Roads To Ruin Advance In Florida House, Senate; We Oppose

Plans to push a new set of roads into rural areas of Florida at the expense of wildlife habitat protection and preventing urban sprawl are advancing in the Florida Legislature with support in the House, which until recently had taken no position.

One of these roads, which would run from Polk to Collier County, revives an idea proposed 15 years ago at a time when the road-building and development lobbies were also pushing a cross state toll road from Manatee County to Indian River County that would have crossed the Lake Wales Ridge, the Kissimmee and Upper St. Johns rivers, bisecting key wildlife habitat.

The southwest corridor under consideration would affect key corridors important to the Florida panther and Florida black bear and doom plans to preserve a natural statewide wildlife corridor system.

Interestingly, the road drew support from a group called the Environmental Caucus of Florida, which maintains that the road is needed to prevent congestion in the Tampa Bay area so greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced.

This is misguided. The new roads will not cut vehicle emissions, only displace them to other parts of the state. In the meantime, the construction of the roads and the development they will generate will lead to the destruction of native habitat, reducing carbon capture and other ecosystem services.

Everyone should contact legislators to oppose this idea.

New Home Construction Presents Water Conservation Challenges

A presentation on improving water conservation at the recent Polk Regional Water Cooperative revealed an interesting fact.

It is that average water consumption is higher in homes built in the past 20 years than it is for older homes.

This seems counterintuitive with all of the modern water-saving devices from toilets to appliances.

What has changed is that homes built since 1995 typically come with irrigation systems, which encourages more water consumption.

Polk Rural Residents Once Again Survive Urban Invasion, But For How Long?

For the third time in the past couple of years, the Polk County Commission voted Tuesday to deny a proposal to bring urban residential density to edge of an enclave of rural homesteads in the Kathleen area north of Lakeland.

The proposals have been part of continued efforts by an investor who bought a piece of property that is predominantly wetlands to achieve some kind of return on the money he spent.

The vote was 4-1, with Commission Chairman George Lindsey dissenting.

Lindsey, a Lakeland developer, argued there were similar instances around the county where dense development has occurred near rural-density development with no ill effects, though some of the examples don’t exactly match this situation.

He said he wants to schedule a work session to look at the county’s development regulations to come up with a way to provide prospective developers with more predictable outcomes when they apply for project approvals.

I have some thoughts on this idea.

First, the predictability equation cuts both ways.

People who invest their hard-earned money to buy a home should have some assurance that the development density on adjacent undeveloped land will not be suddenly changed into something that they find incompatible.

The idea expressed by the applicant’s representative at Tuesday’s hearing that all kinds of residential development are compatible is a matter of dispute.

In decades of covering zoning cases, I have seen the owners of large houses oppose an adjacent development of smaller houses, owners of conventional homes oppose a mobile home development and mobile home owners oppose a proposed recreational vehicle park next door.

Second, a certain amount of the lack of predictability has its roots in the provisions in the county’s development code that are intended to accommodate developers by creating all kinds of loopholes.

Yes, the land-use map designates one home per five acres, but there are wetlands on the site so the developer can get density bonus points for not developing the wetlands (even though its restricted anyway) which gives him additional density. But wait, if we draw a line within two miles of the site and at least 60 percent of the land that is not wetlands or something (suddenly the wetlands don’t count as a benefit any more) then the site qualifies for a suburban planned development. Also, it may lie in a transit-supported development overlay area, which may allow additional density.

The fact is that the system in Polk County is mostly rigged in the developer’s favor.

Any move toward more “predictability” could be bad news for rural homeowners or anyone else who’s in the path of someone else’s development scheme.

Legislators Propose Reward For Fighting Invasive Exotic Plants

Ceasarweed (Urena lobata) is one of the serious invasive pests on public lands


There’s a bit of good news on the conservation lands front out of the Florida Legislature this year.

Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, and Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade, have filed a pair of bills (SB 590 and HB 809) that would reward volunteers who spend at least 50 hours a year removing exotic invasive plants from state parks and other state conservation lands with an annual state park pass.

The park pass permits free or reduced entrance fees to all state parks.

The legislation has passed some preliminary steps, but will require additional committee hearings and floor votes before being sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis for signing.

The timing of the proposals is apt, since April is National Volunteer Month.

There are certainly no shortages of potential volunteer efforts around the state that could qualify dedicated volunteers to apply for the park pass.

The legislation does include a provision to make sure state officials come up with a system for monitoring volunteer efforts to ensure the program is accountable, as it should be.

The fact of the matter is that the staffs at Florida’s conservation lands can use all of the help they can get in dealing with the multitude of invasive exotic plant species that have caused serious problems.

The exotics management problem has also been used by critics of obeying the voter mandate to restart funding for the Florida Forever program to argue against buying more land if the state can’t manage lands it already owns.

The fact is that some of the public land exotic vegetation management problems are the result of lack of management of these pest plants on surrounding private lands that can be sinks of serious infestations of plants, such as cogon grass and Old World climbing fern, that are spread by the wind.

This legislation deserves wide public support.