Take initiative on land purchases

By Steve Estes

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners has decided to make very little change in its priorities for land acquisitions here, sticking with a policy of grabbing up large tracts of environmentally sensitive area whenever possible.

But that decision comes with a caveat that just makes sense.

Land buyers should take into account whether the parcel being considered is proposed to be under water in 20 or 30 years, and take a less aggressive approach to those tracts.

The effects of sea level rise will most likely be felt in the Florida Keys five or six years before they become a definable issue in other coastal areas because the highest point above sea level in the Keys is approximately 14 feet. And that mountain was initially formed by the installation of a land fill first and then built on top of during the building booms of the 1950s then the 1970s.

For many of the Lower Keys islands, a height above sea level of five feet is extraordinary.

Of course, the county commissioners have also decided that they shouldn’t have to go it alone when it comes to buying land in the Keys.

Land purchase here is a bigger deal than in many areas because of the sensitive environment we have and also because of the protections we must help give endangered species.

Buying land is also a prudent decision because the number of residential units that will be built over the next 10 years is capped right now by our ability, or lack thereof depending on how you view the situation, to get permanent residents out of here within 24 hours in the face of an oncoming major hurricane.

We have just the one road in and out after all.

Because the federal government puts a big burden on us for species protection, a battle we may yet have to fight in the courts, our leaders want the feds to step up to the plate and start ponying up some bucks to buy environmentally sensitive land both for conservation purposes and for the enhancement of endangered species habitat.

The feds generally only buy large tracts, but that’s OK if we get them to toss some money our way to get the environmental stuff off the books. The best part about the feds buying the land is that they do pay an impact fee in lieu of taxes that allows us to not bite the bullet in maintaining that land, and doesn’t wipe it completely off the tax rolls so that the rest of us have to pick up the tab for lost revenue.

Our leaders also plan on asking the state to help us meet their evacuation mandate caps by tossing some Florida Forever funding at our issues.

It’s not really clear if the state will agree to buy land that can potentially be turned into development, particularly since our state leadership is in a build-at-all-costs mode right now.

But we agree with Commissioner Danny Kolhage that the problem we face is exacerbated by the rules placed on us by the state and feds, and they should grab the bull by the horns and help us get out from under the potential of tens of millions of dollars in takings cases when the permits run out in 10 years.

We don’t personally hold out much hope that the current Tallahassee regime can even understand the problem, and there’s no way they cop to being a part of it, and for that reason, we’re sure there is litigation against the state in our future.

However it must be done—do it.

Because we’ve always been a rather prudent county when it comes to setting the stage to deal with future problems, save that hopefully forgotten “Gang of Three” time frame, our leaders are looking at ways to get potentially buildable land off the books before we have to say we won’t issue more permits.

We may have already found the way. Right now, to avoid takings cases where the feds have stymied the process, we require that anyone exceeding our federally mandated regulations apply to the feds for permission before we’ll hand the permit across the counter.

We probably need to do the same thing with the state, and we need to start now, in areas where traffic is known to bottleneck, so that the folks in Tallahassee understand the magnitude of the potential problem before it becomes a problem that will be solved by the courts.

That’s one reason why we don’t support the transitioning of vehicular level of service from a segment-based calculation to an overall length-of-US 1 calculation.

That just puts off the problem until the end of the decade.

That’s not a solution we can afford to live with.

And its always better to ask forgiveness than permission when it comes to our current state leadership, because if we’re asking forgiveness, they’ve been put on notice that there’s a problem.

No Comments »

Leave a Reply