Naples, Fla.-Rural Land Stewardship (RLS), an innovative land-use strategy pioneered by WilsonMiller that encourages protection of natural resources and agriculture while fostering compact developments and controlling urban sprawl, has become the firm's 10th Corporate Business Unit (CBU). In each business unit, WilsonMiller professionals combine multidisciplinary services to focus on a specific market and range of services.
RLS grew out of the realization that approximately three quarters of Florida's land is still rural, yet the state lacked an effective strategy for proactively dealing with the growth pressure that our booming population will place on rural areas. Additionally, the rapid increases in land values are reducing the effective purchasing power of publicly funded conservation land acquisition programs.
Beginning in 2000, WilsonMiller planners, ecologists, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialists spent three years conducting "The Immokalee Area Study," a science-based, collaborative process that involved major property owners and community stakeholders. The resulting plan, encompassing 300 square miles in northeast Collier County, led to the adoption of Florida's first Rural Lands Stewardship Overlay. Ultimately, this plan will protect 90,000 acres of important natural habitat, and will enable the creation of self-sustaining new communities, with Ave Maria New Town and University as the first example.
St. Lucie County Commissioners in September voted to adopt a comprehensive plan amendment using RLS to protect and preserve Adams Ranch, one of Florida's finest working cattle ranches. The Adams Ranch Rural Lands Stewardship Program will preserve 12,000 acres while allowing the owner to sell development rights in suitable locations on the land.
WilsonMiller's CEO, Alan D. Reynolds, AICP, will serve as the leader of the new RLS Business Unit.
"RLS is a collaborative effort that encourages conservation of natural resources and compact rural developments instead of sprawl," Reynolds said. "Under RLS, future growth consumes a fraction of the land otherwise needed, and valuable watershed, habitat, and agricultural resources are preserved. Equally important is the transferability of the process, which can be customized for application in other rural areas
across the country."
At the heart of the RLS concept is the option for landowners to transfer specific land-based rights from "Stewardship Sending Areas" (for protection of natural and agricultural resources) to "Stewardship Receiving Areas" (where development is permitted). The program involves a comprehensive analysis of existing natural resources, land use, land cover, and other data. The information is then entered into a GIS database and layers are customized to Rural Land Stewardship Area requirements. An analysis of the data is then performed to create the Stewardship program, overlay map, and Stewardship Credit system.
The Florida Legislature has established RLS in state law as a specifically encouraged land use strategy, because RLS addresses the pressing needs of community involvement, environmental concerns, preservation of natural and cultural resources, and economic diversification. It is fast becoming a nationwide model for land planning in rural areas, and has gained the support of property owners, government agencies, environmental advocates, agricultural interests, and community developers.
The plan won the 2005 Better Community Award from 1000 Friends of Florida, a statewide nonprofit growth management advocacy group; the 2003 Sustainable Florida Award from the Council for Sustainable Florida and the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association; and the Excellence in Industry Innovation Award from the Economic Development Council of Collier County.
In addition to Rural Land Stewardship, WilsonMiller's 10 Corporate Business Units include Community and Regional Planning, Development Planning and Approvals, Development Design, WilsonMiller Design, Public Infrastructure, Transportation, GIS, Survey and Mapping, and Ecological and Water Resources.