September 20, 2016

Florida’s booming population risks sprawl ahead

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

 By John Kennedy – Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau

Posted: 5:26 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Florida in 2070 will be a state brimming with almost 34 million residents — 70 percent more than today – but it doesn’t have to be covered in concrete stemming from urban sprawl, a report released Thursdayshows.

1,000 Friends of Florida, a statewide growth management organization, is urging government planners to promote a shift toward more in-fill development and higher densities in current urban areas.

Nature preserves can be expanded and farmland maintained, the Florida 2070 Project concludes.

“We’re talking about compact development, not doing away with development,” said Vivian Young, a spokeswoman for 1,000 Friends.

The report’s release comes even as Florida is experiencing a building boom – a pent-up explosion of massive developments that follows a recession-fueled freeze of several years.

Palm Beach County’s unincorporated western areais the site of almost 14,000 new homes planned in coming years, spread across four new communities, including Westlake, the county’s 39th city.

Similar, multi-thousand-acre projects also are in the works across remote stretches of scrub and wetland – virtually in every corner of Florida.

Such mega-projects as Babcock Ranch,Plum Creek, Lake Pickett and Deseret Ranch, are poised to add thousands of houses, millions of feet of commercial space and swell the state’s population through the next decade by converting vast amounts of rural land.

Fostering these fresh mega-projects, some analysts say, was Gov. Rick Scott’soverhaul in 2011 of the state’s three-decades-old growth management laws.

The changes approved by Scott and the Republican-led Legislature eliminated regulatory hoops developers formerly had to clear to advance building projects.

1,000 Friends said that cities and counties should remember that planning decisions made now will shape future development across many communities.

But the report also offers alternatives to reducing urban sprawl – mostly keyed to assuring that current timber and mining land across Florida isn’t turned into future housing developments.

Florida’s current trajectory has it on course to having one-third of its land mass fully developed by 2070, up from the 19 percent devoted to houses, stores roads and businesses in the report’s 2010 baseline year.

If many residents are already feeling the pressures of crowded roads, neighborhoods and schools, there is certainly more to come in the next half-century, the report shows.

But 1000 Friends argues that by embracing a more compact pattern of development and boosting the state’s protected land holdings, the percentage of Florida under development can be held to 28 percent by 2070.

“We absolutely believe we can do better,” said Peggy Carr, a professor at University of Florida’s GeoPlan Center, which also partnered with the Florida Agriculture Department on the 2070 report.

South Florida, so long home to rapid growth, is projected as seeing slower development in coming years, relative to the rest of the state.

Within South Florida, the most dramatic potential changes by 2070 will be south of Lake Okeechobee, where development could continue its relentless drive across Palm Beach, Hendry and Glades counties, as well as in Lee and Collier counties, analysts said.

Still, land devoted to cities and suburbia in South Florida should top out at 30 percent of the region — below the state’s 34 percent average, the report found.

The broad, protected acreage which includes the Everglades, combined with the expected continued strength of the region’s vegetable and sugar-growing industry, should withstand any serious encroachment by developers, 1000 Friends predicted.

The state’s region of most overwhelming growth in the years ahead? Central Florida.

By 2070, almost half the region from Tampa to Daytona Beach will be devoted to roads, homes, and the other trappings of development, 1,000 Friends forecasts. Marion, Sumter and Lake counties, already home to The Villages retirement mecca, will continue to boom, analysts said.

That’s almost double the Central Florida region’s 26 percent of land now occupied – and even in the best-case scenario, could be restrained to 41 percent developed, still well above the statewide rate.

“More land will be taken up to reflect the population growth,” Carr said.