Sierra Continues Opposition To Polk’s Proposed Looser Green Swamp Development Rules

Ancient Islands Group has forwarded comments to the Florida Department of Commerce to protest a proposal by the Polk County Commission to loosen development density regulations in the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern.
The Department of Commerce oversees development proposals in the state’s areas of critical state concern in the aftermath of the abolition of the Florida Department of Community Affairs during the Rick Scott administration that reduced most state review of local growth-management decisions.
What Polk County is proposing is to allow easier development on parcels containing wetlands by allowing more density transfers from wetlands areas and using parts of county rights of way to make up for lots that fall short of the required acreage.
The measure is being pushed by County Commissioner Neil Combee on behalf of some of his neighbors along Rock Ridge Road.
Ancient Islands Sierra proposes changing the county development code instead to allow variances in cases of hardship. This would allow the claims to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis rather than giving wholesale exemptions that could potentially allow hundreds of new homes to be developed in this area that is important to the region’s water supplies and regional movement of wildlife through a network of statewide corridors.

State Wants More Info On Polk Septic Plan

County commissioners delayed action Tuesday on a plan to reduce septic tank pollution in eastern and southwest Polk County.
That is because state officials want the plan to include more specific information about how exactly Polk officials plan to bring central sewer treatment to areas served by septic tanks.
Polk’s proposed ordinance talks about reducing pollution–mostly involving nitrogen discharges–in these areas of Polk County that affect the Peace. Kissimmee and Alafia river basins through tougher standards for new development.
However, Polk’s plan does not directly address the idea of converting areas to central sewer service.
The state comments seek specific information on what sewer service is available now, what its treatment capacity is and what that capacity is likely to be 20 years from now
This comes at a time when Polk utility officials are proposing long-delayed updates-sewer rates had been reviewed since 2014–in water and sewer rates to pay for needed expansion of services in unincorporated Polk County.
County commissioners have tentatively scheduled a hearing on the updated septic conversion ordinance for Sept. 17.

Estimated Tax Roll Means More $ For Environmental Lands

Polk County Property Appraiser Marsha Faux recently released the tentative 2024 estimated tax roll.
It is good news for the Polk County Enviornmental Lands Program.
It will mean the budgeted funds from the voter-approved tax will increase from this year’s $11.3 million to an estimated $12.6 million in next year’s budget, which will take effect Oct. 1.
So far Polk County has received about 25 proposals involving more than 11,000 acres and forwarded them to the CLASAC committee for review and to make recommendation to the County Commission.
Most of the proposals have been recommended for further staff review.
This involves determining whether the landowner is interested in selling the property outright or selling a conservation easement. From there the discussion will include whether the county and the property owner can agree on a purchase price and whether the county can work with partners, such as water management districts, to raise the funds to complete a proposed deal.
Final approval of all purchases rests with the County Commission.

Sierra Critical Of DeSantis Wrongful Bear Shooting Bill OK

Petty bureaucrats typically sign bills and send out press releases that do not reflect well on their public stewardship late on Friday afternoons to avoid serious press coverage because they know the timing coincides with often empty newsrooms.
Gob. Ron DeSantis seems to have that technique down pat.
Friday evening, he signed a bill that Sierra Club has been monitoring that allows people to shoot Florida black bears whenever they allegedly feel threatened by these creatures who are primarily vegetarian.

Sierrra leaders quickly responded.

“Governor DeSantis has delivered a major failure for Florida’s environment by signing HB 87 into law. Since its inception, Sierra Club Florida has called on the Governor to put a stop to this extreme bill, and we condemn him for approving this absurd and dangerous legislation,.” said Susannah Randolph, Sierra Club Florida’s Director.

“This session, Floridians from all sides of the political spectrum united to send a loud, clear message: Kill bad bills, not black bears. Governor DeSantis’ signing of HB 87 further demonstrates that he has no interest in serving the will of the people, or taking real, tangible action to protect Florida’s environment.” said Javier Estevez, Sierra Club Florida’s acting political director.

The approval of this legislation fits into a pattern that the bear-hunting lobby has been pursuing that includes a proposed constitutional amendment, that Sierra also opposes that would make so-called “traditional” hunting methods such as using dogs to chase and tree bears in future bear hunts. into a “right” in the Florida Constitution.



Cronyism And Questions Delay Looser Green Swamp Regs

The reasons behind the effort to loosen lot density requirements in a good section of the portion of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern in Polk County became clearer during Tuesday’s public hearing before the County Commision.
County Commissioner Neil Combee said the impetus came from some complaints from some fellow Green Swamp property owners who discovered the current regulations would not allow them to create lots to pass on to relatives.
That is because the regulations require 10 acres outside of wetlands ln the less heavily regulated portion of the Green Swamp.
The rest requires 20 acre lots, but one acre of uplands is enough to get a building permit, he said.
That results in situations where someone ay have only, for instance, a 9.8-acre development lot.
His solution to the situation is to simply water down the regulations and use road right-of-way to make up the difference.
Of course. there is another alternative that the bulk of Polk’s property owners who do not have the ear of a county commissioner can pursue. That is to apply for a variance to remedy conditions that prevent an otherwise legal use of one’s property due to conditions beyond their control.
Combee spent some time criticizing the emergence of the tougher regulations over the years in contrast to earlier times when all you needed was one acre as long as you had frontage on a county road.
That was what was known in pre-growth management days as the Rural Conservation zoning category.
One thing to keep in mind in this discussion is that the Area of Critical State Concern classification came about because local zoning regulations were considered too lax to protect the Green Swamp.
You also have to keep in mind that up until a few years before the state imposed the designation that there were not any zoning regulations in unincorporated Polk County at all.
This is an imposition that some people likely still chafe at and the history of growth management in Polk has often been about how to scale back on the regulations..
There was some improvement in the staff presentation Tuesday in which they finally attempted to depict how much of Polk’s portion of the Green Swamp is already protected by conservation easements or outright purchases. Nevertheless the maps were a bit piecemeal and a single comprehensive map would be more helpful
Another aspect of this issue was highlighted by longtime Green Swamp advocate Marian Ryan, conservation chair of Sierra’s Ancient Islands Group.
It is that although protecting water resources was the original justification for protecting the Green Swamp. subsequent research has also revealed its importance as a key hub in a statewide network of wildlife corridors.
She said that fact argues more for increasing protections, not loosening them.
At the end of the discussion and the questions raised by Sierra and others, the proposal was continued to the July 16 meeting where better maps and a more sophisticated approach to the lot-size issue may be on the table.

Heartland Conservation Land Deals Adding Up

This week the folks in Tallahassee announced more agreements to purchase conservation easements here in the Heartland, which contains the Peace River Basin, the Lake Wales Ridge and the Everglades Headwaters.
The latest purchases involve 12,128 acres in DeSoto, Hardee and Okeechobee counties involving the purchase of development rights at local ranches.
This is in addition to the 30,414 acres in conservation easements the state has purchased in recent years in the region.
The protection efforts, some of which are tied in part to the Florida Wildlife Corridor, are really starting to add up.
When you add in the purchase of Creek Ranch in eastern Polk County and the purchase in recent years of land for the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and the land that was already in private or public conservation ownership the map is becoming greener all of the time.
Polk’s newly reorganized land purchase program as a result of the successful 2022 referendum is expected to eventually add to that total.
Overall, this continues to be a real success story.

Pollinator Week Coming This Month

If you are gardening in the summer in Florida, consider planting or not digging up flowering plants in your landscape in honor of National Pollinator Week, which is coming June 17-24.
Pollinators are important for everything from the maintenance of healthy wildflower populations to aiding commercial fruit and nut tree production.
Although many people do not think much beyond bees when they think of pollinators, the list is longer.
Florida pollinators include many other kinds of insects including moths, beetles and flies as well as hummingbirds.
In other parts of the world, mammals ranging from bats to lemurs perform pollination duties.
According to pollinator advocates, nearly 80 percent of all flowering plants required pollinators to spread seeds, set fruit and maintain healthy populations.
This issue is particularly important in the context of documented declines in insect populations worldwide as a result of factors that include pesticides and habitat loss.
If you have flowering plants–including some you might consider “weeds” on your property, consider letting them alone, so they can continue to provide pollen to sustain butterflies, moth and other creatures that depend on nectar as a major food source.
This should extend to roadsides , which are often migration paths for pollinators.
This is particularly true in rural areas, where homeowners sometimes heavily mow the roadsides in front of their homes when less aggressive management could result in a more attractive landscape and great wildlife observation opportunities.