Friday, July 16, 2004

George Mindling Column 7-16-2004 - County Planners Face Busy Times

County Planners Face Busy Times

I was wrong when I told Deanna that Miami-Dade County has 48 high schools, when in fact they only have 39. They do have 55 middle schools, though, and 210 elementary schools. Deanna is a fire/EMS specialist with Charlotte County, and we were casually discussing the growth of Charlotte County and the need for future schools and fire/EMS stations. Will Charlotte County ever reach the population that requires as many schools and fire/EMS stations as Miami? Even the high-growth areas of the state will be hard pressed to match the phenomenal past population growth of Florida's lower East Coast. However, we are growing here, as well. It isn't just retirees corning to our area.

With the outside structure of the new 880,000-square-foot Wal-Mart distribution center in DeSoto County, adjacent to the DeSoto/Charlotte County line, nearing completion, the immense size of the center becomes obvious. The structure has over 20 acres under roof and will feature a fully automated cold-storage facility. According to original figures from Wal-Mart spokesperson John Hay, the number of employees is expected to be over 600, almost all of them full-time.

While both counties will benefit from the arrival of the new center, Charlotte County's gain will be indirect. While many residents from our area may find employment at the new center, many Wal-Mart people will relocate here from other assignments. The gravity of the center will pull in not only needed new housing, but also the retail and support services to support the hundreds of new employees.

The desirable residential properties near Prairie Creek and the area around Washington Loop Road are already experiencing increased queries about availability. Whether or not all of the increase in activity is due to the soon-to-arrive Wal-Mart employees is a matter of opinion, but the area is bound to show growth in the near future. The Peace River area of eastern Charlotte County may indeed be a growth area to rival other areas of the county.

The area east of 1-75 and north of County Road 31, near Prairie Creek and Washington Loop Road, is proving to be of interest to not only residential buyers, but commercial developers as well. Most of the area is now zoned for farming, citrus groves or five-acre ranchettes, rather than pre-platted, 10,000 square-foot lots like those in northern or western Charlotte County.

This, in itself, lends to the gated -community style of growth, where larger tracts of available land offer flexible interpretation of community growth. With access to 1-75 via the almost-finished, four-lane, divided U.S. 17, the international airport at Fort Myers is just a 45-minute drive. The zoned industrial complex at the Charlotte County Airport overlay district is just minutes away from the area.

Charlotte County planners will have a very busy future. We may never need 39 high schools, but I'm sure that is something that never crossed the minds of Dade County planners 60 years ago.

George Mindling © 2000

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