The 17th Annual Citizens Growth Management Forum on April 22, 2017 was a great success.  We'd like to thank our speakers Maggy Hurchalla (former Martin County Commissioner), Sarah Heard (Martin County Commissioner) Tom Hawkins (1000 Friends of Florida), Greg Braun (The Guardians of Martin County), and Virginia "Ginny" Sherlock, Esq. (Littman Sherlock & Heims).   Event sponsored by The Guardians of Martin County, 1000 Friends of Florida, Bullsugar.org, Pegasus Foundation, Treasured Lands, River Warrior, Florida Native Plant Society Martin Chapter and Martin County Conservation Alliance.  Thank you to Rick Spisak of Progressive News Network for the videos!








WHY WE NEED A COMP PLAN by Maggy Hurchalla, presented at the Forum

Martin County is notorious for being different.

We grow slower than the other counties on the SE coast of Florida.

In spite of that we have a better economy.

Because of that, we have a better quality of life.

We have much stricter local environmental protection policies. Our environment is not just about wild things. Those policies include you and your neighborhood as part of the environment we’re trying to protect.

All this does not take away private property’s value. It makes it more valuable.

Compare two pieces of rural land at the Martin County/ St. Lucie County line. Environmental protection and land use restrictions are much stiffer on the Martin County parcel, but the property appraisers say that the Martin County parcel’s market value is twice as high as the adjacent property in St. Lucie County..

Some years back a state economic study compared the value of vacant beachfront land in the two counties. Martin County required buildings to be set back from the dune and limited height to four stories. St. Lucie County had no such restrictions. Martin County parcels sold for more.

The biggest reason for all this is that we have an uppity citizenry. You are what makes the difference.

You just proved that in getting the Planning Agency to reject the comprehensive plan amendment that would have taken away protection for little wetlands. If you had not gotten yourself educated and come out to the LPA meeting and been brave enough to talk, I don’t know what would have happened.

The amendment has now been withdrawn by the applicant and little wetlands are safe for another year.

 That’s the other reason we’re different  - our Martin County Comprehensive Plan - which has been in effect since 1982

If it had just been up to any three county commissioners to decide whether they liked little wetlands or not, you probably wouldn’t even know about the issue.

Our comp plan doesn’t let that happen. It is specific in its policies. It says little wetlands WILL BE protected. It says the rules can’t be waived by the commission.

If they decide they don’t like little wetlands, they have to amend the comp plan. That takes time and gives you a chance to be part of the process.

When the monster Hobe Groves city west of the Turnpike asked for approval in 2012, it wasn’t just a question of whether three commissioners liked the project. In fact, three of them said they did like it. But the project was not consistent with our comprehensive plan in a whole lot of important ways.

That meant they had to go through the year long process of a comprehensive plan change.

That gave the uppity citizens of Hobe Sound and the rest of the county a chance to point out the environmental and economic and community consequences of changing the comp plan’s plan policies for one big developer.

Hobe Groves said they withdrew because of “the political climate.” It was an election year. The consultant for the Little Wetlands Amendment said last week that he withdrew because of “politics.”

I call it democracy and the rule of law.

Growth management rules need to be clear and predictable and fairly applied.

That’s the only way you can legally defend them. When you make an exception for one, you are on the road to making an exception for all.

I don’t expect all of you to go out and read the Martin County Comprehensive Plan from cover to cover, but it’s good to know what your basic protections are.

I asked Donna to bring copies of Chapter Two of the comp plan for you to take home with you. While we don’t all need to know all the details of the Plan, we do need to know what planning and growth management are about.

Reading Chapter Two is a good way to learn.

Chapter Two of the Plan includes the our Overall Goals. It starts with a noble statement that our comp plan is designed to protect your homes and your quality of life and our natural resources and to enhance the economy and fiscal conservancy.

That’s all very nice, but those words won’t protect you. They are too general.

The rest of Chapter Two restates those four important goals along with enforceable policies. That’s something that makes the Martin County Comp Plan different and has made it work the way it is supposed to.

Lots of local plans are made up of what I call “meaningless marshmallows”. They sound nice. They aren’t clearly defined. You can interpret them any way you want.

When our Plan was drafted, we spelled things out in clear predictable detail. Developers said “You don’t want to etch things in stone.” and suggested meaningless marshmallows instead.

The answer is that our comp plan is not etched in stone. It can be changed.

There is a process that has to be followed. There is a Citizen’s Bill of Rights that ensures that you can be part of that process.

To understand why we would want to get involved in that process, we need to know why our Plan matters.

The first goal in Chapter Two is about protecting quality of life. It includes our four story height limit and our 15 unit per acre density cap and buffers for residential areas to protect them from more intense land use.

The second goal is about natural resources. It includes protecting wetlands and making sure that development approvals do not further degrade our estuary. Hobe Groves sued us over that policy. They claimed it was unreasonable to ask them not to further degrade the Wild and Scenic Loxahatchee River. The judge said we could keep that policy.

The third goal is about the economy and finding objective measures of success.

The fourth goal says that “Prudent fiscal management shall be a primary goal in all county actions and in all development approvals.”

Since I’m a well-known wild-eyed environmentalist, it might surprise that I’m going to focus on this last goal.

We need to understand that the larger concept in growth management is about living within your budget. It’s about analyzing consequences and long term impacts and making sure you want to live with them – financially and otherwise.

We have land use and zoning so someone doesn’t come along and build an all night car wash next to your home. We have environmental policies to protect the waterways we love and make sure that in the future we will have clean affordable drinking water for everyone we invite to come here.

Bad decisions about the future cost money. The cost comes in budget deficits and in deficits in our quality of life. Are you willing to write a blank check?

Back in the early 70’s, that’s what Florida did. We declared growth was great and problems would solve themselves. We ended up with schools on double sessions, sewer plants dumping into the river, and urban traffic jams. The solution was always to declare an emergency and pass a bond issue or adopt a new tax to “catch up with the backlog.”

No one ever caught up. No one even suggested it might be a good idea to stop acquiring backlogs and emergencies. They just kept doing it over and over again until the public got sick of it.

Florida’s Planning Act, first adopted in 1975 and updated in 1985, set a national standard for forcing communities to look at consequences. What were the impacts of a development? What facilities did it need? How would it be paid for? How would it affect existing residents?

The idea wasn’t to look at projects one at a time, but to adopt a set of policies that would make sure those questions were answered in a way that was fair to developers and left us with a community we wanted to live in.

In the last ten years the state legislature has abandoned the state’s role in growth management.

Martin County has not abandoned its comp plan.

Among the policies in the section on fiscal conservancy:

  • Growth will pay for itself. Current taxpayers will not pay for the facilities that are needed for a new development.
  • Impact fees will be fair and accurate and will not cost developers more than they owe. The County cannot waive impact fees. They can pay impact fees out of tax dollars, but they cannot waive them and pretend the impact isn’t there.
  • Property that gets approval for urban development can’t keep claiming an agricultural exemption. That’s a tax dodge that is used all over this state that costs local businesses and home owners a whole pile of money. King Ranch sued us over that provision. The judge said we could keep this policy.
  • The County will adopt objective measures of fiscal success and provide an annual report to make sure backlogs aren’t created.
  • The Capital Improvement Plan must show all the facilities that will be needed in the next ten years based on land use and expected growth.
  • Projects can’t be placed in the CIP unless there is a sure revenue source to pay for them.
  • Projects in the CIP must be prioritized as outlined in the Plan. First fix the backlog and make sure facilities are adequately maintained. Next build what you need to meet the needs of growth. “Things that it would be nice to have” are not a priority.
  •  Development approvals must be consistent with a feasible fiscal strategy.

As lesson #1 about why we need a Comprehensive Plan, I would suggest that you look to your pocketbook.

Fiscal sanity is the key to growth management.

Your quality of life will suffer if taxes go sky high or facilities fall apart and become overcrowded.

NOT protecting our natural resources will cost us millions in both quality of life and tax dollars.

A strong economy can’t be built on dirty rivers, overcrowded schools, and inadequate government services.

I would invite all of you to familiarize yourself with the policies in Chapter Two Goal 2.4. Talk to your commissioners about enforcing them.

If we don’t get a handle on the fiscal impacts of growth, we will fail at being the Martin County you came here for and the Martin County we want to be.