By Charlie Strader
No, I am not writing this about the city’s efforts to annex lands on its northern boundaries. Rather I am talking about the land in the city east of the interstate.
The city recently hired a consulting firm to prepare a report on part of the designated Density Reduction, Groundwater Resource (DRGR) area. The consultants concluded that the best thing for the area was to change our Comprehensive Plan to allow more suburbia, increasing the number of allowed homes and adding commercial zoning. They proposed that having new homes in the area would improve water quality, help with flooding issues, improve the tax base and help pay for road expansion, including four-laning East Terry Street over the interstate along with Bonita Grande. Their suggestion was to change the zoning of much of the area from current one house per 10 acres, to allow three houses plus per one acre, for a density increase of about three thousand percent plus.
A big part of the rationale in the study to increase density in the DRGR is that the city is will soon face a scarcity of land to develop. This seems to be another one of those things that can be seen two ways. Some hear the battle cry of “we are running out of land” and therefore think we must develop what is left, and others think if “we are running out of land” we should conserve it.
Expansion of communities is nothing new in Florida’s history. At least our city’s latest thrust for expansion is made without spear points or bullets. Rather, the campaign is much more subtle and made modern with the use of bullet points and powerpoints.
History can run in cycles. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a substantive push and regulations created to protect our environment and “control” development sprawl. One of the important measures taken was Florida’s Growth Management Act of 1985 which implemented review process at the state level and concurrency provisions that attempted to make sure local governments would have the infrastructure needed for new development. However in the last decade, recent actions by the state government has done away with much of the state’s review and control, including giving concurrency decisions back to the local governments.
So, we should not be surprised that the push for sprawl is back, given the influence on local governments by the pro-development community and the eased regulations. Also, politically, city government mostly hears from those who are pro-development re: the DRGR area, which is natural as they often have a direct financial stake. Others who are against changing our Comprehensive Plan, do not have/take the time to protest, or are simply unaware of proposed changes. The reality is that we have few environmental organizations in town — and who wants to fight City Hall anyway? There is a reason for the expression “You can’t fight City Hall.’’
The city of Bonita Springs currently has about 46,000 residents and many more people during winter season. We have already allowed for city for up to about 250,000 residents on future land use maps. This leads many to conclude that we are running out of land and need to increase the density 3,000 percent in much of the DRGR land, or add about another 13,000 people to our city. To others this defies the basic tenets of smart growth, such as go up, not out, and that of infill new development, not sprawl-out.
Many think “why not sprawl?’’ as it will be good for the city, and others think it is inevitable as that is the history of Florida development. After all, the East Coast sprawled all the way to the boundaries of the Everglades, why would we not develop to the boundaries of protected lands to our east?
The city’s new DRGR study is a land use study, not a water management study, which, considering how the area floods and concerns of water quality in our rivers and estuaries, would seem to put the cart before the horse. However, that is the planning strategy to date. We are to have faith and believe that increasing density will help solve our water and road issues, and adding more people will be good for the city as a whole.
City Council will soon be deciding if new subdivisions are coming to town. I can’t help to think about appropriate names for the new developments, like Cypress Trace, Wading Waters, Bears Run, Imperial Farms, Verdant Acres, Bobcat Bottom and in homage to the existing mine (and The Flintstones), how about Bonita Bedrock? There are lots of ironic names for all the new, raised roads, like Landfill Lane, Filldirt Avenue, Ditch Drive, Canal Street, Critter Court, Drain Circle, Panther Place — you get the idea.
I imagine all kinds of slogans to support both sides of the issue. Maybe for the pro-development side: “Four lanes are twice as good as two!’’ “More stores; did someone say ‘shop’?’’ “Water, what water? None here in the winter.’’ “Impact fees work.’’ “See land, clear land, develop land.” “Step away from the bulldozer and no one will get hurt.’’ “Sprawl is superb, y’all.’’
On the “con’’side of more new development, there is “Suffer the Suburbs.’’ “Small Town Charm, Big Bright Swamp.’’ “Water Flows, Not Traffic Flows.’’ “No More Sprawl from City Hall.’’ “Don’t Be Donors To Big Land Owners.’’ “Mind Our Comp Plan, Don’t Build on Swamp Land.’’ “More Pollution is No Solution.’’ “Our River Is Beautiful, We Must Be Dutiful.’’
I never said I was a comedian, just another concerned citizen and proud environmentalist who has driven many a road in Florida and is not ready to swallow the “pill” of more development being good for the environment.
Strader, past president of local historical and archeological societies, works as a eco-tour operator specializing in Central and South America.