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A paradise of asphalt and condos

Published March 12, 2007


Florida has 7,800 lakes, 320 springs, 300 species of palms, 56 species of roaches and several dozen talking cartoon animals. But Florida has only two renewable resources: avarice and craziness.

No matter how many reports warn that our coastlines are eroding from overbuilding (not to mention global warming), our fish full of mercury and our drinking water imperiled by agricultural and industrial waste, we allow Florida to be pimped out by developers who think profit is enshrined in Holy Writ. The group 1000 Friends of Florida, dedicated to responsible growth, recently presented a study projecting that the state's population will double in 50 years. Here's your Florida: a treeless, six-laned, Wal-Marted conurbation from St. Pete clear across to Daytona. Thirty-six-million people drinking, swimming and flushing in condo cities and endlessly replicating, viruslike retirement "villages." Think our stressed-out ecosystem can handle that?

Noted philosopher Robert Zimmerman once said, "Money doesn't talk, it swears." In Florida, money cusses so loud you can't hear the waves of the sea or the wind in the salt marshes. On our "Nature Coast" (try not to laugh), Secret Promise Ltd. threatens to erect a corpulent resort with high-rise hotels, shops, food courts, a helipad and 374 boat slips. The place is called Boggy Bay, but that's not terribly inviting. Secret Promise prefers "Magnolia Bay."

Not crazy enough for you? Every asphalt inch of this megalopolis lies within a Coastal High Hazard Area. The coastal wetlands filter pollutants and mitigate storm surge, but they are inconveniently located near the coast, so they will have to be drained and filled. The Gulf of Mexico is inconveniently shallow, so they will have to dig a 2-mile long, 7-foot-deep channel through the Big Bend Seagrass Aquatic Preserve.

Developer Chuck Olson, bankrolled by retired St. Petersburg surgeon J. Crayton Pruitt, wants you to understand that it's not about the fancy condos, and it's not about the 280,000 square feet of commercial space; it's not even about the yachts, though if they don't rip up 40 acres of protected seagrass flats the yachts can't get to the marina. It's about playing Robin Hood to the folks. Olson explains, "Taylor County has been robbed of its development rights."

Another area of Florida robbed of its development rights is the Everglades. You may recall that Gov. Jeb Bush cooked up a cunning plan to park the Scripps Biotech campus way out in northwestern Palm Beach County near the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River and the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area. The Mecca Farms site had no infrastructure, but never mind: The taxpayers would take care of that. Then Big Sugar could argue that if Mecca got sewers and roads, what was to stop them from building a bunch of golf course "communities" on the Everglades Agricultural Area and get a head start on luring that extra 18-million people down here?

Pesky environmentalists got Scripps moved to a more suitable venue. But just when you thought the place was safe for clean water, a couple of local nabobs put their brains together and figured out what Florida really needs: another theme park!

The chair of the Palm Beach County Commission thinks the idea's "awesome." Addie Greene says, "I wouldn't have to go all the way to Disney World." Disney is 43 miles from West Palm.

Millionaire Mark Zenobia, also the brains behind Dania's now-defunct Pirates World, a place so tawdry it made Six Gun Territory look like the Smithsonian, says his proposed "Entertainment City" will boast a 12,000-seat amphitheater, nightclubs, hotels and 45 exciting rides such as water chutes and a giant Ferris wheel. Look! I can see Lake Okeechobee dying!

Zenobia told the Palm Beach Post, "This isn't just something you can dream up overnight. It isn't a carnival."

Or, as Florida's premier land-use consultants put it: "Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be: but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."

Diane Roberts, a former Times editorial writer, teaches English and writing at Florida State University.

[Last modified March 12, 2007, 08:30:05]

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