Maggy Hurchalla: Revealing Q&A about the proposed Extreme Water Sports Park

Orlando Watersports Park

What’s wrong with having a water sports park in Martin County?
Nothing. No one opposed to the land use change is saying that skate board parks or roped ski lakes for extreme water sports should be prohibited.
The trouble is it’s in the wrong place.
Commercial recreation is legal in Martin County.
Uses like this are allowed in Commercial and Industrial land use.
Martin County has over 1700 net acres of available vacant land with an Industrial land
use designation. Those areas are INSIDE the Urban Service District where urban services
are available.

Pictured above is an aerial view of the big Orlando Watersports complex. It is in the urban area surrounded by industrial uses.

Watersports don’t need to be out in rural areas and they don’t need comprehensive plan
changes. There is no shortage of available land to put it in the right place.

But don’t they already have the right to put hotels and gas stations and convenience stores on the property?
No. They are asking for a land use change on 114 acres west of Hobe Sound on I 95. The property currently has two land uses.
Thirty plus acres adjacent to Bridge Rd. is designated Expressway Oriented Transient Commercial Service Center (EOTC) This is the part of the property with most of the wetlands. Eighty plus acres has an Agricultural land use designation. There is a 24 acre lake on the Agricultural portion.
Obviously, the 80 acres of Agricultural land use does not already have the right to build urban uses.
The Expressway Oriented Transient Commercial land use was adopted so the roads into
town would not become a strip of gas stations and fast food places as they have near a
lot of expressway interchanges. The idea was to use the designated spots ONLY when
there was a proven need to serve I 95 at that location. The location was for transients to keep them from crowding the roads into town just to
get gas.
So far, no applicant has been able to prove there is a need for more hotels and gas stations on I 95.
The I 95 interchange in Tropical Farms and the Turnpike Interchange in Palm City are
both within the urban service district. Both have regional sewer and water. Both of them
have gas stations and support services for the expressways.
Like all other land use categories, the Transient Commercial has specific rules for
building height, open space, buffers, etc. The applicant wants a new land use that would
allow commercial use without any of the restrictions that currently apply.

But doesn’t new land use category assure that it will be a nice destination
watersports park consistent with all Martin County’s rules?
They have proposed a new land use category. They have proposed that it apply ONLY to
them. No other property owner in the county could ask for the same land use.
The wording of the land use designation is critical. It will be what controls future
development. Promises and Planned Unit Development agreements will be meaningless
if the new land use is vaguely written.
It is wonderfully vague. It states that the park will include a cable driven ski lake, indoor/
outdoor skate park, RV park, retail sales and “related uses” which support these uses. It
does not promise to include a hotel but it allows a 250 room hotel to be built and includes
one in the PUD phasing schedule..
There will be a limit on retail commercial buildings (not including the hotel) of 100,000
sq. ft.
There is NO LIMIT on the size of the RV park.
Basically it turns 30 plus acres of very limited Transient Commercial and 80 plus acres of
Agricultural land into a free for all.
As long as it has a skate ramp and a cable on the lake it can have an unlimited amount of
trailers, a 250 room hotel, 100,000 square feet of retail stores, and any amount of non-
retail commercial and industrial uses that could be said to support hotel and RV park and
recreation use.

BUT our Comprehensive Plan has very strict rules about the intensity and height of development.
Not in this new land use. The current Transient Commercial, General Commercial, and
Industrial land uses all have restrictions on the height of the buildings. This new land use
category does not. They all have required buffers and a limit on the amount of pavement
and impermeable surfaces. This land use does not.
The applicant suggests all that will be taken care of in the site plan. The current site
plan is as vague as the land use change and is not consistent with the land development
code or the Comp Plan. The site plan and the Planned Unit Development can be easily
changed in the future to make it even worse. Only the Comprehensive Plan policies and
the requirements for land uses in the Comp Plan can make it hard to break promises.

They say they need flexibility to protect the natural resources on the site.
That seems to suggest they won’t protect them otherwise. Given the vagueness of the
land use category, that’s a real possibility. According to the staff review of the site plan ,
it does not protect natural resources on site. They’ve pushed development into wetlands
and other preserve areas and failed to do the minimum required for other developments.

But they say they will meet all the requirements of the comp plan and the land
development code.
They can honestly say that because they have designed a creative loop hole that basically
exempts them from all the existing rules.
They can honestly say that. Their new land use (which applies only to them)
allows “design freedom and flexibility for development of the parcel to ensure
protection of existing natural resources.”
All other land use designations have to protect and restore all wetlands, provide buffers
for the wetlands, and preserve native habitat. If their planned use is too intense to do that,
they need to cut back the intensity of the use.
With the applicant’s new loophole, if they can’t fit everything in without filling all the
wetlands, they can ignore our four story height limit. If they can’t meet the open space
requirements others have to follow, they can ignore them. If they want to do away with
the upland preserve requirements, they can say they have to do it to save the wetlands.
The trick they’ve accomplished is to make it so the only part of the comp plan that
applies to them is in their special amendment. It has no standards, so if they comply with
it, they are “meeting all the requirements of the comp plan.”
Does that sound too sneaky for words? It’s not. It’s been done before. Their lawyers
understand what the language means. With the wording of this land use, if they can’t fit
in everything they want to build, then any rule that prevents it can be waived.

Are there any natural resources on the property?
There are 45 acres of wetlands. There is upland habitat that needs to be preserved.
In addition to the wetlands, the Soil Survey identifies ALL of the soils on the property
as “poorly drained”. It is not a good place for high intensity urban development.

What makes you think they would ask that Comprehensive Plan policies be waived?
That exactly what they are doing. The staff has listed a dozen different policies in the
Plan that are inconsistent with the approval of this land use. The comp plan currently
requires that:
– any land use change must be consistent with the Plans policies.
– adequate public facilities must be provided
– taxpayers won’t have to pay for public facilities.
– urban sprawl will not be allowed
– there will be no proliferation of package sewer and water plants
– there will be orderly compact extensions of the urban boundary
– the urban boundary will not be expanded if there is adequate vacant land within
the boundary
– development will be compatible with surrounding land use
– there will be no internal inconsistencies in the plan language

The applicant and the Local Planning Agency solved the problem of inconsistency by
accepting the idea that this particular development ONLY has to follow the very few
standards found in the new land use category. Those standards will apply only to this
piece of property and they will trump the policies in the comp plan.

What are those standards?
It has to have a cable ski lift on the lake, and indoor/outdoor skate park, an RV Park,
retail sales, other commercial uses supporting the park and a gas station.
It allows a 250 unit hotel. It says the intent is to have a hotel. There is no requirement to
build a hotel.
Water and sewer service will be constructed as required by Transient Commercial land
The retail commercial will be limited to 100,000 sq ft of building space.
That’s it. All the rest of the comp plan can be ignored if they need “design flexibility” to
do what they want.

What’s wrong with package water and sewer plants? The applicant’s consultant says the newer ones work perfectly.
In theory, package plants can work. In practice they fail. They failed at South Fork High
School and required extension of regional lines. They failed at the Jonathan Dickenson
Park campground and created another emergency that required line extension. When they
fail, there are pollution and public health problems. When they fail, expensive unplanned
emergency hookups to the regional water and sewer system are necessary. The comp plan
limits regional water and sewer to the urban service district in order to assure a compact
and efficient system – except when there is an emergency.
In Martin County and all over Florida package systems have failed. That’s why the Comp
Plan has a specific policy preventing proliferation of such plants.
IF we allow Extreme Water Sports to have a package plant, we have to let everyone who
asks for it have a package plant. The consequences of unregulated package plants all over
the rural and urban areas are both expensive and dangerous.
There is a more immediate problem in the project phasing. The water sports park will be
built in phase 1. The package sewer and water plants will be built in phase 2. There will
be NO sewer and water available when the park opens.

Why can’t we just let this be a one time thing that doesn’t set any precedents?
Because that’s not legal or constitutional or fair. Court decisions and planning law require
that if you let one person do it, you have to let those who are in the same position do the
same. If one parcel of Expressway Oriented Transient Commercial in the rural area can
become urban commercial, then all of them can. Clearly, the other three corners at the
Bridge Rd. interchange would have to be allowed to do the same thing.
If one parcel of land in the rural area miles away from the urban boundary is allowed
to create a Destination Resort, then all rural property owners should have the same
If we decide that package water and sewer treatment plants will work perfectly for one
developer, we have to allow all developers to use them.
The applicant’s consultants can declare that this does not set a precedent, but when a
property owner sues the county to get equal treatment, the county will be in trouble.

But is it fair to leave him with no use for his property?
Up until 2007 the owner of the property claimed an agricultural exemption on the whole
property. He got his taxes reduced to $ 223 on 112 acres of land by signing an affidavit
that he was using it for a bona fide agricultural purpose. Nothing has changed since then
except the ownership.
The previous owner got considerable value out of the property by digging up most of the
uplands and selling the fill for the building of I 95.
The new owner knew what the land use was when he bought the property. He knew what
the Martin County Comp Plan required. He knew that he would have to break a dozen
plan policies to get approval of an urban use in an agricultural area far from the urban
service district..
That’s reflected in the price he paid : $1.25 million.
That comes to $11,000 an acre.
The property appraiser says that, given current restrictions, it’s worth even less. The
property is currently appraised at $518,290
That’s less than $5000 a acre.
You cannot buy commercial land to build a commercial development – of any kind – for
$5000 an acre.

2005 – $805,800 mkt val – $13,720 assessed val – $223.26 ad valorem tax
2006 – $1,369,580 mkt val – $13,720 assessed val – $210.32 ad valorem tax
2007 – $1,108,320 mkt val – $1,108,320 assessed val – $15,943.52 ad valorem tax
2008 – $886,700 mkt val – $886,700 assessed val – $13,580.15 ad valorem tax
2009 – $647,820 mkt val – $647,820 assessed val – $9,862.66 ad valorem tax
2010 – $518,290 mkt val – $518,290 assessed val – $8,228.80 ad valorem tax
2011 – $518,290 mkt val – $518,290 assessed val – $8,131.49 ad valorem tax

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