News / Events

Panel praises plans for Miami Corp. land


June 3, 2009

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- While reviewing a long-term plan for Volusia County's largest privately owned tract of land, a panel of national experts found much to praise Tuesday but also much for property owners and local officials to consider.

The Miami Corp., which owns 59,000 acres in southern Volusia and northern Brevard counties, has submitted a 50-year development proposal and asked to change land-use plans in both counties. The plan calls for a mix of commercial and industrial development, with up to 29,500 homes.

Company officials say they have no plans to build but want to protect development rights, while putting standards into place to guide any eventual development and preserve the environment.

The panel of planning and environmental experts meeting Tuesday was drafted by the company to help local officials critique the plan. After a private tour of the land Monday afternoon, panelists sat down with several dozen officials from local cities and the two counties.

Two former secretaries of the Florida Department of Community Affairs, Jim Murley and Steve Seibert, co-chaired the nine-member panel. It also included James Moore, national director for community planning and urban design for a national architecture and engineering firm, and Douglas Horne, president of a Washington, D.C., planning firm, as well as a variety of university professors and land conservation experts.

Several local officials doubted the panel would be truly independent, but the depth and breadth of questions quickly convinced them otherwise.

"It exceeded my expectations," said Mary Anne Connors, Volusia's deputy county manager.

Panelists praised the proposed plan, with its conservation of some 30,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land and wildlife corridors.

But, they concluded the plan needs clear, simple standards for measuring progress and ensuring the stated lofty goals for efficient design are fully incorporated over the long haul. The panel also suggested creating a "stewardship council" with members appointed from the company and community to oversee long-term development.

The plan should be heavier on design standards than exact numbers of homes and square feet of businesses, panelists said, because too little is known about what the region's needs might be in 50 years or which technologies might be available.

Horne compared the proposal to a piece of classical music, with everything scripted in advance. He said the community would be better served by designing the plan like a piece of jazz music.

"Decide what the melody line is going to be and then improvise," Horne said.

The melody would be a set of tightly written standards for sustainable and efficient development, with the exact amount and mix of residential and business uses to be decided farther down the road.

However, local officials said existing state laws don't really allow for flexibility or improvisation. They said getting around those rules might take action by state legislators.

Panelists also suggested stronger language on requirements for water and energy conservation, such as requiring all houses to be solar.

While local environmentalists have concerns the project is too dense, Moore said it may not be dense enough. More homes and apartments per acre means more land conserved and more efficient use of money and resources, he said.

Panel members were reimbursed for their expenses, company officials said, and in some cases the company agreed to pay honorariums to panelists' institutions