Planners looking to turn Florida sprawl into a development advantage

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The idea is to improve the quality of life in these car-dependent places.

Planning in Florida is not for amateurs. Powerful forces like the state’s growth, coupled with housing policies that have led to prices rising prohibitively high, along with annual disasters that criss-cross the state, create a need for sustainable development.

A way toward that, says Galina Tachieva of DPZ CoDESIGN, is to grab the bull of Florida sprawl by the horns and use it to our advantage.

“We know that almost 300,000 people move here every year, and this is not something which will stop — this migration is expected to continue through 2025,” Tachieva said in a presentation as part of 1000 Friends of Florida’s public policy webinar series. “(Is) this is related to the pandemic? Yes, we know this is probably a huge impetus, or huge factor in the past couple of years, but there are other things.”

Lower taxes — including no state income tax — is a big draw, as are the state’s miles of coastline and warm weather. All those people coming for the bounty Florida has to offer need to be housed somewhere. In past decades, development literally spread far and wide in a state that prospers in the age of the automobile and air conditioner.

“Sprawl hasn’t served us very well in many aspects,” Tachieva said. “Economically, it’s very wasteful. Environmentally, it’s harming the environment. We know that everybody drives and we know what happens with climate change and carbon dioxide and all of these things we’re very well aware.”

Sprawl leaves a lot of unused space — like dead and dying malls — leading planners in new directions, like redeveloping the single-use development of yesterday into the compact communities of tomorrow.

“We have heard there was a movement and there was a renaissance toward urban, walkable places,” Tachieva said. “Even if we fill these places to the maximum, they will not be enough. We will have to … tinker, basically, with our suburbs and with our sprawling communities.”

Recent studies showed people will have to build in areas already touched by sprawl to handle the increased population. Sprawl repair, in this context, includes a strategy to create value out of stranded real estate assets, with a comprehensive method to redevelop these car-dependent, single-use, fragmented spaces into connected and more-walkable communities.

The idea is to improve the quality of life in these car-dependent places.

While these kinds of redevelopments can be an exciting prospect for metropolitan planning efforts, those cities and counties have to want it first.

“Probably the first thing is the community itself has started that process of convincing (residents of in-fill necessity),” Tachieva said.

“It should not be, I think, the task of the planner or the architect to convince the community. They’ve got to have local leadership, first and foremost, whether it’s the municipality, whether it’s the homeowners’ association, whether it’s a local business. If it starts from the community, and leadership and thinking about doing better development and having a more resilient future and growth comes from the community, these are the best results.”

That issue came to the fore in a Fernandina Beach City Commission forum in which all the candidates — including the incumbent and current Mayor — signaled from at the very least an antipathy toward higher-density development, to outright hostility to the idea.

“How many people can we fit in the city and on the island, and can the roads, highways, sidewalks, bike paths, support the number of people you’re going to squeeze in here?” Mayor Mike Lednovich asked at the forum.

“I’m staunchly opposed to a couple developer strategies. One strategy, which I’ve seen in my four years (on the Commission) is rezoning property, and the example I can give you are the (Vintage) apartments on 14th and Lime.”

That was rezoned before his time on the Commission, he said, from commercial to high-density residential. Lednovich said he voted against every such zoning change since he won election to the Commission.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook:


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