Rural Land Stewardship

Alan Reynolds of Stantec Consulting Services discusses how he uses geodesign for land planning.

Jan 24th, 2013

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00:01Our story about geodesign starts 12 years ago in the year 2000 with some - there we go - in the year 2000...

00:11...and our story had some very unusual and interesting collaborators that led to the outcome that I'm going to tell you about.

00:22The story is really good, but in the interest of time, I'm going to tell you a little bit more about where we wound up...

00:26...and, maybe someday in the future, I can tell the - all the other stories.

00:31But, anybody guess what the common interest is between Jeb Bush, pizza, panthers, and cowboys?

00:39Any idea? Other than Jeb Bush's brother is a cowboy; Jeb was governor of the state of Florida in the year 2000...

00:49...when our process began.

00:51Panthers are one of the most critically endangered species in the country at the time that we started our process.

00:58There were estimated to be less than 100 panthers.

01:02And, of course, panthers and cowboys don't always get along together.

01:05And the pizza, I'm going to tell you about a little bit later.

01:09Cowboys do like pizza.

01:12So Rural Land Stewardship is, in essence, it's a way of incentivizing private interests to accomplish the public good...

01:23...and in our case, it's incentivizing the removal of development rights from private land...

01:31...and thereby conserving in perpetuity critical resources and allowing them to be managed privately... the same time trying to protect important agricultural lands for food production.

01:45And, finally, to promote sustainable growth in the appropriate locations...

01:50...and try to get all these things to sort of integrate with each other and match.

01:54And I'm going to emphasize the word incentive-based, because what you'll see in a minute is that one of the unique about this program... that it relies on no regulations and it relies on no public funding in order to accomplish these objectives.

02:10So the Rural Land Stewardship I'm going to talk about, and there's actually another one in Florida...

02:14...and some in the works, but the one we're going to talk about is the first one.

02:18It's 200 or 300 square miles. It sits in the northeastern corner of Collier County...

02:23...and if you know Florida, Naples and Fort Myers has been one of the fastest growing MSAs for years and years.

02:30The neighbor to the east of the RLS is what's commonly called the Western Everglades or the Big Cypress Swamp...

02:37...and it's this area is not only home to a significant agricultural production center in Florida for winter vegetables and citrus... well as cattle, hence the cowboys. We do have cowboys in Collier County...

02:51...but it is also the primary range of the endangered Florida panther and a whole host of other listed species, critical wetlands... you can imagine, I mean, on the edge of the Everglades.

03:02So it's an important area that had no plan and no idea of how it was going to be developed or conserved over time.

03:13And so, there was a whole lot of bad things happening.

03:17In 2000, there was litigation.

03:19The NGOs were suing the county. The county was going to down-zone the property, you know, and it was just a big mess.

03:26And what happened is that, through some conversations, the governor said, Look, you guys take a time out.

03:33We're going to give you three years.

03:34See if you can come up with a better plan for dealing with the future of this area...

03:39...than going to court and fighting over property rights and regulations.

03:44And so he issued a final order that said, Protect prime ag lands, protect critical wetland and upland habitat...

03:50...and then utilize some creative techniques for accommodating future growth.

03:54It didn't tell us how to do it, it didn't give any funding to do it.

03:57It just said this is what needs to be done.

04:00And so we got involved with property owners and with NGOs and the local government.

04:04We started a three-year journey to see if we could figure out a solution to this problem with the understanding that if we didn't...

04:11...the lawyers were waiting, you know, in the back row to resume the litigation and do it the old-fashioned way.

04:18So what was the threat for this area?

04:21The University of Florida did an analysis of the entire state of Florida, which would be a great topic for another geodesign...

04:28...but they said, if current trends continue out into the future, what does the state of Florida look like in 2060?

04:34And in our case, this Rural Land Stewardship area, which is 200,000 acres, this is what was forecast in 2060...

04:42...and all that red is development.

04:44So the NGOs call this "the blood map" because what was happening is that rural sprawl was bleeding all over the countryside... was fragmenting habitat, and the net result was going to be that in an area that had essentially no development in 2000... the year 2060, it was going to be fragmented into lots and lots of ranchettes and, you know... this was an outcome that obviously frightened a lot of people, appropriately so.

05:14And in Florida we have something called the Bert Harris Act, which says that if you're a property owner...

05:18...and you have current development rights, those are protected.

05:21The government cannot take those away from you through regulation or any way other than acquisition of your property.

05:27So this is not an unrealistic scenario at the point at which development overtakes agriculture as an economic driver.

05:36So the key concepts of stewardship, and even though we have a program that I'm going to talk about stewardship...

05:43...this is now actually a statewide program in the state of Florida, but the concepts are the same.

05:47It applies outside of urban boundaries.

05:50It's based on scientific data and market-driven economic incentives.

05:55For the participation of a private property owner, they have the choice of either participating or not...

06:00...hence, it has to be incentive-based.

06:02It requires a long-term vision.

06:04In our case, the vision now is at 2050, so it's not 250 years...

06:08...but it's certainly out there far enough where you can accomplish some big things.

06:13It has to be created through a collaborative public-private process, because everybody's got a stake in the game...

06:18...and everybody has, in many cases, competing interests, if you think about ag guys versus cattle ranchers versus environmental... know, agencies, you know, that all doesn't always nicely fit together so there has to be a collaborative process.

06:33The concept is that the private ownership and management of important natural resources... a viable alternative to public acquisition.

06:43And you have to believe that that's the case and we have some mechanisms in which we ensure that that occurs.

06:50And then the final concept is that the economics of quality growth can leverage the far-reaching public benefits.

06:58In other words, there's a value proposition to quality growth, and if you can tap into just a little sliver of that... can accomplish some things that you cannot accomplish any other way.

07:09So how the program works is using GIS.

07:13We created a new currency called a stewardship credit.

07:17And a stewardship credit is created out of the natural resource and agricultural values of the property...

07:23...and it's calculated using a GIS database that we put together.

07:27I wish we had the new stuff, but we were working with the old stuff back in 2000, but it did the job just perfectly.

07:33But we create regionally specific natural resource index, which I'll share in a minute.

07:40That index creates a credit value, and that credit then can be used by a property owner to eliminate their rights...

07:47...and to sell that credit to somebody who has a plan to develop a sustainable community.

07:54So you'd have sending areas and receiving areas, which is kind of a common planning idea of transfer development rights...

07:59...but there's some very big differences, and this program from the traditional TDR.

08:04So to develop a receiving area in a stewardship area, you must acquire credits.

08:09The credits actually entitle footprint as opposed to density.

08:13So it's again a little different concept here, which is what we're trying to do is shrink the footprint of development on the landscape...

08:20...thereby enabling the conservation of agriculture and critical habitat.

08:25And you have to then calibrate the credit system and by calibrating it... arrive at a balance between these various outcomes that you're trying to achieve.

08:36And, again, we're using GIS to calibrate it using different scenarios of index values and credits...

08:41...until you get to the mix that has the best result.

08:48So my GIS team said, "You've got to put a slide in about the software and the methodology."

08:52I'm not a GIS expert, so I'm sure this will mean a lot to many of you in the room.

08:58But what I will tell you is that GIS is not only the platform for how we put it together, but it was the therapist... Bran was talking about, or Jack, you were talking about this idea, that this can actually become the way of bringing people together.

09:16And what happened at the start of our process is we had people that did not trust each other, that would not talk to each other...

09:22...that would not agree on anything.

09:23You could take them out to a piece of property, and they would have three different opinions of whether that panther habitat...

09:28...or, you know, a farm field.

09:30And by spending a year and a half just building the database, we got these disparate people to start talking to each other.

09:37When we finally got them to agree on a map that they could say, yeah, that represents what's on the ground.

09:45And we did that before we started doing any of the future planning, because we had to get them to the point...

09:49...where they at least trusted each other at some level.

09:53So without a GIS platform, we never could have accomplished that.

09:58So we started building this natural resource index.

10:01And what we did is we took a lot of data, things like - in the panthers, a lot of them have been collared with the GPS collars... we had a lot of telemetry that we could use.

10:10We had the typical flux data. We had subsurface hydrology soils data.

10:15And what we did is we started putting all of this information together and giving it relative scores.

10:21Because what we had to do is take a whole lot of stuff and turn it into a tool.

10:25And so we took different attributes, we scored it.

10:29We would then run maps to show what that looked like as a digital representation of an environmental system.

10:36And we then calibrated it with scientists by saying, does that look right?

10:39I mean, does this match with what you think makes sense using traditional methods?

10:42And finally we got to an index that everybody said, yeah, that represents the values that we think, you know...

10:49...are close enough for a plan tool.

10:51And the nice thing about this is that it's not static in time, because natural environments change.

10:56So in our system, even though we have a map like this that scores every acre within 200,000 acres...

11:02...those scores will change depending on the final attributes at the time that a property owner decides to participate.

11:08So if a property owner can do something to improve his score over time, that's a good thing.

11:15So then we took another concept which is that if you're a private property owner and you have a panther...

11:19...or you have a Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, guess what, that devalues your property based on the regulatory paradigm.

11:26So you don't want to have that stuff.

11:28You know, you want to get rid of it.

11:29You want to clear the vegetation.

11:31So what we did is we said, Okay, we're going to turn the credit system in reverse, and the more - the higher score you get...

11:38...the more credits you're going to get under our system.

11:40So all of a sudden, property owners that saw listed species as a liability said, "Wait a minute...

11:46...if I manage my land to the good of listed species and if the wetlands stay in a pristine condition... I can get rewarded for that," and the reward is a monetary reward through more credits that they receive in that process.

12:01The interesting thing that came out of this is not only did this tell us what needed to be protected...

12:06...and incentivized what needed to be protected, but it also told us where there was land that...

12:11...frankly didn't rise to the level of needing the same kind of protection.

12:15So that's where we started saying, we can identify places where development in the future can go...

12:19...because if it doesn't have a score of X, it doesn't rise to a level of significance.

12:25And, so it became - that was sort of a by-product of the natural resource index.

12:33And, again, we don't have time to look at this, but we put the whole credit system on a worksheet and, basically... uses the natural resource index as one parameter of a credit generation.

12:45And then the other parameter is what is a property owner willing to give up.

12:49Because if you think about it, property owners have more than use of their land.

12:53They may be farming it today, but they may have development rights to, you know, build homes in the future.

12:59They might have mining rights.

13:00They might have, you know, all kinds of different things they could do.

13:03So what we gave property owners, at their request, is selectivity so that they could say... know what, I'm willing to eliminate the right to develop houses and, you know, mines and all that...

13:13...but I want to keep the right to farm the property, and I get a certain value for that.

13:18If I'm willing to take it all the way down to conservation, I get a different value.

13:22If I'm willing to restore the land beyond just keeping it as it is, I get a different value.

13:27And when you multiple those two - that number and that index together, that tells you how many credits you get.

13:32So, again, it gives property owners choices.

13:35It gives a variable scale, and it gives some flexibility to the implementation of the program.

13:41So these credits then become essentially the currency.

13:46So here's where the pizza comes in.

13:49So we put this program together. It took about three or four years.

13:52We put it in place. It was very innovative.

13:54Nobody had ever seen anything quite like it before.

13:56Nobody thought it was going to work.

13:57And Tom Mongahan, who founded Domino's Pizza, sold Domino's Pizza, and with all the money that he made...

14:05...he said, "I'm going to devote this to higher education for the rest of my life," specifically, higher Catholic education.

14:11He's a devout Catholic.

14:12And he says, "I'm going to build a new university somewhere in Florida."

14:15And then one of the property owners in eastern Collier County said, "Hey, you know, we've got this program.

14:20I'd like to build a new town. You've got a university.

14:23A university town might make sense. Let's use the program to build a new town."

14:28And so they got together and collaborated and the result of that was we put together a master plan...

14:35...and we created the first receiving area, which is the new town of Ave Maria.

14:38That's a picture back in '06 when it more or less opened.

14:44It's since grown somewhat from that.

14:46But, ultimately, it's a town of 5,000 acres. It will accommodate a population of 25,000 people.

14:53And it's on a footprint that's like one-tenth of what it would have been had we not had the ability to use the stewardship program... a result.

15:01And, by building this new town, we retired 17,000 stewardship credits, which made our environmental friends happy...

15:09...because it protected a couple of very significant panther corridors that they had been lusting after to get into protection...

15:16...because without it being in protection, they couldn't get funding for the overpasses...

15:20...which are where the panthers have to cross under roads.

15:23So anyway, it all came together, and all of a sudden we have developers, environmentalists...

15:28...on the same side of the table all saying, Yeah, let's approve this project, because there's good things that are going to happen...

15:34...that benefit not just, you know, the developer, but the environment.

15:39So that new town is very neat.

15:42It opened right as the recession went like this, so it certainly didn't grow as fast as anybody thought it would...

15:47...but it's actually now coming back pretty quickly, and it's quite a fascinating place.

15:53And we actually had to create a whole set of design guidelines to make sure that even the development... going to be implemented in a sustainable way so, I mean, everything from dual water systems and, you know...

16:04...we have sort of all the tricks, if you will inside the town to make it fit within that kind of a larger context of an important area.

16:14So where are we today in the program?

16:17And, again, we had a 196,000 acres of land, all in private ownership.

16:23Only 16,000 acres when we started was protected.

16:28Today, we have 55,750 acres that have been put into stewardship sending, and actually the two most critical areas...

16:37...which are these two long things you see on the west is the Camp Key strand, which connects the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary...

16:44...which is a world-class cypress preserve that's managed by the Audubon Society...

16:49...connects that all the way down to the panther preserve so we now have that whole corridor in place...

16:54...and on the east side is the Kalachuchi State Forest at the top, and it connects all the way down.

16:59So now we have a corridor, because panthers are wide-ranging species.

17:04They will typically hunt, you know, 50,000 acres, so they need to be able to move across the landscape unencumbered.

17:12So that happened in six years from the time that we put the program in place.

17:19Our adopted target for 2025 was 90,000 acres, so we're more than halfway to our 2025 goal...

17:26...and we have a 2050 goal of 134,000 acres.

17:30And that 134,000 acres is going to include not just habitat and natural resource areas, but it's going to include farms...

17:37...because we now have a credit that's specific to keeping active agriculture in place as well.

17:44So we think that we - we certainly exceeded everybody's expectations in terms of the rate at which the program is embraced...

17:53...and the reason we did that, as it was mentioned this morning, if you reward certain behaviors, then you get those behaviors.

17:59Well, what we did is we said, you know what, there isn't a demand for credits today, because there's not a real development pressure... we created an early-entry bonus.

18:08Said if you, the property owner, are willing to come in and put your land into a perpetual stewardship easement today...

18:14...we're going to give you extra credit for doing that, and if you commit to restoring certain parts of your land...

18:20...we'll give you extra credit for that, but that early-entry bonus had an expiration date.

18:24So we got a lot of folks that jumped in and says we're willing to do this on the idea that someday we're going to be able to use these credits...

18:32...and in the meantime, we're going to bank them.

18:34We have the one receiving area, which is Ave Maria.

18:36We have another that's sort of on the back burner right now.

18:40But so you can see the ratio right now or conservation to development is a good ratio.

18:47Ultimately, it's going to be even better.

18:50So far we've saved at least $200 million on public acquisition, and that's compared to our county's public land purchase program...

18:57...where they actually go out and buy the land here.

19:00If they had bought the land that's been protected, it would have actually been probably more than $200 million.

19:04We've had $350 million investment in private infrastructure in a rural part of Florida that really needed some economic boost...

19:13...and we've added $190 million to the tax base of Collier County just with what's in place today...

19:19...which is about, you know, 15 percent of what we expect in the future.

19:24So the, again, the concept here is that there's not enough public money to buy everything that should be protected.

19:32If you can find a way to protect land in a different way through incentives, that's a good thing.

19:40You can also use this concept, for example, if there are limited dollars but it needs to be in public ownership...

19:46...a government could buy the credits, essentially retire the credits, not develop, but retire the credits...

19:52...and the property owner still has some residual economic benefit from his land so they can buy the credits less expensively...

19:59...than if they had to buy the land in fee.

20:02And, finally, I mean, the big -ha moment here was that, all of a sudden...

20:06...environmental assets become an asset to a private property owner as opposed to a liability...

20:11...provided that they believe in the long-term stewardship of the land.

20:17So our 2050 vision for this area looks something like this.

20:24I think the total conservation between, and I'm calling ag preservation conservation.

20:29It's really not, but what we have found is that even ag lands serve an important purpose for species.

20:36For example, panthers actually like to, at night, they will go into the farm fields as part of their hunt for prey.

20:44But, anyway, 134,000 acres is our goal, a maximum of 45,000 acres of development.

20:50I don't think we're going to get there, because right now I think the trend is that densities are coming up... that I think the footprint can reduce, and the original 16,000 acres of public lands is still there.

21:03So going back to comparing where we would have been potentially had we not had a program like this, on the left, the blood map...

21:13...and on the right, the concept plan that has been adopted.

21:17It's certainly a good outcome.

21:18It's a big change from where we were.

21:21It's something that has been supported since it was adopted, and it's working as it was designed to work.

21:30So I'll leave you with our big idea of, in Florida is we then took the same idea and we analyzed the entire state of Florida...

21:38...which, believe it or not, is still about 70 percent rural.

21:43Once you get 10 miles from the coast on either side, you're in farmland and, you know, environmentally valuable land.

21:49So we said if you - one out of five acres of - if 20 percent of the growth, okay...

21:56...over the next 25 years was accommodated within this kind of a program...

22:01...what we would have is 2.9 million acres of land as stewardship.

22:05We would have protected 1.4 million acres of habitat without taxpayer funding...

22:10...and that's more acres that are on the Florida Forever's wish list right now...

22:14...which, by the way, they don't have the funds to buy.

22:17You would have a million-plus acres of ag that has been kept for agriculture, because ag is just as important as any other... fact, more important for a lot of us that like to eat, we need to have ag land...

22:29...and we would have 1.3 million people inside of these stewardship communities...

22:35...having done something by living in that community to actually help the larger landscape within which they live...

22:43...and then the footprint of growth would have been reduced somewhere between 80 and 90 percent...

22:47...over the conventional kind of development that you typically get in rural areas.

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