Friends of the Everglades executive director Eve Samples delivered the following comments opposing the “Rural Lifestyle” Amendment to Martin County’s comprehensive plan at the Martin County Board of County Commissioners meeting on April 19, 2022.

I’m Eve Samples, executive director of Friends of the Everglades, which was founded in 1969 by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and is now headquartered in Stuart. 

Our organization, which is dedicated to protecting the Everglades and its connected waterways — including the St. Lucie River — stands with our allies at 1000 Friends of Florida in opposing the proposed “Rural Lifestyles” amendment to Martin County’s comprehensive plan. 

We thank Commissioners Sarah Heard and Stacey Hetherington for voting against this concerning amendment during its first public hearing in February, and we respectfully implore all Martin County Commissioners to reject it today. 

If approved, it would pose serious long-term threats to our community that go well beyond the Discovery Land Co./Becker Holding proposal to build on 1,500 acres.

The new “Rural Lifestyles” land use would undermine the very philosophy that Martin County’s comprehensive plan is based on — a philosophy that has made this community different, more environmentally protective than its counterparts to the north and south, and has served us well for the better part of four decades. 

That philosophy boils down to this: Development should occur within the Urban Services District (USD) until the district approaches its capacity for additional development. Then, and only then, should the district be expanded. 

We have not reached capacity inside the USD in Martin County. So, where is the justification for this major amendment to Martin County’s comprehensive plan? What’s the demonstrated need?

Yes, the owners of these lands stand to make a profit by changing their land use to allow denser development — but that does not mean you are obligated to grant the request. Landowners have no guaranteed right under state law to intensify their land use, particularly not when it undermines the county’s approved development rules.

We agree with 1000 Friends of Florida that the “Rural Lifestyles” amendment poses the following threats:

  1. It would quadruple the density of development allowable on more than 130,000 acres of agricultural lands in Martin County.
  2. It would allow for massive increases in development without economic analysis of costs to taxpayers for new roads and other infrastructure, the loss of revenue from productive agricultural lands, or impacts on water.
  3. It would undercut decades of sound planning to protect Martin County’s rural lands, creating the opportunity for sprawling development outside of the county’s urban service areas.
  4. It could leave the county vulnerable to a legal challenge because both a specific development and a major county land-use change are being considered simultaneously. 

Martin County is different from counties to the north and south because of its comprehensive plan, which prioritizes the environment and quality of life by maintaining responsible limits on development — and directing it within the Urban Services District.

The new “Rural Lifestyle” land use designation to allow suburban-style resort development outside the USD would violate that core tenet. 

Friends of the Everglades moved to Stuart in 2019 in part because of the legacy of environmental protection that Martin County is known for. Please uphold those environmental protections by rejecting this proposed amendment today.