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Major development project moves forward in rural Martin County

Posted at 5:04 PM, Sep 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-14 17:04:06-04

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — A plan for smart growth or a gateway to urban sprawl?

Those are the competing arguments after Martin County commissioners on Tuesday approved a new zoning designation.

The first site to get the go-ahead is 1,500 acres north of Bridge Road and east of Interstate 95.

After seven months of talk and an eight-hour-plus hearing, the "Rural Lifestyle" land use was approved, allowing for more development on certain agricultural lands outside the existing urban-service boundary.

WPTV Chopper 5 flew over the first development to use the new zoning, Atlantic Fields. It will consist of 317 multi-million-dollar homes and a golf course on the existing Hobe Sound Polo Club.

"When it started, I was against it," said Harry MacArthur.

MacArthur’s family has run Harry and the Natives for decades just down Bridge Road. Over time, he changed his mind about his future neighbor.

"I feel this is the best option for Martin County at this time. Every other proposed development or breaking the comp plan I was against," MacArthur said.

McArthur said he was drawn because the plan keeps a majority of the property in green space.

Developers will also donate an equestrian facility, preserve an existing tree farm, and move the historic Hobe Sound train station into town for a future museum.

"There’s an assault going on against rural Florida," said Gil Smart, the executive director of Vote Water, an environmental group focusing on clean water.

Smart sees Atlantic Fields as a foot in the door for eager landowners whose property can now sprout homes instead of horticulture.

"It said to developers, this county commission, if they approved this project, they’ll approve your project as well and the gold rush is on," Smart said.

The developer for Atlantic Fields didn’t want to go on camera Wednesday, but a spokesperson said they’re ready to get started as soon as possible.

So who might live in this community?

Back in the spring, NFL Superstars Tom Brady and Michael Strahan both sent emails in support of the project. Brady said he was a member of "Discovery" and looking forward to coming to Atlantic Fields for years to come.

Developers have said this $1.6 billion project could bring an added $20 million in tax revenue annually.

MacArthur would like to see any tax windfall go toward affordable housing. As for the potential a-listers living in Atlantic Fields?

"We’ve had Sean Connery to you name it in the restaurant. All the baseball players, the football players in the restaurant. They’re all just people," MacArthur said.

People who will be calling this land home in a few years.