Gil Smart: ‘New urbanism’ coming to Martin County?
TCPALM (May 9, 2017), Gil Smart
Where’s the “ka-boom?”
There was supposed to be an earth-shattering “ka-boom.”
And if you think it’s odd to begin a column with a quote from Marvin the Martian, consider that last week a major Martin County landowner announced he wanted to develop nearly 3,400 acres, and the response was… silence.
In space no one can hear you scream, I guess.
The landowner in question is Knight Kiplinger. You’ve heard of the Kiplinger Letter and Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine? Right, that’s his company, based in Washington, D.C. But the Kiplinger family has a long history in Martin County. Knight’s grandfather vacationed here in the 1950s and liked it so much he bought a home in Sewall’s Point. In 1980, Kiplinger’s firm bought 3,375 acres nestled between the Florida Turnpike and Interstate 95 in Palm City, a property he dubbed “Pineland Prairie.”
Last week, Kiplinger took out a full-page ad in our publication saying he envisioned turning the site into “a wonderful new kind of community — something that doesn’t exist anywhere in Martin County, or indeed, anywhere in our state.”
Kiplinger envisions Pineland Prairie as a mixed-use, walkable neighborhood where homes are located adjacent to businesses and significant amounts of undeveloped open space remain, situated alongside small-scale agriculture and outdoor recreation.
He has even suggested building temporary water retention areas to help clean water from the C-23 canal.
You see neighborhoods like the one Kiplinger loosely has in mind elsewhere in the country. The concept is dubbed “New Urbanism,” though Kiplinger prefers the term “neo-traditional town planning” because “my ideal towns are less ‘urban’ than ‘small-town’ in feel, like Stuart itself,” he said via email. “This concept, I believe, should be one of several choices of living styles that our county offers to current and future residents.”
Kiplinger hasn’t yet pitched specifics, and in his ad — and on a website devoted to the project, pinelandprairie.com — he asks for the community’s input. He sets out his broad vision of what the community could be but wants to know what local leaders, business owners and residents think.
He’s meeting one-on-one with many in the community, and stopped out at our offices last week as part of his “listening tour,” where I spoke with him in person.
And in general, Kiplinger wants people to “describe their personal priorities for Martin County’s future and to suggest ways that this land can help meet our county’s needs” in terms of the environment, housing and the local economy.
And here’s where I expected the “ka-boom!”
Here’s where I expected, and still expect, people in Martin County to go into shut-down-all-growth mode. “We don’t need more houses!” they’ll lament — although we do. “We don’t need to pave over any more land” — although what Kiplinger loosely envisions would keep paving to a minimum.
And of course I expected “No more traffic!” — though if Pineland Prairie were designed according to New Urbanist principles, traffic would be minimized because of something called “internal capture.” That is, people wouldn’t have to leave the neighborhood for each and every need.
Let’s talk about that for a moment because it occurs to me many who complain the loudest about traffic live in neighborhoods that actually maximize it — with exactly one way in and one way out, with no shopping or commercial/office space whatsoever. That type of neighborhood means every resident who needs the littlest thing must get in his/her vehicle and clog the roads of Martin County. And that so many neighborhoods have been built in this fashion is one huge reason why those roads always are so clogged.
Anyway, I’m still waiting for the “ka-boom,” but in the meantime Kiplinger said he has gotten some substantive feedback. Hopefully, a thoughtful dialogue can continue.
Pineland Prairie faces many hurdles, particularly the fact that most of the site is outside the urban services district and isn’t served by municipal sewer or water. That could be a huge fight.
But in a broad sense, Kiplinger’s right. It’s time for Martin County to consider, and perhaps change its regulations to accommodate, mixed-use development like the one he has in mind. Our housing market isn’t going to be dominated by wealthy retirees forever. If this county is to be attractive to a younger demographic and the type of jobs they want and the community needs, a wider variety of housing/neighborhood options needs be available.
“Change,” however, tends to be a dirty word in Martin County. Which is why, if and when the “ka-boom” comes, it might have less to do with the specifics of Pineland Prairie than it does with the idea the county needs such a neighborhood in the first place.
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