Report: Sprawl Threatens Northeast Florida's Natural Beauty, Farmland

Sep 15, 2016

Northeast Florida is projected to have the state’s second-largest population growth over the next 50 years, according to a new study.

First Coast development is also expected to be among the most sprawling.

But the study’s authors say that prediction doesn't have to come true.

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The report from the state agriculture department, along with the University of Florida and conservation group 1000 Friends of Florida, predicts a continued acceleration in land development.

The Florida 2070 report says the state’s population will grow by 15 million people in the next 54 years, a projection that’s down by 3 million since the group’s last report, Florida 2060.

Still, if nothing changes, neighborhood development will more than double, severely restricting agriculture and conservation land. That problem will be especially pronounced along the First Coast, which is second only to Central Florida in projected population growth, said University of Florida Planning Professor Peggy Carr.

“Even when we increase the development density by 20 percent, as we did in the alternative, we’re still not seeing a real significant change in the gross development density. So, what that means is that more land is taken up to accommodate the projected population growth,” Carr said.

To conserve more land for farming, ecology and historical preservation, Carr suggests increasing public transportation options, building near walkable areas and revitalizing urban cores to lure people into city centers.

The study’s authors are also recommending the state land-buying program Florida Forever buy all the land on its priority 1 list for protection.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter@RyanMichaelBenk