Business interests pushing for looser restrictions on commercial development within Palm Beach County's Agricultural Reserve -- 21,000 acres of specially protected, environmentally sensitive land -- have lead the County Commission to reconsider zoning in the area, causing alarm among members of the local environmental community.
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Tuesday morning, before a board which includes two members -- Commissioners Steven Abrams and Mary Lou Berger -- who have received campaign finance support from the developer and its allies whose petition sparked the review.
The hearing was prompted by the efforts last year of Schmier & Feurring, a Boca Raton commercial property developer, who last year proposed an amendment to the county's Comprehensive Plan that would allow S&F to put up a five-acre shopping complex in the Reserve. The Plan, which since 1980 has safeguarded the area, presently allows for just two commercial sites in the Reserve.
County planning officials recommended against S&F in June but the measure was brought up before the Board of Commissioners in December. The developer's proposal was not approved but, with vocal support from Commissioners Berger and Abrams, the Board voted 4-3 to hold a workshop on looser restrictions.
Not typically a major contributor to local political campaigns, within a month of the Commission's workshop vote, Schmier & Feuring and its principals, as well as its advocate Land Design South, donated $3500 to Abrams' campaign. Berger had previously taken a total of $1250 from LDS and its principal, Bob Bentz.
Press reports indicate Ag Reserve residents are divided on the need for more commercial development in their neighborhood, an area where, following a 1999 referendum, the county has invested over $100 million for preservation. But the environmental community is up in arms over the prospect of eventually killing the Reserve by the death of a thousand cuts.
"It's just another example of [developers] changing the rules to help themselves," said Joanne Davis, a community planner with watchdog group 1000 Friends of Florida, when a similar proposal was floated to the Board in January. "It's turning into a free-for-all."
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers public affairs and culture in Palm Beach County and elsewhere. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.