28 Feb Karen Marcus talks about North County Growth

Courtesy of Inlet Outlet.

In January, JIC residents got an opportunity to meet with Karen Marcus, a Palm Beach County Commissioner for 28 years. Hosted by Colony Garden Club, Marcus’s topic How to Preserve North County Quality of Life, drew strong interest.

While in office, Marcus pursued sustainable growth. She is responsible for acquiring the many parks and green spaces that give North County its rural vibe.

Though retired from the Commission, she continues to push for policies that will “preserve the natural assets that make Palm Beach County a very special place to live, work and raise families.”

Marcus’s talk generated a lively question and answer session. Inlet-Outlet is pleased to report key takeaways from the discussion.

We keep reading about all these new developments. What are the traffic and other implications? The state and local governments have recently approved developments in central Palm Beach County that will add about 15,000 homes. That’s upwards of 50,000 more residents, close to the population of Jupiter. This will increase pressure on traffic, particularly Northlake and PGA Blvd. It will also put further stresses on our green spaces, wetlands and water flow.

Sustainable PBC is working with local governments and developers to mitigate traffic and environmental problems. Since state and local funding for new roads and road expansion is very limited, one solution is “capturing” the traffic by including commercial enterprises within developments. The theory is this: If a development has offices within it where people work, a grocery store and a drug store, there will be fewer trips on the east-west arteries.

There are other implications. When you build homes, you need roads, schools, police and fire-rescue. If towns approve these projects without thought to those expenses, the County’s taxpayers get the bill.

Can you give a brief update on Lake O, the Everglades, and the green algae problem? It is difficult to give a brief summary on these big South Florida water problems. They were created over decades by development that was heedless of environmental consequences. We are all in Florida for the weather and the water! So it is critical to restore the quality of water and its natural flow.

There’s a saying you hear often: “Water issues in Florida are not rocket science. They are more complicated!” The good news is that almost all scientists and engineers studying it — and even most politicians — agree on the remedy for our water problems.

There are two related roadmaps to a solution: One is called CERP: Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. CERP was authorized by Congress in 2000 by the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). This is a plan to restore, preserve, and protect the south Florida ecosystem. Another is CEPP, the Central Everglades Planning Project, an important component of CERP.

CERP is ambitious, complex, and costly. It has conservatively a $10 billion price tag and rising. It will take at least 30 years to implement.

There is some progress being made. The Governor has proposed using state funds to assist septic to sewer (you in JIC are leading the way). Senator Negron is determined to have the state buy land south of Lake O, a key element of CERP.

There is a great deal of activity and planning, but we must turn talk into action. You can help by asking your federal, state and local elected officials to accelerate these projects.

Do you have a point of view on Inlet Village? Most of us in North County would love to see the Inlet Village turned into a park. Despite some public pressure, it’s clear that this is not going to happen. I’ve worked with a lot of developers over the years, and believe that Charles Modica, who bought Love Street, Suni Sands and Rustic Crab, is the best kind of developer. He wants to ensure, as much as possible, responsible development in Inlet Village. I know that Mayor Comerford and Commissioner Block are working with him on this, as are we at Sustainable PBC. We could do a lot worse than Mr. Modica! Look at Harbourside! However, no matter how successful we are, there will be a major traffic impact at A1A and U.S.1.

You mentioned that Tallahassee imposes restrictions on local governments. Can you explain? Florida once had a strong tradition of Home Rule. The state government of late has been very aggressive in promulgating laws that usurp local (county and city/town) authority in many areas, including development. There are recent instances where a town voted to block or modify a development and the developer went to the state and got it approved. The town was overridden.

Another example is the state passed a law limiting how much the counties can require developers to pay for traffic impact. This means that PBC taxpayers must now pay much more for the new roads and road improvements caused by new developments.

I believe that local governments should have the right to regulate development in their areas.

Is there any reason for optimism about slowing growth in North Palm Beach County? Yes, and I say this for two reasons. One, we have two new, young county commissioners who are going to be much more aware of development and environmental concerns and will vote accordingly. At the state level, there’s a stronger commitment to solving our water problems. And while we lost a very effective advocate, Patrick Murphy, in Congress, I think that if enough voters reach out to our new Congressman Brian Mast, he will hear you, learn about our water and other environmental concerns and act in our best interests.

Two, we have much more public awareness and concern as to development impact, water and other issues. There is increased activism as well.

We are all stewards of the environment and have the duty to future generations to do all we can to protect it, particularly in Florida. Don’t sit on the sidelines when it comes to preserving what we cherish in Florida. Vote for people who understand sustainable practices. Make your voice heard. It’s our duty to pass on to our children and grandchildren the quality of life we enjoy.