STUART, Fla. — In comparison to its neighbors on either side, Martin County would be considered more rural. But on Tuesday, protests unfolded outside the county commission building over a movement to add a "rural lifestyle" designation to the county’s comprehensive plan.
"Protecting the environment is bi-partisan," said David Cross.
Opponents of proposed changes to the Martin County comprehensive plan gathered outside the county administration building Tuesday morning.
"This is a change for 100,000 acres with the only thing that follows up is them walking up and saying, I'd like that land use," said Donna Melzer, the chair of the Martin County Conservation Alliance.
The group then filled the chambers inside to express their displeasure.
The commission debated a "rural lifestyle" designation that would allow for more home development in exchange for setting aside large areas of open space.
"While preserving 70% for ag and open space is actually a commendable thought for this community," said Ted Astolfi with the Economic Council of Martin County.
It was sparked by a proposal to develop a portion of a nearly 1,500-acre parcel of land west of Hobe Sound.
Atlantic Fields would consist of a golf course, cottages, worker dorms, and just over 300 multi-million dollar homes.
"Our company has no interest in seeing the area around our farm urbanized," said Tom Hurley with Becker Holding Corp.
Supporters said this billion-dollar-plus community would provide public access to Atlantic Ridge State Park and offer other amenities.
It was not lost on one commissioner, the huge chunk of tax revenue it could provide.
"Just the county ad valorem side of this particular project is $20 million, $17 million to $20 million annually," said Commissioner Ed Ciampi.
What sparked many of the protesters was not just the stretching of the urban service boundaries to provide water and sewer, but the passing over the weekend of one of this areas most formidable environmentalists.
Maggie Hurchalla was a five-term county commissioner. Her daughter-in-law told WPTV that even as they went to the hospital, Hurchalla told her she felt the new zoning was a bad idea.
"The urban service boundary line is drawn for a reason and Maggie would have defended that," said Gretchen Hurchalla.
Finally, after hours of discussion, commissioners agreed 3 to 2 to move the new zoning idea forward.
The new zoning designation now needs to get approval from Tallahassee and commissioners stressed no projects have been approved yet. Developers of Atlantic Fields said pending their approval, they’re about two years away from starting construction.