Matt Caldwell: Let the market solve our conservation needs


Earlier this year, I offered a unique solution to embracing the benefits of the proposed toll roads while avoiding some of the most challenging costs (Florida Politics: Use existing roads to benefit growth and the environment).

Since then, I’ve been appointed to the task force for the Southwest-Central Florida Connector and one major challenge for this roadway that I left unaddressed in my prior editorial was the new growth, particularly in houses, that would occur along these proposed roadways.

Any new road facility is going to bring higher visibility and with that will come development, which will stress natural resources (water), sever wildlife corridors and potentially bring all of the negative impacts that sprawl can create.

Traditional government tools for avoiding suburban sprawl focus on spending public tax dollars to buy land, either outright or through a conservation easement. However, not only is this often inefficient, there is unlikely ever going to be enough funding to satisfy all of the conservation goals that Floridians want to achieve.

But there is a way, one that relies on the free market to achieve all of the same goals, at no direct cost to the taxpayer — Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs are like conservation easements, but even simpler.

Every property owner has a number of houses that they can legally build already, under their existing land use. What if they could sell off just those housing rights and allow another property owner to stack them on their land, and then retain their land just the way they use it today, which is typically as well managed habitat and in agricultural production?

When I look at this proposed road corridor, there is a geographic area that immediately screams for a program like this and it could easily be coordinated.

Consider the unincorporated (outside of city limits) area located south of State Road 60, west of the Kissimmee River, north of the Caloosahatchee River, and east of I-75 and the Peace River. This area already has roughly 50,000 households today but the current buildout under the existing land use might eventually be as high as 360,000 houses (These are rough figures and may include some land that is already subject to conservation programs, but they accurately reflect the order of magnitude for this region).

These houses are already allowed without any changes to the existing plans and these property rights are exactly what large landowners fear they will be forced to give up without compensation.

Why not create a plan where every property owner has their development rights explicitly recorded in their deed and allow them to trade with one another on the open market?

Wouldn’t it be better for the market to decide where to value new development and where to value conservation than to rely on the slow crawl of bureaucracy?

And we’ve seen an iteration of this program work successfully within the region already. The Town of Babcock Ranch reflects the conservation of nearly 80 percent of the original ranch by shifting development to a relatively small corner of the property.

Could anyone really object to seeing such a successful plan play out at a global scale across the Heartland region?

This plan would help solve the negative consequences of sprawl, while guaranteeing property owners their existing rights and allowing the market to finance the solution at no cost to the taxpayer.

It’s a win-win-win for all Floridians.


Matt Caldwell was a member of the Florida House from 2010-2018 and the Republican nominee for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture in 2018.

Guest Author


  • Sonja Emily Fitch

    October 23, 2019 at 2:20 pm


  • cheryl cook

    October 24, 2019 at 5:02 am

    Has anybody been following this fasttracked monstrosity? It’s called M-CORE. Why didn’t the author call it what it is; Billionaire Boulevard. If you haven’t already been approved to sit on the task force – and you haven’t – then your input is bupkis. If you do sit on the task force – and that isn’t you because a “task force” member doesn’t give a hoot about what you think so they aren’t reading any of this – here’s the description of the only allowable process to move it on through so it can be delivered on DeSantis’ desk in one year: “The Task Force will seek consensus decisions on its recommendations. Consensus is a participatory process whereby, on matters of substance, the Task Force strives for agreements that members can accept, support, live with, or agree not to oppose.” This is from their own documents. Got it? If you don’t agree, sit down and shut up. Of particular note, before government “consensus,” Billionaire Boulevard was agreed to by Jeb Bush, but both Charlie Crist and Rick Scott had no interest in it. Google these terms for yourselves and see how this is being shoved down the throats of Floridians, most actively by Bill Galvano.

  • Tom Palmer

    October 24, 2019 at 10:20 am

    TDRs are useful in some cases, but the example you cite is Indian Lake Estates, a pre-reg development in a rural area that might not have been approved if it were proposed today, may not apply.There are also paper plats for River Ranch Acres, but that is essentially a private hunting club with a bunch of weekend places.TDRs are usually in local land-development codes and I’ve never heard of any that were enacted retroactively.

  • Truth hurts

    October 25, 2019 at 10:25 am

    Do u really think Babcock will keep 80% conservation land? They already had plans to make it the “next Disney world”.

    Unfortunately, many market players will chose development over conservation. Those who will want to conserve land are far and few between!

    tHATS why we need gov protection over conservation lands!

Comments are closed.


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