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August 22, 2005

Florida Developers Run Amok

Developers in Florida are historically a sleazy assortment. Many don't seem to care much about the environment or the folks that are already living in an area. They lobby the state government heavily for legislation that allows them to make the big bucks at the expense of gopher tortoises and locals folk that have lived in areas for generations.

But these days, there's not a whole lot of coastal land left to develop, and the interior of Florida is really hot and rife with critters, mosquitoes and rednecks. So what's a sleazy developer to do?

When I read this, I couldn't help but giggle. These developers are like crack addicts or zombie robots intent on building, building. "Must build. Must build."

The St. Joe Company, which owns 800,000 mostly inland acres here in
the scrubby pine forests of the Panhandle, is invoking Thoreau.


Recent sales of RiverCamps on Crooked Creek, the first project under
way, average $342,900 for the land alone.

Instead of connecting with neighbors, new ruralism promotes connecting
with the land - though these cabins in the woods come with wireless
Internet access and porches with screens that unfurl by remote control.

Thoreau must be rolling over and shitting in his grave at the thought of his name being associated with something so goofy.

Gulf County, where St. Joe owns 230,000 acres, has but 15,200 residents, and Liberty County, where it owns 112,000 acres, has 7,300. A lot of St. Joe land surrounds the swampy Apalachicola National Forest and Tate's Hell State Forest, where a farmer named Tate supposedly was lost for days and emerged snakebitten and delirious.


"A big, thick pine forest with a lot of undergrowth is a pretty forbidding place," Mr. Rummell said. "It scares a lot of people."


We honestly asked ourselves, 'Will people live in this environment?'
said Kevin Fox, the St. Joe executive overseeing RiverCamps. "We've got
critters, we've got heat, we've got humidity."

Evidently, they came up with the answer of "yes." All they have to do, is market it properly. Paint a rosy picture that doesn't include West Nile virus, poisonous snakes in the back yard, raccoons digging through your garbage, 90% humidity and angry locals that don't want you there.

At developments called RiverCamps, where homes in a design proudly
called "Cracker Modern" will sit on lots of up to four acres lots near
marshes, creeks and conservation areas, "camp masters" will tutor
residents in bird watching and flats fishing and organize "owl prowls"
and "star parties." At WhiteFence Farms, on 5- to 20-acre lots near
fields and ponds, "farmhands" will gas up an owner's tractor and help
mow the meadow.


Brainstorming sessions at St. Joe's headquarters in Jacksonville
produced scraps of paper scrawled with phrases like "wind in the trees,"
"stars, no lights," and "slamming, squeaking screen doors." In June,
the company published a white paper quoting Thoreau ("I went to the
woods because I wished to live deliberately") and defining new
ruralism - a concept that developers elsewhere have also seized on - as
rising with the sun, fishing with the tides and resting with the moon.

And my favorite part:

At the first WhiteFence Farms site, southeast of Tallahassee, St. Joe
is preparing 373 acres of former watermelon and peanut fields for "people
who have always wanted to live on a farm but don't see themselves as
farmers," Mr. Fox said. They must also be willing to pay $20,000 to
$45,000 an acre for the land alone. The company is digging ponds and
smoothing pastures for buyers it imagines dabbling in horse riding,
beekeeping, wildflower growing and field plowing.

Dabbling in field plowing!!??? How does one dabble in field plowing. "I'm bored honey and there's nothing on any of the 500 channels of satellite TV. I think I'll go outside and dabble in some field plowing."


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