Harmony Ranch proposal puts burr under the no-growth saddle

Controversy already swirls over the Harmony Ranch development—bisected by Bridge and Pratt-Whitney roads and extending to Kanner Highway—before even one permit application is submitted to any agency.

Perhaps the already present anxiety of Hobe Sound residents at having the proposed, unrelated Hobe Grove development of 2,823 acres at their doorstep—as well as the looming population increases from other developments along Bridge Road—has threatened to slam shut the Harmony Ranch door before it has a chance to fully open.

Then, too, perhaps Harmony’s own apply-deny-apply-again history of attempts since 2001 to increase density and to tap into Martin County’s urban services for thousands of acres west of the turnpike has simply exhausted residents’ and lawmakers’ patience.

“We (the Martin County Board of County Commissioners) rejected their plans before, just a few years ago, because the density…their proposal…was just excessive,” said Commissioner Patrick Hayes, whose district includes Hobe Sound, when he spoke to the May 12 meeting of the Hobe Sound Neighborhood Advisory Committee.

“Then they came to us…they’ve been talking to us (county commissioners) individually, not as a group because of Florida’s sunshine law…over at least the past year,” Hayes said, “so I was disappointed when I found out that they had apparently learned nothing from our conversations.”

The Harmony Ranch Development Company documents submitted to the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Commission in April requesting a preapplication conference for the Development of Regional Impact reveal a planned city of 4,000 homes on 2,716 acres west of I-95 and the turnpike, which is more than half of the 4,585-acre tract known as Harmony Ranch. (The conference, set for May 17, will take place after this publication goes to press.)

The preapplication meeting offers an opportunity to the developer’s planners, engineers and attorneys to meet in advance with the county, regional, state and federal agencies that issue the required permits for an exchange of information and to ensure an understanding of the governmental expectations and regulations. It is also an opportunity for the public to attend and ask questions.

The Harmony project, to be completed over a 20-year time span, includes plans to hook up to Martin County’s water and sewer system,. Extending the urban services boundary west and south is a point of contention of the Jupiter Town Council, who met with Martin County commissioners and the Harmony developers on May 10.

Developer representatives attending the joint session included Nader Salour, a vice president for the Harmony Ranch development and former Martin County Commissioner Thomas Kenny, also a vice president for the Harmony Ranch Development. The president is builder Otto DiVosta of Palm Beach Gardens.

The plans describe Harmony as “a high-quality, live-work hub” that, due to its proximity to I-95 and the turnpike and its distance from Jupiter Island and Hobe Sound, will not significantly impact the traffic on local roads. At the same time, the project will provide employment opportunities for an estimated 7,000 people and will substantially increase the county’s tax base.

The Harmony plan includes construction of community facilities, natural preserve areas, water quality treatment systems and open space, as well as plans to restore cypress wetlands that have barely survived the effects of the area’s extensive canal construction.

Harmony’s history began in September 2001, when developers requested a land use amendment to build about 500 houses on a 1,025 tract zoned for only 50 units.

A year later, the developer withdrew the application, but in September 2002, they proposed a plan to expand the secondary urban service district for a 2,991-acre development of the Harmony tract. In 2003, they submitted a site plan for 872 houses on 2-acre lots on 4,579-acre agricultural land zoned for only 228 20-acre ranchettes.

The Martin County Commission, however, rejected their request to expand the secondary urban service district to include part of the Harmony Ranch property in April 2003.

Later that year the commission approved a master site plan for 213 units as 20-acre ranchettes on the 4,585-acre tract, and in July 2004, the South Florida Water Management District approved their water permits.

The Army Corps of Engineers, however, rejected the developers’ permit to fill 31 drainage ditches on the tract, of which 1,840 acres had been designated for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

After U.S. Senate leaders killed the Water Resource Development Act in 2006 that included authorization of funding for Everglades restoration, the Corps of Engineers issued the water permit that had been in contention, and in January 2007, the Martin County Board of County Commissioners approved the final site plan for the first phase of Harmony Ranch for 51 units comprised of 20 acres each on a 1,126-acre site south of Bridge Road and west of Pratt-Whitney Road

The Harmony Ranch developers also agreed to sell 1,800 acres of its tract for $34 million—funds that came collectively from the county, state and federal governments—to help restore the Indian River Lagoon, which had been a part of the original Everglades Restoration Plan.

The most recent plan of the Harmony Ranch development includes 2 million square feet of business space and 4,000 homes on 2,716 acres, which will be discussed at the preapplication meeting prior to submission of any permit applications.