News / Events

My Word: Farmton deserves a chance

Public Opinion Orlando Sentinel

February 17, 2010

There is another side, rarely seen, to the Farmton plan, criticized in the Sentinel's Saturday editorial "The wrong way forward."

It is rare that the owner of 60,000 acres of land in Florida is willing to put all its cards on the table and offer a proposal that preserves 75 percent of its land in Volusia County, and 80 percent in Brevard.

It is rare that a landowner proposes a plan for development that puts guarantees of preserving all that land upfront, in exchange for just a chance that final approval of development might happen — but not for 50 or more years later.

It is also rare to see a property owner assemble a nationally recognized group of ecological and land-use experts to design a development plan from the very beginning using a peer-reviewed study process. In most cases, ecosystems and wildlife corridors are mere afterthoughts in development plans.

The rarity of these things is such that our current growth-management process and regulatory agencies have a hard time dealing with proposals like Farmton. So do many of us who campaign for the protection of the environment; perhaps because we are so used to the typical behavior of land developers and the usual bad outcomes.

A key point in the Sentinel's editorial is the issue of "need" for new development. It is a legitimate point. However, it seems apparent that the Sentinel was not apprised that the proposal before Volusia County this week requires that "need" be clearly determined before future phases of development at Farmton can ever go forward. Under the proposal, the county includes a clear requirement that future phases of residential development can't go forward until need is determined.

In another important safeguard, the proposed comprehensive-plan amendment requires an overall 1:1 new job per housing-unit balance in all future residential development. Even in interim phases, if new jobs created per each development unit ever fall below .65 jobs per unit, approvals for more development must cease.

Finally, Farmton is not more sprawl. It is town centers, transit-ready corridors and village centers. It follows precisely the blueprint developed as a consensus effort for Central Florida several years in the making.

All of us who are concerned about the environment need to recognize the need for innovation, the need to give landowners permission to innovate and do things differently — so long as the results preserve the environmental features and wildlife we all treasure.

If the public were to buy the nearly 40,000 acres of Farmton that will be preserved under easements in the Farmton plan, the costs would range close to $1billion — even at today's land prices.

The Farmton plan deserves careful scrutiny. It also deserves a fair chance to succeed. It is, indeed, a rare opportunity.

Charles Lee is director of advocacy for the Audubon of Florida.

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