Residents against the Rural Lifestyle amendment protest ahead of the Martin County Commission meeting Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Stuart.

Martin County is the dividing line between South Florida’s sprawl and less-intense development. On Tuesday, in a very close vote that Friends of the Everglades opposed, the commission voted to open thousands of acres of rural land to suburban-style development.

Kudos is owed to Commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Ciampi as the only two commissioners to hold the line during the vote to move forward with a new land-use designation known as “Rural Lifestyle,” marking what’s arguably the most significant change to the county’s Comprehensive Plan since it was established under the leadership of Maggy Hurchalla.

The Comprehensive Growth Management Plan — carefully crafted protections that maintain responsible limits on development — has served the citizens of Martin County for nearly four decades, and has stood out across the state for its stringent prioritization of the environment and quality of life. Tuesday’s decision opens the door for more aggressive development on agricultural lands outside the Urban Service Boundary in western Martin County.

The outcome of Tuesday’s meeting reminds us of the importance of constituent outreach to our elected officials. We are thankful to the individuals who came out to hold signs and speak out during public comment, and also to more than 200 friends of the Everglades who joined us in sending emails to commissioners ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.

Discussion can sway opinions. Public participation in the issues that stand to have major impacts on our future is imperative. Commissioners Heard and Ciampi saw that yesterday, choosing to side with impassioned residents instead of developers who clearly stood to gain the most from the changes made.

In the wake of this disappointment, we will not give up. This won’t be the last battle to preserve a legacy of conservation — not here in Martin County nor elsewhere across Florida. We must all commit ourselves to continuing to show up. Our founder Marjory Stoneman Douglas once said, “You can’t conserve what you haven’t got.” It will take all of us to keep further environmental degradation at bay. We’re counting on each of you to keep fighting with us.

We recently debuted The Maggy Hurchalla Opportunity Fund dedicated to the memory of one of Martin County’s most impactful environmental heroes. The proceeds of this fund will go toward legal work and advocacy to protect wetlands and green spaces. Yesterday’s outcome proves how important this work remains. If you can, please make a donation today to help us fund the next fight — we know it won’t be far off.