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Palm Beach Daily Business Review - Jun 8, 2005

Region Throws in the Towel on 'Eastward Ho!

Frank Schnidman

A decade ago, the Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida coined the term "Eastward Ho!" to describe a vision of economically vibrant eastern urban centers based upon sustainable development principles, and a western urban development boundary that would not only protect the Everglades and agricultural lands, but also serve as a basis for public policy to foster the location of new development and redevelopment along the eastern coastal fringe.

Though county and local governments in South Florida repeatedly cited this report and the Eastward Ho! directive, no major effort was undertaken to turn recommendations into required action.

In fact, in one of the first major decisions dealing with the location of a government-funded, growth inducing project to be made following the commission report, the Broward County Commission placed its new arena and home for the Florida Panthers about as far west as you could get - at the edge of the Everglades. More recently, we are witnessing government actions that give the message that reducing development pressure on the Everglades and fostering eastern development and redevelopment is no longer a recognized public policy.

In Palm Beach County, the decision of its commission to select and start development on the Mecca Farms site for the Scripps Research Institute has sent the clear message that commissioners intend to open up the western areas of the county to development as they implement their plan to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to create the infrastructure necessary to accommodate Everglades fringe urban sprawl.

In addition, a recently approved western sector plan provides for as many as 8,100 homes and 2 million square feet of commercial space in low density sprawl that will also result in new homes costing well above the market average because of open space and large lot size requirements.

2020 vision

In Broward County, the recently issued report of Vision Broward, an effort to visualize the county in 2020 and make recommendations to improve the quality of life for its citizens, coined the term "From Sawgrass to Seagrass" to describe a theme to preserve natural resources, enhance the environmental quality of life and promote ecotourism. It is, also, recognition that Broward County has spread from ocean to Everglades, and that now is the time for the government and the private sector to focus on improving the quality of the natural and build environment.

Yes, Broward County's urbanization reaches all edges of the county, and its "vision" is no longer "Eastward Ho!" but one of trying to identify ways to foster sustainable development and redevelopment everywhere. Infill and redevelopment are the focus of government policy as there is no more Everglades fringe area to protect - it has all been committed to development.

In Miami-Dade County, where an urban development boundary has helped protect the western areas of the county since 1975 and helped foster redevelopment in the east, the County Commission is facing the biggest push in 15 years to move the line closer to the Everglades. A boundary change was last made in 2002 for a parcel eight miles from the Everglades. Now the commission is facing numerous requests, including one for 5,400 homes that would sprawl within one mile of the Everglades.

"Mistakes made and lessons learned" used to be a way to describe how the experience of others could be used to help make better decisions. Lately, it has been more politically correct to look at "experience gained" from the actions of others. No matter what you call it, it appears that Broward County's "leadership" in planning for and providing infrastructure for development to cover the entire county has not been used by Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties to learn and to act in ways to better plan for and manage the growth facing the region.

Smart growth emphasis

In Broward County, recognizing that options are limited to accommodate new development, there has been increasing emphasis on "smart growth," on providing for higher-density, well-planned mixed-use development that can enhance the quality of life for county residents - providing more than just one suburban housing tract and gated community after another with distant jobs and shopping.

Sunrise, home of the Office Depot Center, is now planning a town center, as are many western communities. And, numerous communities are evaluating proposals from landowners and developers to modify plans and regulations to allow the last remaining large parcels to be developed as mixed- use centers rather that single-family residential sprawl.

The Commons proposal in Davie is just one example of this, where a 152-acre site at the intersection of I-75 and Arvida Parkway is being reviewed for change from one unit per acre of residential development to a mixed-use project of retail, office and hotel space. Plans for Cooper City's Waldrep Dairy property is another example of a proposal to allow a mixed-use development on the 400-acre site to provide a neo-traditional, pedestrian-friendly town center and housing development is under consideration.

Smart growth projects also are being approved and considered throughout the region - covering both infill projects and redevelopment. From the efforts to address true slum and blight conditions, to efforts to take advantage of market recognition of areas formerly not attractive to redevelopment, to the infill of passed over problem sites, we see government and the private sector coming together to address problems of neighborhood impact while moving forward with these projects.

Whether we are talking about the efforts of West Palm Beach to create a true downtown, the efforts of North Miami to partner with a developer to use the 200-acre Biscayne Landing project as the economic engine to fund the redevelopment of most of the city, or the array of other creative efforts in the region, we can not lose sight of the Everglades protection issue.

In recent editorials, major newspapers in the region have clearly expressed concern about western expansion toward the Everglades and the message that this sends not only to the private sector but also to Congress, our partner in the $8 billion restoration effort.

Broward County development has spread to its borders, a government-approved development pattern that creates a series of challenges to improving the quality of life for its residents. Serious efforts are under way to deal with these challenges, from both the public and private sectors. Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County seem to be following the 20th century Broward sprawl model, even though in theory they have public policies that purport to be efforts to contain the sprawl of low density urbanization and the protection of the Everglades.

Given the reality of what is occurring, the region seems destined to completely develop "From Sawgrass to Seagrass," with "Browardization" the development pattern for the region. How can this be? Even Broward laments its past and strives for a smart growth future with its infill and redevelopment efforts. Where is the leadership that says, "Whoa." It is time to take the reins in hand and keep our promise to preserve and protect the Everglades and our promise to create a quality of life that will make South Florida one of the most livable communities in the United States! u

Frank Schnidman is senior fellow at the Florida Atlantic University Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions (CUES), and director of the CUES Redevelopment and Revitalization in Southeast Florida project (