Palm Beach Post
August 8, 2017
By: Drew Martin
Why the GL Land Swap is Bad for the County
There have been several letters published in favor of a land swap from the Agricultural Reserve for land in the Loxahatchee/Acreage region. This would be damaging to the Ag Reserve, and a money-loser for the county. Taxpayers voted to put $100 million toward preserving land in the Ag Reserve. The northwest county land folks want to swap is of far less value than the land in the Ag Reserve. It is also already agricultural land, so the county would gain no benefit. But the county would lose extremely valuable agricultural land in the Ag Reserve.
Years ago, we attended workshops on the Ag Reserve where we sought reduced development there to reduce traffic. Many of the nursery owners and farmers who complain about traffic have been the same ones who ask to increase development percentages on their lands. You can’t have it both ways. If you are concerned about traffic, then increasing development will only increase traffic problems. These owners are seeking zoning changes that will increase their land values but decrease the land values of the surrounding properties by taking away open space and agriculture.
Flood insurance rates in the county are tied to maintaining undeveloped land in agriculture that can retain floodwaters during storms. If these lands are developed, they are no longer available to retain floodwaters or recharge the aquifer. In addition, the Ag Reserve has always been a valuable producer of winter vegetables.
One of the letters noted only a 1- or 2-degree difference between the Ag Reserve and the proposed land in the north. But the difference between 33 degrees and 31 degrees is the difference between keeping a vegetable crop or losing a vegetable crop. When farmers came here they recognized the benefits of the Ag Reserve. That is why this area has remained historically an important farming area. Palm Beach County is the largest agriculture-producing county in Florida.
The Ag Reserve is not an ideal area for affordable housing because of its distance from the major transportation systems such as Tri-Rail and Interstate 95. It risks flooding, and it is already crowded with too much traffic. Affordable housing should be close to the main highway and railway links to downtown areas.
Finally, we cannot diminish our ability to feed ourselves by removing farmland for housing. We need to reject this swap idea and protect the Agricultural Preserve within the Ag Reserve.
DREW MARTIN, LAKE WORTH
Editor’s note: Drew Martin is conservation chairman for the Loxahatchee Group of the Sierra Club.