In first review, amendments to enable Kiplinger’s Pineland Prairie earn unanimous approval

STUART (March 2, 2018) —In its first public governmental review, Pineland Prairie—the new village proposed by financial publisher Knight Kiplinger for his family’s 3,400-acre property in Palm City—earned a 5-0 vote of approval from the Martin County Local Planning Agency this week.

The proposed land use and text amendments necessary to implement the new compact, mixed-use community–which also received positive comments from the county’s planning staff–will now advance to the Martin County Commissioners for consideration.

“I think it’s an awesome project you guys have stepped into,” said Jim Moir, chair of the LPA. “It’s a new thing. It’s a scary thing. It’s precedent-setting. I don’t know how [others might] follow that act, though. I think that because of the place, because of the owner, because of the vision, it’s going to be difficult to match.”

Kiplinger’s family have been seasonal residents, landowners and philanthropists in Martin County since 1952, and they purchased the Palm City property in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.  Most of the land has been kept natural ever since, with less than 1,000 acres of it used for citrus, cattle grazing and vegetable farming.

The site—characterized during the meeting as an “infill site”—lies between the Florida Turnpike and I-95, south of the C-23 canal. It is surrounded on all sides by residential development, including Martin Downs, Port St. Lucie, Stuart West and Cobblestone, Canopy Creek, and Palm City Farms.

Members of the county’s Growth Management Department, which conducted the application review, concluded that Pineland Prairie’s proposed land-use and text amendments “have the potential to advance the achievement of numerous (Comprehensive Growth Management Plan) goals, objectives and policies.”

By allowing compact, mixed-use development on a third of the property while protecting the remaining two-thirds, the amendment would “facilitate a form of development not now available in Martin County but encouraged in numerous planning documents,” the staff report said.

Public comment at the LPA hearing was largely positive, with seven speakers in support and four citizens raising questions about future traffic and existing drainage issues in Palm City Farms.

Although he raised concerns about possible impact to the region’s hydrology, Van Stuck of Palm City complemented the applicant’s “excellent presentation,” which, he said, had “indeed assuaged some of my concerns.”

“You’ve done a marvelous job in communicating this plan to the community,” said Joe Banfi, an LPA member, “and in creating the plan with vision. I think the plan will be an asset to the county—and bring quality to the county.”

LPA member Scott Watson echoed these sentiments. “I think it’s refreshing. I think the assurances are there. I think this is groundbreaking, and it’s something Martin County is going to be extremely proud of when it’s done.”

Last May, Kiplinger launched a “listening tour,” visiting neighboring communities and civic groups to gather input on what type of proposal Pineland Prairie should put forth. Meeting with more than 700 people and contacting 3,600 surrounding property owners allowed him to identify and address many concerns in advance.

Currently, roughly 500 of the 3,400 acres lie inside the county’s primary urban service district and have zoning rights that could yield up to 10 million square feet of light industrial uses. The remainder of the site is zoned for 5-acre ranchettes.

Pineland Prairie proposes a creative reorganization of the current rights and incorporates a mix of uses to create a compact, walkable, mixed-use village surrounded by countryside. The proposal places 70 percent of the total 3,400 acres in publicly accessible open spaces of various kinds—natural lands with hiking and biking trails, agriculture, sports playing fields, equestrian fields, cattle pastures and a variety of marshes, ponds and waterways.

The most natural lands will be protected in perpetuity with open-space conservation easements recorded as deed restrictions at the county courthouse. Management of the natural lands will be shared between the owner and a nonprofit land trust. This will ensure that the broad swath of forested areas, dry uplands and wetlands will remain natural and preserved, as the village is developed, over more than 20 years, on the land cleared long ago for agriculture.

“From my long experience with recorded deed easements, I’ve never seen them modified,” Kiplinger said. “I’ve seen them remain in perpetuity. I’ve seen easements from 1880 being enforced today. It is more likely that a government, local or federal, can change its mind about a land use, so I would prefer to trust the tightness of recorded deed restrictions [rather than] the whim of future governments.”