Citizen efforts to amend FL Constitution face cap on financial help, starting Thursday
By Laura Cassels -June 30, 2021
Thirty-one active citizen initiatives to amend the Florida Constitution face a deadline Thursday that may, for some, dictate whether voters ever see them on a ballot.
That’s because a new state law, Senate Bill 1890, signed into law May 7 and effective July 1, curtails how much money initiative campaigns may accept in contributions from people and organizations that support their causes.
Workers demonstrate in Fort Lauderdale in support of a $15 minimum wage. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, 2019
Over the years, citizens have initiated numerous changes to the Florida Constitution, including reducing class size (2002), funding acquisition for sensitive land (2012), legalizing medical marijuana (2016), providing for voter control of gambling in Florida (2018), restoring voting rights to ex-felons (2018) and gradually increasing the state minimum wage to $15 per hour (2020).
Citizen initiatives require that prescribed numbers of voter signatures be gathered before the measure may appear on the ballot, and few succeed without spending substantial amounts of money on petition-gatherers and advertising.
Starting Thursday, donations to campaigns to collect petition signatures for proposed constitutional amendments initiated by citizens will be limited to $3,000 per person or entity in any given election. Presently, there is no limit.
The law was written to exempt political parties from the new limit. It also does not apply to Constitutional amendments sponsored by the Florida Legislature.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and others are fighting the law in federal court, arguing that citizen-initiated efforts to amend the Constitution represent protected exercise of free speech – and that successful initiatives typically cost millions of dollars in a state the size of Florida.
ACLU Florida is seeking a temporary injunction to suspend implementation of the new law and let campaign contributions continue. A hearing was held last Thursday. The court’s ruling on the injunction is pending.
“The Division of Elections website shows 31 currently active initiative efforts, and our lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB 1890 would benefit all of them – as well as every Floridian who wants to amend their Constitution through the ballot initiative process,” said Nicholas Warren, staff attorney with the ACLU and lead attorney in this lawsuit.
“The law is an infringement on the free speech rights of Floridians and seeks to undermine Floridians’ ability to directly participate in their democracy,” Warren wrote in answer to a Phoenix query.
Attorney General Ashley Moody is defending the new law, arguing it does not quell free speech because the cap on contributions applies only to the point when an initiative has gained enough voter signatures to be placed on the next general ballot. After that point, the limit no longer applies.
The 31 citizen initiatives are listed by the Division of Elections in connection with the 2022 general ballot. (While labeled active, some were begun as far back as 2013 and still have not qualified for a ballot).
Based on the current size of Florida’s electorate, each must collect nearly 900,000 voter signatures for its proposed amendment to be placed on the next ballot.
Joining the ACLU in the court challenge are three voting-rights committees pitching their own citizen initiatives:
Sean Shaw, attorney and former lawmaker. Credit: Wikipedia.
The committees are Fair Vote Florida, Our Votes Matter, and Florida Votes Matter, each chaired by Sean Shaw, an attorney, former state representative, 2018 candidate for state attorney general, and son of the late Leander J. Shaw Jr., the first African- American chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.
The three measures aspire to expand voter participation in elections by making it easier to register to vote and by striking a legislative requirement added after the referendum that ex-felons pay all outstanding legal debts before they may vote.
One group that may have little to fear from the impending cap on contributions is an initiative to legalize sports betting statewide in Florida for the first time, regardless of the new gambling compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that lawmakers approved in a recent special session on gambling. (The federal government has yet to approve the compact, which gives the tribal exclusive purview over sports betting.)
That’s because the sports betting ballot initiative, under the auspices of a political action committee titled “Florida Education Champions,” is backed by multi-billion-dollar sports-betting and fantasy-sports titans DraftKings and FanDuel, according to Christina Johnson, a spokeswoman for the sports-betting PAC.
With that kind of backing, the PAC — comprised of three CPAs, a registered agent who is lawyer, and a political consultant — could quickly build a huge financial war chest before the contribution limit takes effect on Thursday. The ballot initiative won approval from the state just last Thursday to begin collecting signatures and accepting contributions.
The sports-betting initiative pledges that any tax revenue from sports betting would be earmarked for education.
Charles O’Neal, chairman of political committees pitching five environmental conservation initiatives for the 2022 ballot, said his supporters hope to succeed with an all-volunteer effort. But he still wants to see the cap on contributions to citizen initiatives struck down.
“I support the ACLU’s effort to get rid of the $3,000 cap,” O’Neal said. “The Florida Legislature should be encouraging citizen involvement, especially through the citizen initiative process, if the goal is to represent the citizens of Florida.”
TAGSACLUballot initiativecampaign contributionsCharles O'NealConstitutional AmendmentDraftKingsFanDuelFlorida Division of ElectionsFlorida Education ChampionsSB 1890sports bettingvoter participation
Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2021 Florida Legislative Session Update
by 1000 Friends of Florida
With population growth surging in Florida, our state’s leaders dealt several more blows to the system for ensuring that growth is environmentally and fiscally sustainable. Their timing couldn’t be worse.
On Tuesday, June 29, Gov. DeSantis signed into law a slew of shortsighted bills undermining procedures for managing growth. Some of those bills will make it harder for local leaders to uphold their communities’ character and vision for future development. Another will exclude state and regional oversight to ensure communities properly plan for impacts from major developments on the environment and public services.
HB 421 & HB 1101 eliminates the need for a property owner to file a development application before pursuing a private property rights taking claim against the local government. 1000 Friends of Florida Policy and Planning Director Jane West explains, “This will encourage more claims, create more costly litigation, and discourage local governments from pursuing or enforcing limits on development. The fiscal impact of this bill on local governments and their taxpayers could be significant.” 1000 Friends sought a veto of this bill.
Historically “small scale comprehensive plan amendments” were capped at ten acres. HB 487 multiplied that acreage threshold by five times up to fifty acres. Now such development applications will only be subject to one public hearing and expedited review, lessening the opportunity for citizen engagement, notes West. 1000 Friends also sought a veto of this bill.
Florida’s Building Code will now restrict the ability of local governments to regulate basic residential architectural features. According to West, “HB 401 will pose challenges for unique communities renowned for their architectural individuality and sense of place.”
Another outcome of this session is that local governments will have far less ability to regulate home-based businesses in residential areas under HB 403. “The bill gives a minor nod to existing regulations and gives exceptions to certain neighborhoods, but overall it paves the way for unexpected business enterprises in residential neighborhoods and tramples on local zoning authority,” says West.
Property rights will now be a mandatory element in all comprehensive plans pursuant to HB 59, despite significant protections for property rights in the federal and state constitutions and state law. This bill also provides for “built out” Developments of Regional Impact (DRIs) to be amended to swap out land for additional growth. 1000 Friends will be conducting a webinar this fall on strategies to implement HB 59.
This was a challenging session. We thank you for your support which helped ensure that the M-CORES toll road projects are scaled back dramatically, significant funding has been allocated for conservation, and Florida’s Regional Planning Councils have been saved from elimination. Find out more about these and other bills on our Legislative Webpage.
We thank you for all you do.
Paul Owens, President
Sarasota Herald Tribune June 27, 2021
Agriculture was an early driver of Sarasota’s growth
A few generations ago, Sarasota was characterized by tens of thousands of acres devoted to one type of farming or another, as much a part of the local economy as tourism is today.
As late as 1957 aerial maps of the South Gate area show row after row of lush orange trees – thousands of them. The development slogan “Where you live among the orange blossoms” was not hype and the flowers’ sweet scent was very strong around the groves.
Sarasota’s temperate climate and rich soil made it a natural for farming and raising cattle. Long before we came to rely on the tourist trade as our economic mainstay, and even afterward, agriculture was the lure that brought many here.
The Scots had been falsely promised that with very little difficulty they could become gentlemen farmers, harvesting gold from citrus trees, and the theme of farming opportunities as a draw would later be pitched in Chamber of Commerce brochures wooing newcomers.
Early settlers like the Whitakers, Crowleys, Rawlses, Redds, Wilsons, Albrittons and Blackburns struggled daily to be self-sufficient, growing their own food, always waging a battle against the vagaries of mother nature – storms, mosquitoes, wild animals, snakes and alligators. Wildcats were so common that sometimes the dogs did not even bother to bark at them. According to A History of Agriculture of Sarasota County, Jasper Crowley recalled, “Every child was afraid of a wildcat and sooner or later expected to be caught by one.”
These were hardworking folk, at the task seven days a week from sunup to sundown, providing food for themselves, their community and, later, the nation.
When Sarasota was still a part of Manatee County, the Sarasota-Venice Company issued a 64-page booklet giving a comprehensive overview of the farming scene.
The brochure assured that any person willing to work (and hard work it was) could make a go of it in the Sarasota Bay region by farming. It would take approximately five years for citrus trees to be fruit-bearing and “with proper attention” a grapefruit grove could net between “$200 to $350 or more annually.”
Until the trees matured, it was suggested that chickens could be raised for enough money to get by. “Chickens do well. There is a steady local demand for eggs and broilers for consumption by the many tourists who spend their winters here.”
William Whitaker brought the first cattle into Sarasota in 1847 and grazed them in Myakka near where today’s main entrance to the Myakka River State Park is. He is also credited with planting the first orange groves in the area.
In the same area of Myakka, Bertha Palmer raised cattle at her ranch called the Meadow Sweet Pastures and was among the first in the state to begin dipping her cattle to eradicate ticks. At that time, it was generally believed by local ranchers whose cattle roamed free that dipping cattle would kill the cows.
The Palmer interests farmed approximately 5,000 acres off Fruitville Road. They hired former County Agent Ed Ayres in 1926. He began experimenting to see what crop would be best suited to the muckland and it was decided that celery would be best for both economic and horticultural reasons.
The Bell brothers, John and Tom are also closely linked with farming in the Fruitville area. They came to work for the Palmers from Sanford where they made their reputation in celery farming. They built and operated the Palmer Farms Growers Cooperative Packing House. Tom Bell would become president of the Sarasota Growers Cooperative, a position he would hold for many years. He also invented machinery to wash the celery and received a patent for a celery cutting device which helped increase production.
In the late 1940s, the Bells sold their Sarasota interests to Pat Ferlise. Tom Bell became involved in several civic projects in Sarasota, organized the Citizens Bank and was its president for 10 years.
East of Sarasota off State Road 70, the Hi Hat Ranch, now targeted for development, was one of the best known in Florida. Originally the property was acquired by Ross Beason in 1937. According to historian Karl Grismer, he had planned to turn it over to his son, but sadly, Ross Beason Jr. was killed in action in World War II and Beason decided to sell his holdings, which were bought by Herman E. Turner in three separate transactions, ending in March 1945.
Managed by Latimer Turner, Herman’s son, the ranch was said to be “one of the most remarkable pieces of property in the state.” According to the Tampa Tribune, it contained “27 artificial lakes, a landing strip, 3,400 acres of sodded pasture, dipping vats, 94 miles of improved roads, a palatial ranch house and 600 miles of four-strand barb wire fences.”
Another important local rancher was Dallas Dort, a practicing attorney who operated the 3,000-acre Double D Ranch and was also one of the founders of New College and served as its president in 1972-73. According to the Sarasota Herald, in his storied career he had served in both the Roosevelt and Truman administrations and played a role in the development of the Marshall Plan, which helped with the reconstruction of Europe devastated by World War II.
L.H. “Buck” Hawkins raised approximately 1,200 head of cattle on his ranch. In a 1975 interview explaining why the price of beef had risen so much, Hawkins recalled that a cowhand could be hired for $1.50 a day in the teens and early ’20s, but by 1975 the salary had jumped up to $35 per day.
Most of this type of property has been sold off to developers, but one long-time rancher who tried to stem the tide, saving his property for his “greatgreat- grandchildren,” is Berryman T. “Buster” Longino. In 1998 the Longino Ranch included 8,000 acres in Sarasota County east of the Myakka River off State Road 72 that his family has owned since 1934, and another 9,000 acres he leases. On it he raises cattle, timber, and citrus. In 1998, Longino won the Commissioner’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award.
Longino’s father had been in the turpentine business in the 1930s and ’40s, but the business folded around 1950 and Longino, who had a degree in forestry from the University of Florida decided to use the property for forestry. While waiting for the pine trees to grow, he decided to run cattle. He recalled buying 100 head for $100. Later he and his family – father and three sisters – incorporated, with Longino being the manager.
In July 1989 he was appointed by Gov. Bob Martinez to the Sarasota County Commission to fill out the term of Mabry Carlton, who was killed in an airplane crash.
In a Sarasota Herald-Tribune interview in 2005, Longino said he received one or two letters a week from developers inquiring about purchasing his land and said, “I throw the letters right in the trash where they belong.”
According to Sarasota Herald reporter Zac Anderson, in 2010 Longino sold the rights to develop the land to Sarasota County and the state through a $14.6 million conservation easement that completes a two-part blockbuster land preservation deal.
Mabry Carlton Jr. is another name synonymous not only with Sarasota ranching, but also as a positive force in Sarasota County government; a well-regarded county commissioner who spearheaded the effort to buy the 33,000-acre MacArthur Tract in east Sarasota County on which to develop the county’s own drinking water supply. He called it Sarasota’s version of the Louisiana Purchase.
He was elected to the County Commission in 1980, 1984 and 1988.
Dairy farming was another part of Sarasota’s agriculture heritage. In 1922, Jackson F. Bispham started the Bayside Dairy, named for its proximity to Sarasota Bay.
In the 1930s there were eight momand- pop type dairies in Sarasota and two in Venice bottling their own milk and delivering it to their customers, sometimes twice in the same day. One of the Venice dairies, owned by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers brought an experienced dairyman from Wisconsin to oversee the operation.
Cows were milked by hand in those days, a very labor-intensive job. The hired help lived on the grounds and were cooked for by the woman of the house who were paid a dollar a day.
When Bispham’s sons, Cy and Jack, finished high school each was given a quarter interest in the dairy and ultimately, they built a new dairy in Gulf Gate circa 1950 on property that been the experimental farm for the Palmers’ Sarasota-Venice development. There they had 125 cows, and in 1955 sold their milk routes to Hood’s Dairy. The Gulf Gate property was sold in 1957.
The Schmidt brothers, Walter and Charles, and partner Welch Whitesell began their dairy in 1925. After World War II, Charles moved to where Kensington Park is now and ultimately sold his property to the developers.
As improvements were made in processing and handling milk, the small dairies which could not afford the new equipment went out. As Cy Bispham recalled, “When pasteurizing came into effect one or two of the small dairies dropped out. When the metal caps with the new type of bottler came in it still took another toll on small dairies.”
Until fence laws were enacted, cattle wandered free in Sarasota.
Copyright © 2021 Herald-Tribune
Charlotte County issues challenge to Mosaic By BETSY CALVERT Staff Writer Jun 22, 2021 Charlotte County commissioners added a one-line ultimatum to a letter going out to fertilizer giant Mosaic as well as state regulators. The letter, approved unanimously Tuesday, demands more clarity on how state and federal regulations protect Charlotte Harbor from the polluting effects of phosphate mining and manufacturing upstream. The ultimatum added at the last minute reads: “Until such assurances have been provided by all responsible parties associated with phosphate mining in southwest Florida, Charlotte County is unable to support any phosphate mining activities within watersheds that discharge into Charlotte Harbor.” The letter states that state and federal regulators have now labelled Charlotte Harbor as “impaired” in terms of excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. These are key ingredients of fertilizer. High nitrogen and phosphorus is associated with harmful algae blooms such as red tide and blue green algae, aficting fresh and salt water bodies. The phosphate industry in Florida is one of several sources of these pollutants, the others being septic systems, agriculture and development in general. In earlier debate, Commissioner Ken Doherty said he wants to question regulators as to whether the federal standards they are using to evaluate Mosaic’s runoff are adequate. Other issues with Mosaic are fears of catastrophic events, such as another sinkhole under a towering gypstack of industrial waste, such as happened in 2016 north of Charlotte County. Mosaic has already said, in a June 8 email to The Daily Sun, that it does not intend to meet with commissioners. Mosaic is in a three-year campaign to rezone land for mining in DeSoto County to the north. Mosaic said it does not have activities in Charlotte County, although all of its activities are on or near the Peace River, which feeds Charlotte Harbor. Commissioners are sending a similar letter to commissioners in DeSoto County, which must decide on whether rezone land for Mosaic in 2023. The board voted against the rezone in 2018. Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Dee Ann Miller said, “The department has not yet received the letter from the county, but we look forward to obtaining additional details and working with them on their request.” The state’s other environmental and water supply regulator, Southwest Florida Water Management District, said it can only speak to its water quality projects, and that it does not regulate mining impacts on water supply.Two citizens who regularly comment on Mosaic before commissioners, addressed the board’s actions from different directions. Michael Zarzano told the board that the news media and government regulators are unreliable. That’s because they fail to pin blame on Mosaic for such problems as red tide and other signs of impaired water, such as dying sea grass, he said. Of Mosaic, he asked, “What is the accountability of Mosaic? They are not to be trusted.” Anti-Mosaic activist Tim Ritchie praised the board for taking a public stance. “I want every citizen watching to know how courageous our commissioners are,” he said. Ritchie condemned Mosaic for refusing to appear in public before the board and answer questions. “The citizens of Charlotte County are saying, ‘No more. We will not have this.’” Email: email@example.com
Florida environmentalists seek legal rights for water and wildlife through constitutional amendments
By Laura Cassels -July 20, 2021
Florida Panther. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A network of environmentalist underdogs who proved last year they could beat the system at the local level is taking its pro-nature campaign in Florida to voters statewide for 2022.
The network, through a political action committee called FL5.org, is petitioning to have five proposed constitutional amendments placed on the 2022 general ballot.
Four of the initiatives demand stricter protections for Florida’s waters, wetlands, wildlands in the path of new or expanded toll roads, and iconic species such as the endangered Florida Panthers, Florida manatees, right whales, sea turtles, black bears, and bottlenose dolphins.
A fifth initiative would ban “captive wildlife hunting facilities,” also known as game farms, that peddle hunting of animals such as deer, hogs, rams, antelope, and water buffalo enclosed within their boundaries. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reports there are 443 licensed game farms in Florida.
The campaigns are led by Charles “Chuck” O’Neal, father of Florida’s Rights Of Nature movement, which aims to establish legal rights for natural features such as rivers, springs, and wildlife.
O’Neal and his allies made waves last year, when Orange County voters, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel, overwhelmingly approved their “Right to Clean Water Initiative” — an amendment to the county charter granting citizens the right to file lawsuits on behalf of polluted local waterways. The backers said it made Orange County the largest municipality in the nation to adopt a rights-of-nature law and the first one to do so in Florida.
Orange County voters also deposed an incumbent county commissioner, Betsey VenderLey, and replaced her with environmental lawyer Nicole Wilson, who helped write the language of the Clean Water Initiative.
Homebuilders and developers urged lawmakers in the 2020 Florida Legislature to ban the granting of legal rights to natural features, arguing they would be bad for business.
“They tried to preempt rights of nature in Orange County. In 2020, they snuck in a preemption in the Clean Waterways Act,” O’Neal told the Phoenix in an interview.
Associated Industries of Florida, industry lobbyists, endorsed the waterways legislation and its rights-of-nature preemption, saying in 2020 it “addresses water quality and protects Florida businesses from lawsuits by defining that people cannot sue on behalf of inanimate objects, i.e. rivers, lakes, streams etc.”
Environmental groups widely panned the legislation, which passed, saying it protects polluters and is too weak to make Florida waterways fouled with blue-green algae and red tide clean again.
“I got frustrated with the way special interests manipulate environmental regulations in Florida,” O’Neal told Phoenix columnist Craig Pittman last summer. “We’re basically handcuffed here at the local level when it comes to protecting our water supply.”
O’Neal countered with the five citizen initiatives, for which his allies must secure nearly 1 million voter signatures to make ballot in 2022. They are not soliciting campaign contributions to bankroll marketing campaigns but are counting on Floridians to vote in support of the natural wonders they love about Florida.
“Ours is all-volunteer,” O’Neal said, adding that 35 environmental allies so far are endorsing FL5’s efforts. Those include the Florida Springs Council, Save Our Rivers, Waterkeepers Florida, Campus Climate Corps, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
FL5.org’s proposed amendments to Florida’s Constitution are:
Florida Right to Clean Water, 21-03
Florida Wetlands Protection Amendment, 21-04
Florida Toll Road Expansion Ban, 21-05
Florida Iconic Species Protection, 21-06
Captive Wildlife Hunting Ban, 21-07.
North Port wary on mining
Earle Kimel Sarasota Herald-Tribune USA TODAY NETWORK May 28, 2021
NORTH PORT – With an eye toward the likelihood that DeSoto County will reconsider a push by Mosaic to expand its mining operation onto more than 14,000 acres, the North Port City Commission is asking for input on the decision.
The City Commission unanimously voted to have staff prepare a letter to the DeSoto County Commission, Mosaic, regional elected officials and regulatory agencies, because the activity could impact both Big Slough and the Peace River, which are sources of the city’s drinking water.
Following the wastewater breach at the former Piney Point fertilizer plant in April, the DeSoto commission pushed a workshop on Mosaic’s water quality monitoring programs and practices to June 29.
The workshop timeline was affected by the fact that Mosaic staff offered third-party technical assistance to deal with Piney Point, according to a DeSoto County release.
North Port City Commissioner Alice White placed the issue on the city’s agenda, in hopes of getting ahead of the curve on the decision-making process.
“I just thought it would be good to be proactive on any mining expansion considered in DeSoto County,” White said, then referenced the June 29 workshop.
In July 2018, the DeSoto County Commission rejected a rezoning application by Mosaic that would have changed the designation of 14,000 acres between State Road 70 and State Road 72 from agriculture to mining.
That would directly impact Big Slough, which eventually becomes the Myakkahatchee Creek, North Port’s primary source of drinking water; and Horse Creek, which drains into the Peace River. The Peace River is a source for several counties and municipalities in the region, through the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority.
The Conservancy (conservation group) in Collier county brought a lawsuit regarding the county’s growth plan. Judge Hugh Hayes ruled from the bench on May 14, 2021, after a five-day, nonjury trial. A 29-page final judgment for the defendants followed a few weeks later. Hayes discredits both of the Conservancy’s expert witnesses in his written order, giving them “minimal weight.”
With its appeal, the Conservancy further stated it intends to “make every effort to ensure that the proposed Rivergrass development complies with the intent and mandatory requirements of the Collier County Growth Management Plan and all applicable laws.”
The judge found expert Joseph Minicozzi, a land planner and “self-described urbanist,” didn’t have “an understanding of the key issues of the case.”
Additionally, Hayes determined that Minicozzi’s opinions ran contrary to and ignored the “plain language” of Collier County’s Growth Management Plan.
Minicozzi is a principal at Urban3 LLC, a private consulting firm based in North Carolina.
While Minicozzi is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, Hayes found his background and expertise seemed to be more in urban design and economics.
The judge stated Minicozzi lacked experience applying Collier’s growth management requirements to any developments “for purposes of assessing consistency,” having never done so outside of the Conservancy’s case.
Consistency with the growth plan is at the root of the legal challenge.
The Conservancy argued in court — and still ardently contends — Rivergrass, one of three villages planned by Collier Enterprises, is inconsistent with the county’s Growth Management Plan and Land Development Code for multiple reasons.
The proposed 1,000-acre village would be built along Oil Well Road east of Golden Gate Estates.
At trial, the Conservancy legal team and experts argued Rivergrass violates county law because it fails to encourage pedestrian circulation, provide the required uses and mix of uses and avoid urban sprawl in an area of critical concern.
Moreover, the environmental group claims the project lacks the required mixed-use village center, parks or public green spaces within neighborhoods; lacks diversity of housing; and doesn’t transition from more intense uses at its core to lesser ones at its edges.
In his final judgment, Hayes poked holes in the testimony given by the Conservancy’s other expert witness, Charles Gauthier, a private consultant whose decades of experience include stints as chief of long-range planning and a planning manager for Collier County.
The judge shot down Gauthier’s arguments that a “so-called loophole” would allow the developer to get around mandatory minimum requirements in the development order county commissioners approved for Rivergrass.
Hayes also took issue with Gauthier’s claims about a lack of setbacks and buffers, suggesting he mixed them up in his testimony at trial.
Likewise, the judge challenged Gauthier’s opinion that Rivergrass won’t encourage pedestrian and bicycle circulation as required, finding he left out or added words to the county’s growth management plan to bolster his arguments in favor of the Conservancy.
Gauthier determined the village wouldn’t be “walkable” by his own measures or standards, not based on the requirements spelled out in the county’s growth management plan, Hayes wrote.
The Conservancy based its case primarily on the rules governing the Rural Lands Stewardship Area, or RLSA, which are found in the county’s Growth Management Plan. In a nutshell, the group contends Rivergrass represents the antithesis of what should be built on the rural lands. The stewardship area encompasses 185,000 acres around Immokalee, east of Golden Gate Estates with the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to the south and the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest to the north.
The RLSA program allows developers to build more intense towns and villages on property with lower conservation value to preserve more environmentally sensitive land through a credit system. It’s designed to prevent urban sprawl, addressing state concerns about the protection of wildlife and wetlands dating back to the 1990s.
In his ruling, Hayes described the counterpoints and other testimony offered by landowner Collier Enterprises’ lead planner Robert Mulhere as clear, effective and convincing.
Mulhere, a fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, has 32 years of experience as a professional planner, working for Collier County and in private practice.
While Hayes clearly gave more weight to Mulhere’s testimony, the judge stated the court need only compare the plain text of the development order to that of the Growth Management Plan to determine consistency.
Hayes found the defendants “carried their burden to show by competent and substantial evidence” that the development order “conforms strictly to the use, density and intensity of use” requirements of the Growth Management Plan.
Collier Enterprises joined the case in support of the county after the Conservancy filed its suit in March of last year, within months of the county commission’s approval of Rivergrass.
The company has filed claims for more than $3 million in attorneys’ fees and other costs related to the defense of the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the Conservancy isn’t giving up.
The group announced plans to appeal the judge’s ruling on the same day he ruled on the case from the bench.
A representative for the Conservancy declined to comment on the written order.
After Hayes ruled from the bench, the Conservancy said in a written statement it was not only disappointed by the outcome but by the judge’s earlier decision to limit the issues that could be heard at trial.
“The pursuit of our mission and science- based policy have guided us through this process as we legally challenge these precedent-setting issues that will negatively impact an extensive amount of environmentally sensitive lands,” the group stated.
With its appeal, the Conservancy further stated it intends to “make every effort to ensure that the proposed Rivergrass development complies with the intent and mandatory requirements of the Collier County Growth Management Plan and all applicable laws.”
2021 40th Annual FNPS Conference (Virtual via Whova)
Linda Wilson wrote this recap of the conference:
I have attended these conferences for many years. The first was at New College in Sarasota in the 80’s, I believe. This year, of course, it was virtual. This was my first virtual conference and it was excellent. Whova with the videos from YouTube was extremely organized and easy to follow. There was a silent auction with many trees offered, trips and gift certificates. I shopped but didn’t buy anything so I am not sure how that process worked. I missed the large book sales that are at all the conferences. It is also a way to see another part of the state but, of course, not this time. Saturday was kicked off by the keynote speaker, Craig Huegel on Pollinators. I think most of us have heard him speak but I love his passion and he is so knowledgeable. We focus so much on butterflies that we are ignoring the importance and variety of the bees, beetles, wasps and birds that are also providing us with many benefits to our health and diet. There are about 300 species of bees in Florida. Most of them are solitary not hive builders. He encouraged us to leave snags and dead underbrush (don’t be so neat!), to plant for them as well as for butterflies. Some suggestions were Live Oak, Elms, Maples, Privet Cassia, Wild Coffees, Fakahatchee grass, Lopsided Indian Grass (grasses are needed to hold up things like Liatris), Pepper Grass, Dotted Horsemint, Black Eyed Susan, Pawpaw, Gopher Apple, Stoppers. Rouge plant, Scarlet Sage, Coral Honeysuckle and Firebush. Leave some bare soil for the bees and beetles that need that. Not everything needs to be mulched. If you must dead head and clean up do it in the spring not the fall when lots of creatures use dead wood for hiding and places for young to grow and overwinter. He recommended Jaret Daniels and Mark Minno books. I am assuming that as native plant people we are already NOT using pesticides and severely limiting herbicides but Craig reiterated the importance of this. Our focus should be on the whole healthy habitat with trees, shrubs and grasses not just flowers. The next speaker was on a Turf Swap program in Alachua County. I plan to encourage the new Charlotte County Water Quality Manager to possibly copy their program. This program educates people as well as developers as far as wasteful uses of water for lawns and avoiding the fertilizers and other chemicals from polluting our ground water. There is a need to prohibit new irrigation wells. I’m not sure they are even regulated here. The belief that reclaimed water should be used for watering is unfortunately allowing some very nasty things such as copper to be introduced to our water table. This program also trades some grass use to native plants in the new developments and also in older homes with high water use. The next speaker was an NGO that does prescribed burns in North Florida. They also train new burn bosses. There is no such program in our area, I’m not sure why. If you haven’t seen the wildflower explosion after a burn you really should make a point to do that. This past year, Myakka State Forest did a lot of burning and the flowers were amazing. I’ve never seen so many Drumheads, Colicroot, orchids, and milkweeds. The next speaker was a landscape architect who spoke on the need to transition to a new mindset. We cannot keep up the use of chemicals, water and grass use that we are following. We need to reimagine what we can accomplish for the world at large not just our little quarter acre piece of property. She talked about “Green Mulch”. Frog fruit was her example. It is a great pollinator plant which can be mowed and walked on. She recommended The Overstory by Richard Powers. The next speaker was Land Management for Pollinators. Again, the same message as Craig with some more plant ideas. Blueberry, Silverleaf Aster, Summer Farewell, Beautyberry, Rubus, Partridge Pea, Mimosa, Bidens, Spiderwort and Blanketflower. Again, don’t be so neat. The next speaker was on Floating Wetlands and shoreline restoration. As alternatives to algaecides (copper,etc.) it was suggested that we use plants with large tap roots not always grasses to capture excess nutrients. Duckweed apparently blocks sunlight and therefore kills the bad algae. Of course, no mowing to the edge which should be a given with safety as a first concern. Children are not apt to wander into water if they have to navigate some vegetation and mowers won't be injured when they accidentally overturn. This happens more than you think. The rest of the afternoon was studies done by mostly Archbold Biological Station interns. I need to remember to go there next winter when it's cool. The studies included Patterns in Long Leaf Pine communities, Phenological divergence in Garberia heterophylla, Above Ground Biomass and effects of time since fire on insect herbivory of Lyonia fruticosa. On to Sunday, I skipped the first morning program as it was school children related. The first of interest for me was a wonderful program from a condo unit association that did a huge project on several ponds on the grounds where they removed invasives and replanted natives. They had received several grants as they are open to the public and have a nice walking path available to all who visit. The next program was a cartoon focusing on children and gardening. If anyone does children’s programs I thought it was wonderful and I believe done by a teacher and students. The next program was a Miami project that is focused on trying to propagate all the species of Milkweed that are found in that county. They collected local seeds and did a lot work getting them to thrive so that they can then be replanted at natural sites in the area. It was mentioned several times during the weekend that the exotic scarlet milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, has now been reported in several wetland areas. Everyone wanted to get plants but it is very hard to do this in quantity. The next program was on the Bromeliad Conservation Project. Tillandsia utriculata. This was presented by someone from the Enchanted Forest on the other coast. They have been collecting them, spraying them with "Safari", leaving them for a few days and then placing them in the large cages you may have seen around. I noticed one at Carlton Reserve when I was wandering there a few months ago. They are also participating in a study of a fungus that may deter the beetle. The next program was on Chapter Development. Our Chapter is doing an amazing job especially with the new board members that have contributed so much. We do need new blood since I am very tired and want to retire as Treasurer and I think Lois as well. They urged new projects to spur more volunteers. Apparently, if you start new ones people sign up to help after the fact!?! The last speaker was on the Native Plant Conservation Campaign. Plants compose 50% of listed species but receive 5% of funding. There are 6 bills at the Federal level that would allow money to use for native plants. President Bidens Build Back Better bill has money for resilience from climate change for example. Lots of studies have been done (possibly Covid gave people time to finish writing them up) on plants, birds, fish etc. that are encouraging from an environmental standpoint. She urged us to sign up for NPCC news. This is a group of native plant societies (plantsocieties.org) working to bring a bigger voice to our message. She seemed very hopeful of the future at this time. So many people were home learning things about native plants, pollinator gardening, pesticides, etc. that we may be heading in a more hopeful direction. I enjoyed the conference more than I thought I would. It was nice to do this at home. I had no connection issues as I usually do with Zoom. Everyone's questions were answered at the end of each program and there were many opportunities to chat with others. I think they may do this every year along with the in person meeting so I would recommend this to anyone. Several speakers remarked on the low to no availability of native plants to buy for home and businesses. Anyone looking to start a business should consider this. It's always refreshing for me to be part of a group doing something good for the world and sharing knowledge is key.