‘New urbanist’ plan for 4,200 homes west of Palm City gets a look
TCPALM (Feb 22, 2018), Gil Smart
Earlier this month I took a drive out Citrus Boulevard, west of Palm City. I looked at slash pines, saw palmettos and sable palms.
And what I saw was the future.
Well, one man’s vision of the future. Knight Kiplinger, the Washington D.C.-based financial journalist whose family has long called Martin County its “second home,” wants to build 4,200 homes on some 3,417 acres — a 5.3-square-mile parcel that’s actually larger than Palm City or Hobe Sound.
All of which sounds faintly ridiculous. Kiplinger’s development, Pineland Prairie, would in effect be building a brand new small town. In Martin County, of all places — where you can’t knock over a blade of grass without someone moaning about “Browardization.”
How’s this going to work?
To listen to Kiplinger, and see his drawings, the answer is: perfectly.
Kiplinger’s proposal will be the subject of a public hearing before the Martin County Local Planning Agency on Wednesday. Ultimately, the Martin County Commission will need to sign off; Kiplinger hopes the plan will go to the board in April.
Officials will consider comprehensive plan changes to accommodate the development; the county actually doesn’t have language in its zoning ordinances to allow Kiplinger to build the “Mixed Use Village” he wants to construct.
So, helpfully, he brought in planners to craft code he hopes the county will adopt, permitting neighborhoods “with a diverse mix of uses and housing types (that preserve) large swaths of open space.”
That, in a nutshell, is the plan for Pineland Prairie. But I’d driven out to Citrus Boulevard to get a gander at how, exactly, all this would fit into the landscape.
Citrus Boulevard is a pleasant “back door” into Martin County from Port St. Lucie, a sanguine drive. Kiplinger knows it. And in fact, he’ll keep much of it that way.
The property is shaped roughly like the state of Nebraska; just past Citrus Grove Elementary School, it borders Citrus Boulevard to the north. Here Kiplinger envisions “industrial neighborhoods” — light industry interspersed with homes, a community center, tree-lined public squares and corner stores.
Heading west/northwest, beginning at Boatramp Road, Citrus Boulevard bisects the remainder of the site all the way to the St. Lucie County line. But for the first mile or so, vistas would remain largely untouched, with open fields separating the new neighborhoods from the main artery. Cattle would graze in sight of the new rooftops; preserved wetlands would continue to provide shelter for critters like the 6-foot alligator we saw while there.
It wouldn’t be until you hit the center of town, the “Crossroads,” where you’d be out of the woods and into the heart of Kiplinger’s “new urbanist” vision.
Here you’d have tree-lined streets and retail storefronts, a grocery store and a farm market with a water tower; a mix of old and new, the type of place where you want to park, get out and walk. That’s the point of these “walkable” neighborhoods, which really don’t exist in Martin County right now.
Further north, near the St. Lucie County line, Kiplinger envisions community gardens lining Citrus Boulevard, along with 150 acres allotted to larger-scale agriculture. On the west/southwestern side of the road would be: nothing. A few trails; most of the area will stay exactly the way it is now.
All told, 30 percent of the site would be developed, with 70 percent — 2,000 acres — kept as open space.
That would make it the third-biggest “park” in Martin County.
Kiplinger is obviously a wonk when it comes to new urbanist ideas. But — witness the financial publications bearing his name — he’s also a savvy businessman.
Tomorrow’s home buyers “don’t want a big yard, they like porches, and they like to meet their neighbors,” he said. “Our county needs good housing for young adults of a size and style they want. … Gated golf course communities are not an unmet need in Martin County.”
Couple that with the fact Kiplinger expects the project to be environmentally neutral — some land will be devoted to cleaning water from the C-23 canal and quite a few of those slash pines, saw palmettos and sable palms will stay right where they are — and you’ve got, I think, a true example of “smart growth.”
It remains to be seen how Martin County on the whole will react to this. I can already see the Facebook laments: NO MORE DEVELOPMENT!!!
But Kiplinger has gone out of his way to meet with local leaders, community groups and everyday citizens to explain what he’s trying to do, and to solicit feedback. A good bit of that feedback has been positive.
And let’s emphasize that “smart growth” does not mean “no growth.” It means — and here I’m stealing from the group Smart Growth America — “an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement.”
On this basis, for all the talk about “smart growth” in Martin County, we don’t have much of it.
That could change — starting this week.
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