A new planning tool we can all agree on

Article Posted on February 15, 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.
“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

Winston Churchill’s quote couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to Martin County and the lies some people will tell to scare our friends and neighbors.

I’ve been receiving emails filled with blatant fabrications about a proposed new land use category called Rural Lifestyle created by Martin County planners. County staff have come up with an innovative way to plan for the prospect of future development of large agricultural parcels, while at the same time ensuring the preservation of significant amounts of environmental lands and open space—in perpetuity.

Perhaps best of all, county staff included a slew of safeguards to protect against unintended consequences.

You would think this would make so-called environmentalists do back flips to celebrate.  But not in Martin County—where “no growth” operatives cloak themselves in environmental blankets and launch misinformation campaigns to scare people. 

Martin County has always been different than other counties to the south and north of us. We pride ourselves on that. Part of that difference is coming up with new tools in the toolbox so we can properly manage growth, protect our small-town charm, and still allow for the right kind of development to occur in our community.  

Here’s a bit of background as to why Martin County planners have created this new Rural Lifestyle land use category. With most of the vacant land gone in Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties, interest in Martin County properties continues to increase —especially in the larger remaining parcels of land still available in the western portion of the county, far away from our more urbanized areas. 
What will these large tracts of land look like in the future? How can we make sure these agricultural lands are developed in ways that preserve the character of the community, enhance the natural environment, and stay on the tax rolls as a revenue source?

To understand why these are time-sensitive questions, it’s important to recognize the many challenges facing our agricultural community. Agriculture has historically been a significant economic engine in our region. Many of our county’s agricultural lands have been in family ownership for generations. But as farming, citrus and ranching become less viable, the pressure on landowners to sell to willing buyers is intensifying.
We’ve got our heads in the sand if we’re not thinking about how to manage the pressures on large landowners and offer them ways to use their lands that meet our community’s expectations for environmental preservation.
I, for one, am happy to see county staff come up with this new Rural Lifestyle land use.  Here’s a list of some key elements of the land use to consider, which:
  • Gives a clear roadmap to the county and developers about a new way agricultural lands can be developed over time.
  • Affects select parcels, as only properties with 1,000 contiguous acres or more can apply the land use.
  • Enables the permanent protection of open space, which includes wetlands and other water bodies, upland habitat or lands used for agricultural purposes.
  • Requires that a minimum of 70 percent open space be preserved on site. 
  • Limits the number of homes that can be built to 1 unit per 5 acres, which is consistent with the density already allowed for agricultural ranchettes.
  • Requires any property seeking more than 1 unit per 20 acres to dedicate an additional 50 percent of the project area in offsite open space.
  • Requires said offsite open space be placed in a “perpetual conservation or agricultural easement” that would be controlled by “at least one governmental or nonprofit conservation organization,” ensuring its perpetual preservation.  
  • Allows for limited workforce housing on site – something sorely needed in Martin County.
  • Requires enhanced stormwater treatment to restore and improve native habitats.
  • Keeps large properties on the tax rolls as revenue-producers for the county.
  • Helps preserve the character of our community.
Any agricultural landowner trying to apply this Rural Lifestyle designation would still be subject to rigorous public review and multiple public hearings. It’s not a free ride.  And it’s a very high standard to meet. But at least it’s a clear set of requirements that everyone can understand.
I was pleased to learn that members of the Guardians of Martin County leadership recently provided input to county staff to help them tighten up and improve the initial language that was presented at a recent Local Planning Agency meeting.  As an organization devoted to protecting our quality of life in Martin County, it’s encouraging that the Guardians are weighing in on something that will help us prevent sprawl in our western lands—the very thing that’s likely to happen without this new planning option.
We at One Martin think this Rural Lifestyle land use makes good sense, and we congratulate county staff for thinking outside the box and planning proactively and creatively for the future.
On February 22, county staff is going to present the Rural Lifestyle land use designation to county commissioners for their consideration.  If I were a betting man, I’d say there will be a bunch of Chicken Littles and fearmongers in attendance that day.  They’ll be churning out misinformation and trying to put pressure on elected officials to do nothing. 
We have faith that commissioners will do the right thing and will equip Martin County with the tools to preserve our natural environment while creating new sources of tax revenue and recreational opportunities.     

Rick Hartman
President, One Martin

P.S. The full language of the Rural Lifestyle Land Use is in the link below.  Read it for yourself and let us know what you think.

To view the Rural Lifestyle Land Use Agreement, CLICK HERE.
(Page 6, PH-4)

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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