Caught between developers on one hand and environmental preservationists on the other, Palm Beach County Commissioners Tuesday postponed any decision on opening the county's Agricultural Reserve to greater commercial development.
For now, that is. The board voted to move from this week's workshop to a "round-table discussion" this summer at which both sides will continue to argue the matter. So the fate of the reserve's 21,000 acres of specially protected, environmentally sensitive land still hangs in the balance.
The product of a 1999 referendum in which county voters authorized a $100 million bond issue to purchase farmland and create a buffer between suburbia and the Everglades, the Reserve's current guidelines permit just two commercial sites in the area.
The pave-and-build forces, with politically connected firms like Urban Design Kilday Studios and commercial developers Schmier & Feurring in the lead, present their case as mere minor adjustments to the reserve's guidelines. Also in that camp are some of the area's farm owners, who see their property values cramped by current limitations.
Those opposed to laxer rules fear a boiling frog scenario. "If we go ahead with this kind of plan," Myrna Rosoff, president of the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations told the board, "we're going to see pavement and concrete that will never come off the land again."
New Times will be interested to see which side coughs up new campaign contributions between now and the summer roundtable.
As previously reported, just months ago Schmier & Feuring and its principals, as well as its advocate Land Design South, donated $3,500 to Commissioner Steven Abrams' campaign. Commissioner Mary Lou Berger had previously taken $1,250 from LDS and its principal, Bob Bentz.
Additionally, in her 2012 campaign, Berger took more than $2,400 from Urban Design Kilday Studios and its principals, while developer attorney Mark Perry, who also spoke yesterday, has, over the years, given $750 to Commissioner Shelley Vana's campaigns.
Berger has been the most visible advocate of chipping away at the Ag Reserve. But Abrams too pushed for the camel's nose under the tent Tuesday, telling workshop participants that while major changes "would be ill-advised," the commission "should have the ability to make some minor modifications.''
The problem with that is, like junkies, developers are always hungry for just a little bit more.
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.
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