Less often have we talked about the fact that all of it was unnecessary.

If the 2012 county commission majority had simply followed the rules of our own Comp Plan and state law, NONE of those lawsuits would have been filed against Martin County or environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla, including Lake Point's.

Not one.

Two of the three commissioners responsible for the nightmarish actions of the commission majority in the span of those four years, 2012-2016, lost their bids for re-election.

The scariest lesson of Martin County politics then, however, is that a lie repeated often enough (through 5,000 or so weekly emails) becomes true, compounded by well-meaning foot soldiers repeating the skewed or downright false information delivered directly to their email inboxes.

Actually, we're starting to see those same well-orchestrated protests renewed.

Watch the April 19 public hearing on the Rural Lifestyle amendment on MCTV, and you'll hear the same fear-mongering messages you've heard over and over again the past 20 years at other Martin County Commission meetings.

You'll see yet another long line of public commenters, most not listening to the presentation where their questions were already answered. Another litany of mini-lectures from familiar faces about “gutting the Comp Plan” and "Browardization."

Rinse. Repeat.

A nearly identical response captured the debate over the Valliere Amendment in 2008. Today, however, clustering is the recognized tool to conserve environmentally sensitive lands, create wildlife corridors, and improve water flow for new housing developments.

It was endorsed statewide then by 1000 Friends of Florida, founded by environmental icon Nathaniel Reed – everywhere except in Martin County. Now it's routine.

It seems almost inconceivable that the most common anti-clustering message in 2008 was worded like this email to county commissioners:

  • “I am for more green space in our county as well as more effort towards preservation of the Indian River Lagoon and other waterways in our area. Vote NO for the Valliere amendment.”

Residents were protesting against the very amendment that would help achieve what they wanted.

Brandon D. Tucker
Board Member, One Martin

CLICK HERE to continue to the Conclusion in the One Martin series, "Here We Go Again!," which takes a closer look at “Browardization.”

If you would like to review the Introduction in the One Martin series, “Here We Go Again!,” CLICK HERE.

If you would like to review Part 1 in the One Martin series, “Here We Go Again!,” CLICK HERE.

If you would like to review Part 2 in the One Martin series, “Here We Go Again!,” CLICK HERE.

If you would like to review Part 3 in the One Martin series, “Here We Go Again!,” CLICK HERE.