|Farmton a 'planning travesty,' former state growth chief says in hearing|
|Written by Marjorie Holt|
|Wednesday, September 14 2011|
A planning travesty - The former secretary of the Department of Community affairs testified this week for the Sierra Club at the Farmton Hearing. The Orlando Sentinel article outlines why he rejected this project as well as the environmental significance of this extensive tract of land owned by the Miami Corp located in Volusia and Brevard Counties.
11:02 PM EDT, September 13, 201
The former head of Florida's growth-management agency testified Tuesday that the proposed city of Farmton would be "a planning travesty" if allowed to move forward because it would bring as many as 23,000 homes to a remote, environmentally sensitive area.
Tom Pelham, former secretary of the state Department of Community Affairs, told an administrative law judge that he rejected Farmton plans approved by Volusia County because they would have allowed excessive development on a massive expanse of wetlands and forests.
"It's very rural, it's remote from any significant existing urban development and it's very, very wet," Pelham testified during a hearing in DeLand.
He later added: "It is, in my opinion, a planning travesty to allow this in an area that [Volusia] County recognized as an environmentally sensitive area for lots of reasons."
Farmton, which could one day have 50,000 residents, is proposed for 59,000 acres west of Interstate 95 in Brevard and Volusia counties. The acreage, one of the largest undeveloped tracts in Central Florida, is now a tree farm that's home to black bears and other wildlife.
The landowner, Miami Corp., has said that plans for Farmton are within the law and that they protect most of the acreage from development. As a tradeoff for the right to build 23,000 homes and more than 4 million square feet of commercial space, the company agreed to place more than 80 percent of the land under permanent conservation.
After Gov. Rick Scott took office, Pelham's successor, Billy Buzzett, approved a 50-year development outline for Farmton, and environmentalists are challenging that decision.
Pelham testified for four hours on behalf of the environmentalists, the Sierra Club and local activist Barbara Herrin to explain why he rejected the Farmton plan.
How much weight his testimony will have is unclear. Under Scott, the state's planning law has been changed dramatically. The new law watered down the legal definition of urban sprawl and removed the requirement that a new development must prove it is needed.
The new law took away much of the state's role in controlling growth, leaving such decisions to local governments, and DCA will be eliminated Oct. 1.
The administrative law judge, David M. Maloney, said he would rule on the case using the new law. Still, Maloney allowed Pelham to testify about problems he saw in the Farmton project and about how the plan doesn't follow Volusia's overall planning policies.
Pelham testified that Volusia's comprehensive plan has long discouraged development in environmentally sensitive areas. He said new development should be targeted for areas that already have "urban services" such as utilities, roads and schools.
"There are really no urban services available in Farmton, and I don't know when there will be," he said. "It's out in the middle of nowhere."
The judge is not expected to issue a ruling for several weeks.
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