1000 Friends of Florida

Planning for Smarter Growth in Palm Beach County

1000 Friends of Florida is working with Palm Beach County citizens, government leaders and business community representatives to promote more sensible planning for growth and development in Palm Beach County. Many call this “smart growth.” This page describes smart growth, highlights what is already being accomplished, and outlines what else can be done to build better communities and promote more responsible development throughout Palm Beach County.

What is smart growth?

Hugh McColl, CEO of BankAmerica, has defined smart growth as an effort that strikes a balance between unplanned, haphazard growth on the one hand, and no growth on the other. The Sierra Club calls it well-planned development that channels growth into existing areas, provides public and other transportation options, and preserves farm land and open space.

Smart growth generally refers to well-planned communities that include a blend of housing, shops, and offices. Neighborhoods include homes and apartments for residents with varying incomes and lifestyles. Walkable in scale, they often feature bike paths, sidewalks and accessibility to public transit. Many have permanently protected open space for recreation or other uses.

Smart growth includes revitalizing downtowns and older neighborhoods. New smart growth projects can be located on underused parcels of urban land, or adjoin existing communities. Channeling new growth to already developed areas helps revive older communities and protect open space and farmland in rural areas. It also helps save taxpayer dollars by eliminating the need for extending water and sewer lines and additional roads out into the countryside.

Smart growth is already taking place in Palm Beach County. The revitalized downtowns and older neighborhoods of Delray Beach, Lake Worth and West Palm Beach reflect the principles of smart growth. Abacoa, CityPlace in West Palm Beach, and Mizner Park in Boca Raton are several local examples of smart growth projects. Smart growth provides positive solutions to the problems of sprawl.

What is sprawl?

Sprawl generally refers to low-density, residential development on the fringes of settled areas. Sprawl eats up our open space, rural natural areas, and productive farmland and detracts from community life.

Sprawl spawns strip shopping centers surrounded by seas of parking. It results in sterile office parks, isolated from shopping and homes. Cars are required to get from one place to another–home, work, school, shopping, etc.
This in turn forces ever greater numbers of cars onto our already crowded roads. It increases the demand for more and wider roads, which tend to attract even more traffic, further increasing congestion.

Not only does this kind of development damage the environment, but it is too expensive. Taxpayers and local government end up subsidizing the extension of water and sewer lines to serve this sprawling, poorly planned development.

What are the costs of sprawl?

Palm Beach County has drawn national attention for its sprawl-related problems.The Sierra Club identified West Palm Beach as the fourth most “sprawl-threatened” medium-sized city in the nation. According to the Surface Transportation Policy Project, West Palm Beach-Boca Raton is the seventh most dangerous large metropolitan area in the country for pedestrians, due in large part to its sprawling development patterns. And the American Farmland Trust identified the Florida Everglades and associated area as the sixth most threatened prime farmland in the nation, due to the impacts of sprawling urban development.

Palm Beach County is projected to grow by 400,000 new residents in the two decades to come. Studies by Rutgers University and the Palm Beach County Planning Department estimate that the county could save between $14 and $22 million annually if it discouraged growth in rural and agricultural areas, and promoted it in the more urbanized east coast area. This would reduce road, sewer and water infrastructure needs, save over 8,000 acres of agriculturally and environmentally sensitive land, and consume 5,600 fewer developable acres of land.

To encourage smart growth, area citizens, developers, and local government leaders need to open lines of communication. They need frequent and frank discussions about the kinds of development that will fit their community.

What is already being done to promote smarter growth?

Many smart growth activities are already taking place in Palm Beach County. The county has adopted plans and is conducting studies to promote smarter growth. The Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council is an active leader in helping communities grow smarter. Numerous municipal governments are putting smart growth principles into practice. And area residents and non-profits are doing their part as well.

Palm Beach County–As a means of discouraging urban sprawl and promoting smarter growth, Palm Beach County has adopted a Tiered Growth Plan into its comprehensive plan. This establishes urban/suburban, exurban, rural, Agricultural Reserve, and Glades “tiers,” each with an appropriate density and level of public services in keeping with the area’s unique character. The tier system protects natural resources and guides land use and planning and design decisions. This will be an important tool for promoting smarter growth in Palm Beach County.

A Sector Plan is being developed for some 55,000 acre area (larger than the City of San Francisco) of rural land in north central Palm Beach County around old platted subdivisions such as The Acreage and Loxahatchee Groves, as well as large citrus groves. The Sector Plan could produce a better land use pattern than the current one of ad hoc, parcel by parcel, unmanaged development.

In 1980, the 20,000-acre Ag Reserve was officially designated for continued agricultural use. This area is under increasing development pressure. In cooperation with the South Florida Water Management District, the county is developing the Agricultural Reserve Master Plan with the goal of ensuring continued agricultural use and limiting the impacts of urban development.

Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council–The TCRPC is involved in numerous projects to promote smarter growth. In one example, its Northern Palm Beach County U.S. 1 Corridor Study, the TCRPC depicted the types of designs, street improvements, and planning principles that can revitalize this corridor and turn it into some of the most valuable real estate in the area. The TCRPC also helps communities with visioning, to determine how they want to grow and develop.

Local Governments–Many local governments in Palm Beach County are promoting smarter growth. Projects such as the revitalization of Clematis Street and the development of CityPlace are smart growth endeavors in West Palm Beach. West Palm is also working to develop a system of blueways to connect significant water resources. Delray Beach, Lake Worth and other cities are revitalizing their historic downtowns and restoring older neighborhoods. And by promoting “smart” development such as Mizner Park on underused land, Boca Raton is growing in a smarter manner as well.

Area Residents–In 1999, Palm Beach County voters overwhelmingly passed a $150 million bond initiative to purchase recreation, farm, and environmentally sensitive lands. A previous 1991 $100 million bond was used to purchase approximately 24,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands.

Non-profit Groups–1000 Friends of Florida and The Conservation Fund helped develop a greenway plan for Palm Beach County and continue assisting the county in identifying, acquiring, and protecting connecting lands. These organizations have also prepared a citizen handbook and an overview of smart growth accomplishments in Palm Beach County.

What else will promote smart growth?

Acquire natural areas and productive farmland. To forever protect significant natural areas, county and local governments can continue purchasing important lands. These lands can be linked in a system of greenways, or linear parks that protect important natural and scenic areas. Like a necklace of natural jewels, they provide corridors for wildlife and recreation areas.

Revitalize older downtowns. Instead of sprawling into undeveloped land, revitalize older commercial areas. This helps save taxpayer dollars by using existing roads, sewers, and other infrastructure, while restoring vitality to older communities.

Preserve historic resources. In addition to “reusing” older downtowns, smart growth also encourages the preservation of historic and cultural resources. Palm Beach County has a rich history that merits preservation.

Promote new development on underused urban land. Many urbanized areas include vacant or underused parcels of land that are appropriate for redevelopment. Impediments, such as contamination from gas stations or dry cleaners formerly on the site, need to be identified and resolved.

Protect older neighborhoods. Neighborhoods can adopt a Neighborhood Plan and have it incorporated into the official local government planning process.

Locate new development wisely. Where new development is adjacent to existing communities, it can take advantage of existing infrastructure. But when it is located in the countryside, there are inevitable costs of extending roads and sewer lines great distances—a burden that is shared by all taxpayers. In Palm Beach County, it makes sense to locate new development, where possible, along the Atlantic Ridge. Besides being already serviced with extensive infrastructure, its location outside the coastal high hazard area makes it less prone to natural disaster than many parts of the county.

Promote walkable new communities and neighborhoods. Older neighborhoods in Lake Worth, Delray Beach, Lake Park and other established communities can serve as examples for new development. There are many advantages of creating walkable, livable communities that are compact in scale and include homes, shops and offices. Codes in some Palm Beach County communities do not currently allow this type of development. They can be revised to allow smarter growth.

Promote affordable housing. Smart growth means providing safe, decent and affordable housing–close to workplaces, schools and shopping–for all segments of the county’s population. Any plans for redevelopment or new development should include housing that is affordable to people with a range of lifestyles and incomes.

Pay attention to transportation planning decisions. Roads form the skeleton of a community. Their placement and design can either enhance or destroy a community’s character. New road construction and widening of existing roads provide an impetus for new development. Ensure that the location and timing of new transportation projects do not stimulate inappropriate development. Road projects also should accommodate alternative means of transportation such as public transit, walking, and biking.

Think regionally. Our development and other decisions in one community can impact neighboring communities and counties. Our roads and transportation systems link with theirs. We share economic and environmental interests. These are just a few reasons that make it essential that we “think regionally!”


Where can I find more on smart growth?

Check out the two following publications, prepared by 1000 Friends and The Conservation Fund:

A Citizen’s Guide to Smarter Growth in Palm Beach County, and

Smart Growth: Building Better Communities and Protecting the Environment in Palm Beach County.

More helpful information is available at the following web sites:

Local and State:
Palm Beach County Government – www.co.palm-beach.fl.us
Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council – www.tcrpc.org
Department of Community Affairs, Division of Community Planning – www.dca.state.fl.us/fdcp/DCP
Department of Environmental Protection – www.dep.state.fl.us
Department of State, Division of Historical Resources – www.dos.state.fl.us/dhr
Department of Transportation – www.dot.state.fl.us
Florida Housing Coalition – www.flhousing.org

American Farmland Trust – www.farmland.org
American Planning Association – www.planning.org
Congress for the New Urbanism – www.cnu.org
The Conservation Fund – www.conservationfund.org
National Neighborhood Coalition – www.neighborhoodcoalition.org
National Trust for Historic Preservation – www.nationaltrust.org
Sierra Club – www.sierraclub.org
Smart Growth America – www.smartgrowthamerica.com
Smart Growth Network – www.smartgrowth.org
Sprawl Watch Clearinghouse – www.sprawlwatch.org
Surface Transportation Policy Project – www.transact.org

This material has been prepared with a grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Advisory Council on Environmental Education.

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