As City of Miami Commissioners consider final tweaks before implementation of Miami 21 this week, they should be proud that our own code is already influencing land use laws all around the country. In our own backyard, the Lee County Board of Commissioners just recently approved a plan for the Southeast part of the county which will be awarded a Charter Award at this year’s Congress for the New Urbanism. The project plans for 150 square miles of Lee County, Florida (east of Fort Myers) that hosts neighborhoods, limerock mines, farms, endangered species and public water supply wells (as a comparison, the City of Miami encompasses 55 square miles). This area is the main water supply for Lee County which is expected to have a million residents by 2030.
The plan proposes a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Program to create 11 compact, complete, transit-ready and sustainable communities in the midst of preserved farmland and habitat. All of the development rights in the 150 square mile can be utilized on a fraction of the area previously allowed for development. The project area has 3-unit per acre sprawl to the north and west, but has up to now been ‘‘protected’’ by a 1-unit-per-10-acre density requirement. As with our own UDB/agricultural area, this has led to over development by limerock mining and large-lot subdivisions.
By building more compactly, agricultural lands shall continue to produce local food; natural lands such as wetlands which contain public supply wells are preserved, and pathways for endangered species such as the Florida panther remain undisturbed. Each community has been coded to allow the appropriate level of food production – from large community-supported farms to roof gardens – based on the Food Production Module of the SmartCode. The plan allows build-out of the traditional mining corridor in the northwest of the site hand-in-hand with flowway restoration. By mining compactly, Lee County can satisfy the region’s need for limerock used in building materials and restore the flowways that purify surface water en route to the Estero Bay.
The project included a two-week charrette (including nine stakeholder meetings), 23 steering committee meetings, six approval meetings and was unanimously approved by the County Board. The design of each plan involved input from property owners and neighbors. Each of the proposed new communities is designed in accordance with the LEED for Neighborhood Development criteria. The approval of the communities shall be ‘‘as-of-right’’ as the plans have been approved by local neighbors and neighborhood associations and endorsed by environmental groups such as 1,000 Friends of Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Sites for schools and municipal buildings were embedded into each community within walking distance to homes at even the farthest periphery of the proposed neighborhoods.
This is a big win for smart growth and conservation advocates across the US. Our county commission should look to this plan to learn how other urbanized areas balance mining, development and conservation. Bravo Lee County!!
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