The editorial team suggests that it is time for Palm Beach County’s leaders to rethink the development of the Ag Reserve.
Many residents of Palm Beach County are very attached to the Agricultural Reserve. A deeply emotional bond.
This is understandable when you consider what the 22,000 acres of farmland between Florida’s Turnpike and the Everglades west of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach mean to this county.
But it is time for such attachments to become more rational. Especially when it comes to the current growth course of the district and the economic viability of small family-owned farms in the Ag reserve.
The county grows by almost 450 people every week and ensures an almost ten-year real estate boom from Jupiter to Westlake to Boca Raton. A boom that shows hardly any signs of easing.
It is time for a broader and more balanced approach to development in the Ag reserve. One that ends the “death by a thousand cuts” approach of the last decade and instead looks at the need for affordable housing, among other things, for a growing millennial workforce.
We are aware that this is not a problem with a simple answer, mainly because it requires collaboration and compromise. But the status quo has become ridiculous. Developers looking for large areas want to build. Small farmers who find it increasingly difficult to make money want to sell. Established residents who are constantly afraid that their development will affect their lifestyle do not want any of this. And environmentalists who are tired of watching the district’s unspoiled nature disappear cry badly.
You have all valid points. And it is time for our district leaders not only to listen, but to take concrete measures to address them.
This is also not an easy elevator. Even the post office was at times in conflict with the development of the Ag reserve.
Twenty-one years ago, this district’s voters 2: 1 cleared a $ 100 million bond to preserve farmland in the Ag Reserve. As an exclamation mark for their desire to protect vulnerable areas, they also approved a $ 50 million bond to purchase wetlands and open spaces and keep part of the country devoid of development forever.
Since then, the county has allowed developers to lift restrictions to increase density and remove parcels from the area so they can be sold and developed. That is unsustainable. The district cannot allow development rights transfer deals (TDRs) and make alleged “spot zoning” decisions that are inherently controversial.
The latest examples: Earlier this month, staff at the Palm Beach County Planning Department recommended – and the Planning Commission and Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations (COBWRA) agreed to exempt self-catering storage facilities from the reserve for commercial development in the reserve. Meanwhile, real estate giant GL Homes reportedly plans to pay $ 2 million for development rights to 25 hectares of the 87-hectare non-profit campus in the heart of Faith Farm Ministries Conservation Area. This exchange has enabled the developer to build twice the number of houses than was the case with his developments in the Ag reserve.
There has to be a better way. One that preserves so much of the desirable while facing the inevitable.
The latter includes the apparently insoluble and affordable housing problem of the district. There is little point in allowing additional housing in the Ag Reserve that only contains homes for more than $ 1 million. Our employees, consisting of teachers, firefighters, prosecutors, nurses and retail managers, are increasingly unable to afford to buy a home in Palm Beach County. We need more affordable houses to buy and less expensive luxury apartments to rent.
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Any new, comprehensive plan for the Ag reserve should also include space for locally grown products from continued agricultural land use. And maybe also space for self-sufficient communities in which residential and business premises are close together, so that vehicle trips are minimized to a certain extent and the natural areas for storing, draining and draining water are maximized.
We don’t need a plan that simply allows the reserve to be killed by adding new commercial development zones or lowering the development thresholds so that smaller plots can be urbanized. What we need is a broad reserve plan that is as brave, visionary, and socially conscious as the plan that was approved by the county taxpayers two decades ago.
Perhaps the most important thing is that district leaders recognize the task and then face it.