Property rights came up against urban sprawl during a meeting of ranchers and farmers, as they crafted their response to new development pressure in the county’s rural east side.
In the end, they were unanimous in their recommendation to Charlotte County commissioners.
The Agriculture and Natural Resources Advisory Committee recommended on Thursday to substantially reduce the number of homes that subdivision developers could build in rural parts of the county. Specifically, their recommendation would lead to a local citrus farm owner, George Winslow, being allowed to build 360 rather than 900 homes on his 900-acre farm north of Bermont Road.
Ultimately, the county commission must decide on the proposed zoning law for a so-called conservation subdivisions.
“We’re boxed into a situation that is not economically feasible,” Winslow told his fellow farmers and ranchers. “We’ve got to accept the reality of today, and plan for the future.”
Lawyer Geri Waksler, speaking for Citrus Grove, said no developer has come forward to use the Conservation Subdivision regulations that the county adopted in 2011.
“The amount of density doesn’t work,” she said.
Without developers using the new law, there is no incentive to build wildlife corridors, she said. Also, she said, there is no incentive to stop fragmenting the landscape with one house per 10 acres, as is currently allowed.
Adopted after many public hearings, the bylaw that Citrus Grove wants to change, allows one home per five acres of total property. It also requires 70 percent of that property to be set aside as open. The effect is to cluster many homes on a small space, surrounded by either farmland or wild land. For Winslow, that meant he could build 180 homes instead of 90, and on 270 acres. Also, he could keep part of his farm going. Under the new proposal, he could build 900 homes on 450 acres. In exchange, he would build a wider wildlife corridor than currently required, and he would pay into a density transfer system of nearby property already set aside to be undeveloped.
The agriculture committee accepted most of the proposal, except the 900 houses part.
“I’m of the opinion that agriculture needs to stay agriculture,” said committee member Lindsay Harrington. “I hate to see it dwindle, dwindle, dwindle away.”
Harrington said home owners will still want to build on single, large lots in east county.
“The time is not ripe for this to happen.”
Other committee members, however, sympathized with the need of a farmer to sell off part of the property, to keep the farm going or to support future generations.
“To me, it’s about property rights,” said committee member Joel Beverly.
Developer team members assured the committee that the Citrus Grove project would not seek the full 900 homes. So some committee members decided the density could be lower.
Beverly proposed a up vote recommending the project. Harrington amended the proposal, lowering the density from one house per total acre to one house per 2.5 total acres. After the vote, Waksler said, “It’s not going to work.”