Hobe Sound Developments

Plans for Sprawling City in Western Martin, by Sally Swartz - Palm Beach Post Opinion Blog

In the next few months, Martin residents will be bombarded with developers’ plans for the county’s future. Harmony, Hobe Grove, Canopus Sound, Atlantic Preserve, Hobe Sound Polo Club, AgTEC and others have polished spokesmen, fancy Web sites or professional slide shows touting their projects.

Sally Swartz

Sally Swartz

All want to change Martin County’s growth plan, and the county itself, in ways that would make it more like its crowded neighbors. The Martin Commission majority — Doug Smith, Ed Ciampi and Patrick Hayes — has approved AgTEC. Developers of the other projects each hope for a green light before the 2012 elections.

If they all succeed, they’ll create a sprawling city in western Martin geographically larger than Stuart with more than 20,000 people.

Florida’s legislature and Gov. Rick Scott destroyed regional and state planning organizations, so they can’t help much with this planning nightmare.

Martin commissioners — with residents’ input — will decide what happens. But are residents up for the challenge?

The 150 Hobe Sound residents who watched Hobe Grove’s sales pitch at a recent Chamber of Commerce breakfast had plenty of questions. Almost 500 already have signed petitions at Harry & the Natives Restaurant opposing Canopus Sound, Harmony and Hobe Grove.

Hobe Grove’s owners are charming; their slide show gorgeous; their promises exciting. Huge corporate employment centers provide 11,000 high-paying jobs, a prestigious university has an onsite campus, and 4,300 lovely homes will be built over many years. Maps show an environmental restoration project with lakes and wetlands.

Photos show happy students and the brick facades of recently remodeled Stuart Middle School and J.D. Parker Elementary to illustrate Hobe Grove’s new schools (which residents will provide.) Peaceful scenes at Grassy Waters Preserve in Palm Beach County illustrate the possible beauty of Hobe Grove’s environmental area. Spokesmen promise Hobe Grove won’t be complete until 2030 and no houses go up until jobs are in place.

It’s all so wonderful, it’s beyond belief. Really.

Who are the employers with the 11,000 high-paying jobs? Hobe Grove reps say they are negotiating with two Fortune 500 companies and two Northeastern universities and all must be secret until the corporations commit.

When will they know? Six months, a year? “We don’t know,” spokesman Tom McNicholas admits.
What about the universities? A university, he said, follows the employers.

The promise not to build houses until the jobs are in place is just that — words. Once the county commission approves the Hobe Grove development, there’s no legal way to make the owners hold off on building houses, even if those so-wanted job providers never appear.

Resident Kathy Spurgeon asks about the impact on local beaches. Mr. McNicholas said developers are working with Jupiter Island officials to address the lack of beach parking. No, Town Manager Gene Rauth said later, they are not.

Responding to a question from resident Pat Martin, Mr. McNicholas admits the environmental restoration project is more than 10 years away.

He jokes in a friendly way about Harry MacArthur, longtime resident and popular owner of the restaurant where the petitions are available.

Residents know Mr. MacArthur has a sense of humor when they read his menu, which offers Fried Butterfly Ballots, a Palm Beach Election Board Sandwich (chads cost extra) and a President Obamalette for $789 billion.

Mr. MacArthur is dead serious about his opposition to developments he thinks will replace farmlands, wreck Martin’s urban boundary and ruin Hobe Sound’s laid-back, small town charm. But he has some jovial comments about Hobe Grove.

“Where are Mickey and Minnie?” he asks, grinning. “This all sounds like Disney World to me.”

Hobe Sound residents know the difference between facts and fairy dust. They hope the commission majority will, too.

Sally Swartz is a former member of The Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is sdswartz42@comcast.net