Environment: “Destiny’s death buys time for a Florida frontier and the birth of conservation movements”

Environment: “Destiny’s death buys time for a Florida frontier and the birth of conservation movements”

Photo: Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel

“The expanse of wild lands between Central and South Florida was given a second chance for conservation when, in the heart of it, the Destiny development was reincarnated as DeLuca Preserve. This landscape picture here is from the neighboring of Three Lake Wildlife Management Area.

Anthony Pugliese III closed in 2005 on a $137 million purchase of 27,000 acres he called Destiny.

The property at Yeehaw Junction in south Osceola County is surrounded by large preserves and ranches. Destiny would be the first invasion of houses and businesses amid a landscape that connects the best environments of South and Central Florida.

‘It was going to be like a can opener, prying its way for more development into one of the wildest frontiers left in the state of Florida,’ said Carlton Ward Jr., a conservation photographer.

Like many Florida dreams, Destiny collapsed into a heap of recriminations and legal troubles. But its failure opened the door to transformation of the 27,000 acres into DeLuca Preserve.

Pugliese was then a veteran South Florida developer from Delray Beach. His partner was Fred DeLuca, co-founder of Subway restaurants, who was cited by Forbes magazine then as being worth $1.5 billion and the world’s 512th-richest person…

The tract they acquired had been a quarter of the 100,000-acre ranch assembled in the 1930s by Latimer ‘Latt’ Maxcy, who died in the 1970s as a titan among Florida ranchers.

Latt Maxcy Corp. believed the 27,000-acre sale was the region’s largest land deal since Walt Disney bought his kingdom. ‘At this time,’ the corporation said when the deal closed, no details had been ‘released as to the buyer’s plans for the property.’

That would come a year later when Pugliese and DeLuca unveiled their ambitions, including features to attract a quarter-million residents.

Huge risks

They designed the community for canals, waterborne taxis powered by electricity, health clinics for the boomer generation, organic restaurants, a biomedical research center and a biomass energy plant.

Pugliese said the location, the Yeehaw Junction of three major highways, was an ‘aligning of the stars…’

But the proposed development was viewed as an abomination by the Florida Department of Community Affairs. DCA was the state’s vaunted watchdog for growth and development regulations.

There was a reason the per-acre price of the would-be city was relatively cheap at less than $5,000. The land had no development permissions and was far from government services.

DCA sparred with Destiny at every juncture. Then came more resistance to the project.

The housing bubble burst and the Great Recession began in 2007. Proposed developments across Florida bled out…

Destiny’s visionary, Pugliese, was sentenced in 2015 to six months in jail for defrauding DeLuca, who had died of cancer a few months earlier and whose estate took ownership of the land.

‘Yeehaw Junction is rural, almost wilderness and no place for urban development,’ said Thomas Pelham, DCA secretary and vocal foe of Destiny when it was in play.

A University of Florida sign for DeLuca Preserve stands near Yeehaw Junction in south Osceola County and 70 miles south of Orlando…

Hibernating giant

At the least, many environmentalists figured, Destiny’s death bought time to keep one of Florida’s last frontiers alive.


Photo: Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda, Orlando Sentinel

‘I don’t know if I was ecstatic as much as ‘thank God,’’ said Julie Morris [Florida program manager for the National Wildlife Refuge Association and director of the Florida Conservation Group], who grew up on ranch and natural spaces and has worked for government and nonprofit conservation groups.

‘I drive by it all the time and all I could think about for years was, if this goes for development, I think I used the phrase that we might as well pack up and go home,’ Morris said.”

— Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel via WUSF 89.7 Public Media

Read more details on new Conservation Science, view maps and understand the people behind the ranch lands and wildlife corridor movements who helped protect and preserve Florida’s scenic beauty.

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“A micro forest is being planted in Sarasota to combat climate change – The Suncoast Urban Reforesters will be planting more than 1,000 trees.”

“A micro forest is being planted in Sarasota to combat climate change – The Suncoast Urban Reforesters will be planting more than 1,000 trees.”

Video: 10 Tampa Bay

“The Stoneybrook Golf and Country Club in Sarasota will soon be home to a microforest in an effort to combat climate change.

Members of the Suncoast Urban Reforesters (SURF) were out on Wednesday prepping for their plans to plant more than 1,000 trees on the golf course. They say miniature forests are beneficial for the environment since they are fast-growing and capture carbon from the air.

The effort is part of a larger movement that’s swept the world over the past year. Micro forests have recently been springing up across Europe and here in the U.S. However, it has its roots in one Japanese botanist’s 50-year-old idea.

In the 1970s, botanist Akira Miyawaki planted thousands of these forests in Japan, Malaysia and other parts of the world. The idea being that planting the same species of trees that grow naturally in an area can create a diverse forest community.

Scientists have found that these small forests can not only grow faster but are more biodiverse compared to traditional planting methods. They also found the forests can store 40 times more carbon than any one species of plant, helping aid in the global effort to reduce carbon in the air…”

— 10 Tampa Bay

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Master Planning: Why a city needs one to protect Florida’s scenic waterfronts

…”Jacksonville has long approached downtown development in a secretive and piecemeal fashion, and over the last few weeks this has resulted in several different groups offering up competing plans for parts of the city center.

It’s time for Jacksonville to create something many cities with successfully revived Downtowns have done: create a comprehensive, strategic, publicly vetted Downtown master plan.

What would a Downtown master plan do?


The City of St. Petersburg, through the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan, envisions a continued legacy of preserved and enhanced open space that is inclusive and offers opportunities for all.

Essentially, a Downtown master plan is simply a long-term guide for future planning and development. Very many cities have master plans for their downtowns, from Atlanta, Georgia to Erie, Pennsylvania and everywhere in between. One of Jacksonville’s peer cities, Oklahoma City, has seen a tremendous impact from its elaborate plans, both inside and outside Downtown.

Common elements of master plans include:

– Defining public, semiprivate, and private amenities Downtown
– Laying out the concrete, longterm vision for key public sites and amenities
– Determining areas to cluster complementing uses in a compact setting
– Identifying primary streets (high traffic commercial corridors) versus secondary or service streets
– Identifying locations and timelines for public amenities that may spark private development
– Creating an implementation schedule for moving development phases forward.
– Community outreach and engagement to ensure the stated vision matches the vision of citizens.

A master plan should not dictate what takes place on private property; instead it should focus on public amenities and making sure land use policies and zoning are set up so that private owners can achieve their property’s fullest potential. In general, a Downtown master plan allows a city to guide development over time, instead of just putting a library here and a museum there like a SimCity player who just got the game and hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.

Why don’t we have one?


A rendering from the Downtown Savannah 2033 Master Plan

According to the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA), we do. They have referred to the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Plan released in 2015 as the city’s “Downtown master plan”. As DIA CEO Lori Boyer told the Jacksonville Daily Record in February 2021, “In recent months we have repeatedly heard from members of the public and in the media that there is no master plan for Downtown and we are simply looking at projects piecemeal… In fact there is.”

The Jaxson argues that the 2015 CRA Plan is not a true master plan. Or at least if is, it’s a bad one. The CRA Plan is a decent start with a lot of positive features, but just doesn’t have many elements that absolutely should be in any true, effective, comprehensive master plan. For example, a master plan should show the community’s intention and vision for publicly owned properties. If Downtown Jacksonville is going to have a new convention center, the master plan should specify the site, how it will be funded and the timeline for its construction. If Amtrak and passenger rail is going to return to the Prime Osborn, the master plan should estimate when it will happen and how much it will cost so that those developing nearby blocks can coordinate their efforts. The CRA plan doesn’t do this.

The DIA has contracted consulting firm GAI (no relation) to draft a broader plan for Downtown to be released later this year, which is apparently an update to the 2015 CRA Plan. It’s not clear what it will include, but some signs are encouraging; for instance it will encourage more sidewalk dining and restaurants. Other signs are… less encouraging. For example, one significant element of the plan is rebranding effort for Downtown neighborhoods. The city got an early taste of how that’s going recently when DIA released their survey proposing, among other things, to rename Downtown’s Northbank and Southbank with goofy marketing-speak names, “NoCo” and “SoBa.” Jaxsons on social media gave that one a fat No-Go.

But whatever this plan includes, if it doesn’t include, for instance, the longterm vision for key catalytic public sites, including along LaVilla’s long overlooked historic Broad Street corridor, we are in fact looking at projects piecemeal. That means Downtown will remain in the dark when it comes to leveraging the private sector, gaining public support and encouraging certain types of uses in key locations. In other words, it’s still not a true master plan.

Jacksonville’s past experience with plans


A sketch of the 1971 Downtown Master Plan

Jacksonville is no stranger to plans of various kinds. The city adopted a Downtown master plan in 1971, though it didn’t follow up on most of the recommendations, and the piecemeal approach it took just made the situation worse. In 1987, this was followed by the Downtown initial action plan. In the plan, KBJ Architects noted that “All too often plans for downtown are just that. They ignore the political, financial or market realities of downtown and end up on the shelf ignored.” You know where this is going: that plan also ended up on the shelf, largely ignored. In 2000, Mayor John Delaney sponsored Celebrating the River: A Plan for Downtown Jacksonville, with updates to the previous unrealized plans. His successor Mayor John Peyton embraced this plan, but then, nothing. It wasn’t followed and ended up on the shelf.

Other plans include the Mobility Plan and a forthcoming bike master plan, and numerous studies commissioned by various public and private entities. It’s totally reasonable for Jaxsons to be skeptical of another plan or study. But other cities’ experiences prove that a good master plan, when well designed and followed up upon really can have positive effects. It’s a matter of devising a good plan and then seeing it through over the years.

And anyway, the track record for not having or following a plan isn’t any better.

No plan means a whole lot of contradictory plans


Developer Steve Atkins’ $1.1 billion Riverfront Jacksonville Master Plan proposed for Jacksonville’s Northbank Riverfront

One result of the lack of a master plan for Downtown Jacksonville is that, as interest in redevelopment heats up, various groups have launched their own. In the last few months alone, Steve Atkins’ SouthEast Development Group, Shad Khan and the Jaguars, advocacy group Riverfront Parks Now, the Jacksonville chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund have all announced, completed or happen to be in the stage of working on various visions for parts of Downtown. And in addition to the DIA’s work on the updated CRA plan, the agency is also wrapping up a design competition for the future of Lenny’s Lawn – sorry, Riverfront Park – to replace the old Jacksonville Landing.

The problem with this is obvious. We now have an array of competing plans and visions that don’t jive with each other and are unlikely to match whatever DIA is working on. The DIA may not feel it’s looking at projects piecemeal, but everyone else certainly is. And that’s not their fault; they’re working without a publicly accessible master plan. This is the peril of not working with what you already have. Redevelopment becomes a lot easier, less time consuming and far more affordable when looking at the entire downtown area holistically, understanding what we can and can’t do with certain spaces and then coordinating adaptive reuse and infill projects within those parameters and guidelines. These are certain elements of a master planning process that the existing CRA plan largely lacked.

As we’ve argued before, the lack of a comprehensive, strategic, publicly vetted master plan continues to hold Downtown Jacksonville back. The city government has acquired a reputation for making big decisions behind closed doors and keeping the public out of the decision making. When decisions are made in bubbles like that, they don’t get vetted or exposed to other potential solutions and better ideas. And the citizens footing the bill don’t get a chance to say what they really want to see in their Downtown.

Where we go from here


A vision for Brevard Street in the draft version of Charlotte’s 2040 Center City Vision Plan

The DIA should take the opportunity provided by the CRA plan update to really get things right. They should make sure the plan includes elements from Downtown master plans in other cities that have successfully revitalized. In doing this, it’s absolutely crucial that they bring the public in before, not after, the plan is developed. It can’t be just a panel of preselected “stakeholders” or an online survey. Think about it this way: if there had been public input on the Downtown branding project, terrible names like “NoCo” and “SoBa” would have been shot down before being released in the wild only to be torn apart.

Let’s do the right thing here: let’s give Downtown Jacksonville the comprehensive, strategic, publicly vetted master plan we’ve always needed but never had – and stick to it.

Bill Delaney and Ennis Davis, AICP, Editorial in The Jaxson Mag
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“$1.1 billion riverfront master plan proposed for downtown Jacksonville”

“$1.1 billion riverfront master plan proposed for downtown Jacksonville”

Photo: Gallery in Jacksonville Daily Record
“Jacksonville developer Steve Atkins says he wants to lead a nearly $1.1 billion redevelopment of mostly city-owned property, including the former Jacksonville Landing, on a stretch of the Downtown Northbank riverfront.

At an invitation-only event June 1 at the Florida Theatre, Atkins presented his ‘Riverfront Jacksonville’ redevelopment plan for about 25 acres along the St. Johns River.

Atkins, who is SouthEast Development Group LLC managing director, says he will try to persuade the city and Downtown Investment Authority to pay for $536 million in a public-private partnership to build 1.8 million square feet of space from the former Jacksonville Landing to the former Duval County Courthouse and old City Hall site, rebranded in 2020 by DIA as The Ford on Bay.

City buy-in

As of May 28, DIA staff and Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration have seen all of SouthEast’s master plan work, according to Atkins.

It is unclear if city officials are willing to accept Atkins’ request for about $500 million in tax money.

Atkins said Goldman Sachs and Piper Sandler together committed to financing the estimated $1.1 billion upfront if the city agrees to an incentives package to repay its share over time…

With all but 2.5 acres targeted as publicly owned, Atkins also would have to convince city officials to change or integrate taxpayer-backed development plans active on the riverfront…

The city also awarded nearly $375,000 in stipends to three national firms in March for a competition to design a 4.5-acre public park at the former Landing site with a selection expected in October.

The DIA and city have renamed the site Riverfront Plaza. DIA CEO Lori Boyer said a plan to put the remaining land on the market for private development after park construction is underway.

Atkins said SouthEast’s team recognizes the park competition but did not commit to keeping the design selected by the DIA should the city agree to work with him.

‘I’m hoping that some of the best (park) ideas are things that we might be able to collaborate with folks on in this plan,’ Atkins said…

Next steps

A spokesperson for Atkins said SouthEast said in a May 30 email the company plans to formally approach the DIA in July with a development proposal.”

— Mike Mendenhall, Jacksonville Daily Record
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For a gallery of renderings of Riverfront Jacksonville, click here

Legal: “Palm Beach County moves to expand ban on floating structures anchoring in county waters”

Legal: “Palm Beach County moves to expand ban on floating structures anchoring in county waters”

Photo: Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post

“…Palm Beach County is one step closer to expanding a local law that bans floating structures from anchoring in county waters, with some exceptions.

If passed, an update to the Cindy DeFilippo Floating Structure Ordinance will apply to floating structures anchoring or mooring in all waters within the county, including those under the jurisdiction of a city or town.

County commissioners will take a final vote on June 15.

A floating structure isn’t a boat or other watercraft, which the state defines as a ‘vessel’ and requires registration.

Rather, it is a ‘floating entity … not primarily used as a means of transportation on water but which serves purposes typically associated with a structure or other improvement to real property,’ according to the state. These can include functions such as a residence, restaurant or clubhouse. ”

— Hannah Morse, Palm Beach Post

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Land Preservation: “Pinellas County, City Of Dunedin In Lockstep On Douglas Hackworth Property”

Land Preservation: “Pinellas County, City Of Dunedin In Lockstep On Douglas Hackworth Property”

Photo: Sierra Club
“…Pinellas County Government and City of Dunedin officials have announced new developments in the effort to acquire land in North County for environmental preservation and passive recreation.

‘We’re very pleased with the public and private funding commitments we’ve been able to garner thus far for the property, and look forward to working with the estate to preserve the property for future generations,’ said Pinellas County Administrator Barry A. Burton.

‘Our community believes acquisition of this property is an intergenerational imperative,’ said Dunedin City Manager Jennifer K. Bramley. ‘The City of Dunedin looks forward to working with our partners, both public and private, to place a strong offer before the estate.’

County and City officials also announced they will submit a joint application next week to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a Florida Communities Trust state grant. They hope that the grant, coupled with an ongoing community fundraising effort, would contribute toward the final acquisition and environmental restoration costs for the Douglas-Hackworth property…”

— Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Patch.com
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Citizens for a Scenic Florida