Has Highlands seen last of sprawl?
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Between the 1990 and 2010 censuses, Highlands County became increasingly urbanized, and that trend will continue in the next two decades.
Published: October 7, 2012
Published: October 7, 2012
However, Lake Placid Town Councilor Ray Royce and Sebring Planner Jim Polatty think future growth won't sprawl across the prairie, despite the admonition of the former Department of Community Affairs.
However, rapid growth ended after 2006: after builders put up 1,219 homes that year, only 71 permits were pulled in 2011.
"The United States has reached an historic moment," said Warren Karlenzig, president of Common Current, a San Anselmo, Calif. company which analyzes urban planning and development trends. "The exurban development explosion that defined national growth during the past two decades has come to a screeching halt."
Exurbs are bedroom communities and commuter towns like Haines City, which lie beyond Orlando's contiguous suburbs.
Only one of the 100 highest-growth U.S. communities of 2006 reported a significant population gain in 2011, Karlenzig said.
Yale economist Robert Shiller has predicted suburbs may not see growth "during our lifetimes."
Polatty disagreed, in part. "It will slow down, but it will never stop. As long as the desired dwelling of choice is a single-family home with a little patch of green grass around it, American cities will keep spreading out. Some people will continue that sprawl."
Some also desire brand-new houses to existing homes, Polatty said, and that will continue the proliferation of new subdivisions.
However, Florida Natural Areas Inventory pointed out to DCA in 2011 that Highlands County already has between 57,000 and 97,000 buildable lots.
In a 110-page Objections, Recommendations and Comments report, the state's former planning agency — now known as the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity — said the Lake Placid overlays exhibited 12 factors of urban sprawl.
The prices of houses are creeping upwards, but the inventory of existing homes and vacant lots must be reduced before new homes and new subdivisions will be built, Royce said. However, he pointed out, Lake Placid North and South will be walkable, bike-able, golf cart-able communities.
"It will be well-planned, from an infrastructure standpoint," Royce said.
Smartgrowthvermont.org defines sprawl as "a pattern of land use that is characterized by dispersed, automobile-dependent development outside of compact urban and village centers."
Lake Placid North and South are planned as multi-purpose communities with their own shops. "They will be more multi-modal," Royce said. "There will be a small core area that will provide some retail where you can go get your hair cut or your nails done without getting in a car and going someplace."
Homeowners will not have individual septic tanks and wells, Royce said; the communities will have central water and sewer, underground utilities, and they will be connected to Lake Placid.
The Great Recession is ending exurban population growth, Karlenzig said.
"Older cities are landlocked," Polatty said. "They have no choice but to grow differently."
The steep decline in real estate values slowed spending in construction and home improvement, so Karlenzig also foretells the end of hypergrowth in the Home Depot-Best Buy retail sector "that were banking on the long-term rising fortunes of Boomburbs."
Polatty predicted cities won't annex residential suburbs. "It's a financial loser."
Cities have decided to annex commercial subdivisions instead of housing additions, many of which don't have the basics like sidewalks, streetlights, water and sewers.
However, he pointed out, Florida's costal cities have grown anyway because inland suburbs and exurbs have sprawled so large, they're contiguous with the cities.
"That's the history of Palm Beach County," Polatty said.
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