As development continues to move west across Palm Beach County, many communities have stepped up to fight back against encroaching residential and commercial projects. But now, Palm Beach County has begun down a dangerous path, possibly entertaining the desires of a few special interests to weaken the 22,000-acre agricultural reserve, which for nearly two decades has successfully held the forces of development at bay.
Almost 15 years ago, Palm Beach County voters approved a $100 million bond issue to preserve agricultural areas in the county. Known as the “ag reserve,” the protected acres have been central to the area’s produce production, providing the nation with fruits and vegetables all season long and employing tens of thousands of people.
The county created a master plan for the area, meant to preserve agriculture and protect the area from development. The plan does allow limited commercial and residential development in certain locations, but the vast majority of the farmland is preserved. Unfortunately, this has not sat well with everyone in the community. Last week, several farmers and nursery owners asked for more property rights, including the ability to sell some of their land for development.
With Palm Beach County rapidly returning to the path of overdevelopment once again, opening a piece of land as important as the ag reserve to development would be a serious mistake. Already, environmentalists and communities who oppose overdevelopment are losing the battle in other areas of the county. In the case of the ag reserve, Palm Beach County has done some excellent work in creating and executing a plan to preserve the area’s agricultural nature, and a change from that course could lead to the dismantling of the current agricultural system. This system is important to local communities and the area as a whole, bringing about $2.6 billion in annual revenue. When the rest of the nation is experiencing frozen temperatures, our local growers can continue to provide produce.
Perhaps the farmers and nursery owners have some legitimate concerns, but if they are going to be addressed, the issues must be addressed as narrowly as possible. Although some limited accommodations could be made to level the playing field for small growers, selling land for more home development and retail stores is not the way to go about it. Selling out Palm Beach County to developers should not be anyone’s retirement plan.