Sunday, March 3

Comprehensive Plan amendment to allow development farther west passes 3-2

Some residents in Martin County fear more development may be coming farther west after county commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to pass an amendment to its Comprehensive Plan.

For years, Martin County has had a Comprehensive Plan to protect against overdevelopment, and in September 2022, the county adopted the rural lifestyle land-use designation, a type of development requiring a minimum of 1,000 acres, 70% of which is required to be open space. Its density is also limited to one unit per 20 acres or less, and it must be adjacent to already developed areas, called Urban Services Districts, to prevent overdevelopment.

It all came into question recently because of a 3,902-acre parcel of land at the corner of Kanner Highway and Bridge Road, called Calusa Creek Ranch.

Its owner, Ken Bakst, wanted to develop it into a rural lifestyle, country club community with 175 homes, two golf courses, golf cottages, pro shops, administrative offices, club and range houses, event facilities, marinas, restaurants and other similar food and beverage service, maintenance/utility facilities, storage areas, restrooms, driving ranges, spa and racquet clubs, general store, gym and recreational facilities.

However, under the existing Comprehensive Plan that wouldnt have been possible because Calusa Creek Ranch is more than a mile away from an Urban Services District.

Thus, Bakst submitted an application to the county to amend the Comprehensive Plan to allow Rural Lifestyle communities of a minimum of 3,000 acres to be built 6,000 feet from an Urban Services District, in other words, allowing development more than a mile into existing farmland. Commissioners approved this and on the future of the two golf course communities in the western Martin County area.

“The urban service boundary is sacred,” Martin County resident Bob Ernst said.

Ernst is one of several residents who came to protest the amendment and speak up at Tuesdays commission meeting, fearing the amendment would be another chipping away at the countys protective plan against development.

“We moved here because its a small coastal town, and wed like it to stay that way,” resident Walter Lloyd said.

“This is becoming metastasized cancer for Martin County,” resident Jim Moyer said.

Others, like Joe Flanagan, came to support the plan, citing its promise to preserve 660 acres of wetlands and its low-density layout.

“Somebodys going to build something, so, to me, this is a controlled growth, Flanagan said. “Im not a big, ‘lets develop everything, pave paradise and put up a parking lot’ kind of a guy, but theres also opportunity here. Don’t deny me the opportunity to sell or develop as we need to.

“Put wildlife and the habitats they live in first, but we can live next to and in harmony with wildlife,” agreed conservationist Terri Gibson. “Its not that hard.”

Even county commissioners, who eventually voted in favor of changing the amendment, were divided.

“It destroys the urban boundary in Martin County and makes it impossible to acquire our western lands and clean up our rivers,” said District 4 Commissioner, Sarah Heard, who voted against the project. “If it is approved, these commissioners will leave a legacy and that is to destroy the Indian River Lagoon.”

“I think it was a good decision long term for the county. On this one project there are millions and millions of dollars worth of stormwater quality,” countered Commissioner Doug Smith, who added the water quality benefits arent a cost the county could afford to front on its own.

Commissioners also voted 3-2 to allow the Calusa Creek Ranch Development to move forward.

Bakst released the following statement to WPTV regarding the project:

<i>”This is rural preservation. While current zoning permits 195 20-acre ranchettes, we are requesting a decrease of that density to a maximum of 175 smaller lots. This will enable us to preserve more land and keep all of the propertys wetlands and upland preserve areas under common ownership and management.&nbsp;</i> <i>Our plan keeps 91% of the property in open space and enables us to continue operating a bona fide cattle ranch on more than a third of the land, while preserving and improving more than 660 acres of wetlands. Additionally, we want to eliminate the use of septic tanks and wells by paying for sewer and water service. And we would remove hundreds of millions if not billions of gallons of dirty water from the C-44 canal, keeping it from reaching the estuary.&nbsp;</i> <i>Its also worth noting this project will provide more than $25 million in annual tax revenues to Martin County.”</i>

The project will now move to review by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

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