The state estimates that about 300,000 more people — more than 2.1 million in all — will call the county home by 2040. The new residents will need places to live, clean water to drink, ways to get around and protection from hurricanes and rising sea levels.
The county government now has a new plan to handle the growth, one that provides for things like streets with room for pedestrians and bicyclists, housing close to bus routes and commuter rail, and urban agriculture as a way to promote local food sources.
Residents will see denser downtowns with taller buildings and more housing along thoroughfares for easy access to public transportation. Many new projects will include a mix of shops, offices, restaurants and entertainment venues so that residents can walk or bike to them without needing cars.
The plan, called Broward Next, took effect this month, after three years of work by county staff and the Broward County Planning Council, in coordination with cities. It will be used to set the rules developers must follow.
“It’s trying to provide an answer for where are these people going to live and how are they going to move around,” said Henry Sniezek, the county’s growth management director. “We kind of look at the county plan as developing a new framework, a new foundation.”
Building New Communities
Until now, Broward’s growth plan depended heavily on creating wide streets and spread-out suburbs, a decades-old philosophy that never anticipated the new realities of climate change, traffic congestion and a built-out landscape, county officials said.
Elements of the new plan already have sprouted in some areas. In Fort Lauderdale, apartment buildings rising in the Flagler Village area north of Broward Boulevard are taking advantage of the Brightline commuter rail service that will start this summer, serving Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The projects also have in mind the planned Wave electric streetcar system expected to be in operation downtown in 2021.
The decade-old Wilton Station in Wilton Manors is another example of what planners would like to see built. The mixed-use condominium is along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks at Northeast 26th Street near Dixie Highway. It’s already on a regular bus route, and developers envisioned it would link to a stop Wilton Manors is pursuing on a future coastal version of the Tri-Rail commuter train.
People will still be driving cars, but the idea is to encourage alternatives so traffic gridlock doesn’t get worse. The plan also acknowledges that new developments won’t solve the county’s growth problems if regular workers can’t afford to live in them.
South Florida is among the worst areas in the country in the share of people severely burdened by their housing costs, with a quarter of residents using more than half of their income to pay the monthly rent or mortgage, a Harvard University report found last year.
“We’re trying to spur the creation of affordable housing in the county,” said Weston Mayor Daniel Stermer, chairman of the planning council.
One option is to have more prefabricated, modular homes that have lower prices but can still stand up to hurricanes. They would be better able to withstand the strong winds than the relatively inexpensive mobile homes that were popular in the past.
Building smaller dwellings could be another way to keep prices down. Broward Next considers efficiencies and apartments under 500 square feet as only half-units, instead of full living units. That means developers providing these smaller accommodations in their projects can build twice as many as before and still fall within the maximum density allowed.
The plan also includes incentives for developers to build affordable housing. One incentive would allow developers to build additional market-rate units for each affordably priced dwelling in their project.
To combat climate change, ocean dunes have to be restored and fortified with vegetation to protect against coastal flooding, the plan says.
New construction will be required to have better drainage to reduce the chances of flash floods as sea and groundwater levels go up and leave little room for storm runoff. The plan also calls for the creation of more areas that can accumulate surface water, to limit roads and buildings inundated by rainfall and tidal flooding.
Some privately owned properties could be protected from development. Those lands provide open space, contain environmentally sensitive lands, hold historic or archaeologically significant structures or sit in areas where any buildings would be severely impacted by climate change.
Cities are allowed to create programs where owners of properties with such public purposes could agree to preserve the property and transfer what’s allowed to be built on them to another site, which could then be developed more densely than otherwise would be allowed.
Some things won’t change. As the population rises, the cities and county still will be required to provide a minimum of 3 acres of municipal parks and regional parks for each 1,000 residents.
The county’s population surpassed 1 million people in 1980. It reached 1.5 million in 1997, and it’s on track to top 2 million in 2026. State estimates say its growth will be about 12,600 people each year, coming close to 2.2 million by 2040.
Officials say they can’t keep growth out, because much of it will be children or other family members of people already in the county.
“They’re going to be born here. They’re going to be living here,” said Barbara Blake Boy, the planning council’s executive director. “It’s not that they’re moving in from someplace else.”