Environmentalists get off my back!

Much is made about builders ruining the environment as they create their subdivisions.

As in every profession there are a handful of renegade builders that abuse the environment. In particular though I am talking about land abuse, like tree clearing and the like.

First- Tree clearing– Obviously if a builder buys a tree filled lot something has to give. In that case cities require a tree removal survey where tree felling is minimal and monitored by the town. What about a relatively barren parcel of land with just a few trees, what then? Or, what about submerged land with evasive trees on site? A minimally tree covered lot is of course a no brainer. But here’s the difference. In most cities strict landscape approvals require builders to plant trees, shrubs and sod far in excess of what was there before, and in most cases the builder has already stripped the lot or subdivision of evasive plants- plants required to be removed before a permit is granted.

Environmentalists are quick to talk about deforestation but never acknowledge or take the time to compute the net difference of tree deforestation plus newly created trees and shrubs planted in new lots and in new subdivisions. I have encountered rowdy environmentalists that quickly become advocates once they have true stats and facts. Case in point- Many years ago I rode my motorcycle out to this great new city coming soon. It was Coral Springs by Westinghouse. I was young and impressionable and was appalled by what looked like hundreds of cleared barren acres. Of course, once I became a developer years later, I realized that my first impression was wrong. It was called Coral Springs for a reason. Inches below the surface was solid coral.

Only hearty scrub and evasive plants were cleared. What resulted was hundreds of homes and abundant landscaping. Now 40 years later a low-density community exists, with great schools and more landscaping than ever would have been there if left in its original state. And remember trees emit oxygen after they absorb ozone dangerous carbon dioxide.

Submerged land with tree forestation– I encountered this in Davie years ago when I spotted a parcel owned by the neighboring Church. They didn’t know what to do with it because they were afraid of environmentalists and the city’s arborist. I put the parcel under contract subject to density and site plan and went to work. We brought out the Army Corp of Engineers, a group I find easy to work with despite the expanded time frames. The land was 93% underwater (not deep but standing water constantly). The ACE decided this was a wetland but an undesirable and poor wetland.

This meant I could negotiate reasonable drainage and wetland mitigation terms. Between Central Broward’s normal drainage requirements and modest mitigation, we constructed a nature friendly 3-acre desirable wetland and a small drainage lake. Our planner laid out islands for bird safety, left dead tall trees for Osprey nesting and littoral plantings around the wetland lakeshore. We did pay an off-site wetland mitigation fee as we have done before in Davie.

I am most proud of our efforts because we more than compensated for lost trees most of which were evasive and we would have been forced to remove by ordinance anyway. We created a true natural preserve and our bonus for these efforts was that every house fronting the preserve willingly paid our lot premiums.

Truth be known– I don’t scoff at tree huggers and environmentalists because I find that most are reasonable when they realize the efforts most builders go through to care for the environment. I have never had an environmentalist object to my plans once they were brought into the process and saw the results. I consider myself a practicing environmentalist.

Stephen Gravett has been a real estate developer for over 45 years and was most recently CEO of Kennedy Homes for the past 11 years and is still CEO of Kennedy Development Partners (KDP). He is also full time Director of Operations for 5 Star Developers. He is a state licensed broker and since 1980 a State licensed General Contractor Unlimited. Before becoming a real estate developer he flew B-52’s in the US Air Force during the Vietnam war

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