Kerry Kast

At the core of green practices and sustainability stands planet Earth and the natural resources Earth offers humankind, according to the National Research Council. From the air we breathe, to the water we imbibe, and the land we exist on there is an understanding that human health and well-being is tied to a high-quality environment. This is reflected in curriculum at universities like Tufts which promotes topics like “Developing Healthy Communities”, which strives to educate city planners and policy makers about how we develop.

And for millennia, people have taken resources from around them to create the constructs of society. So it remains the same today, where we take raw land and build houses; offices to work out of; parks and trails to visit; and, roads which connect all of these structures together into a coherent “place”.

Sustainable practices take into account how humans meet present economic development needs without depleting finite resources for future generations. The Division of Community Development within the state of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity “ensur[es] that new growth fosters economic development while protecting resources of state significance,” according to its website. As does the Halifax River Audobon Society, which also attempts to achieve a balance, “Our chapter … strives to improve the quality of life for all residents of Volusia County and for the wildlife we all enjoy.”

Still, even conservative estimates by the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research show continual increasing population projections through 2045 for Volusia County. Already exceeding half a million residents, in less than four years, nearly 1,800 more individuals will be added through births and migration. The Brookings Institute reports for every 1 person added to the human population, 1.2 more automotive vehicles are added to the roads. The importance of developing communities to accommodate growth will define our quality of life and the quality of life for future generations.

The Volusia County Association for Responsible Development (VCARD) and its Flagler County Chapter is an organization dedicated to land development professionals. This implies a stance of pro-growth, which mistakenly could be perceived as anti-sustainability. This perception is an understandable one. The natural antithesis to conservation is sometimes characterized as growth, even captured in song lyrics, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Yet over thirty-years ago when VCARD was founded its premise was to aid in reconciliation as it related to land development. Deanie Lowe, founding Secretary of VCARD, remembers, “How we develop areas should be an inclusive dialogue between the regulators of land development and those who are regulated [developers]. VCARD started as a way to find the balance between meeting the demands of growth and protecting our natural resources.”

And the namesake of VCARD was purposeful in its pairing of the word “responsible” to “development”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “responsible” as “liable to be called to account as the primary cause, motive, agent”. Deeply ingrained in sustainable thinking is the belief that human beings can modify physical geography through the utilization of its natural resources, as proposed by George Perkins Marsh in “Man and Nature,” published in 1965. This was one of the first books to attack the American myth of the superabundance and the inexhaustibility of the Earth.

As part of the land development industry, the weight of responsibility is certainly felt by VCARD’s membership. “We are aware of the impact our profession has on the surrounding area and actively engage in issues like water quality, the effect of transportation networks, and land use. It’s important to the communities in which we perform our work,” stated Shailesh Patel, Chair of VCARD and President of Dredging and Marine Consultants in Port Orange.

In March 1, 2015, the City of Daytona Beach adopted their new Land Development Code. Land Development Codes for cities and counties prescribe the form of any new development and are detailed regulations to implement a Comprehensive Plan. Vitally important to the future of any community, VCARD spent five years working together with the City and their consultant to review their former code and setup the new ones to ensure a strong future. “We are a unique coalition of legal, engineering, planning and financial specialists who actively participate in the process of how a city develops, it’s one of the main services the organization offers to local government and ultimately the community at-large,” expressed Rob Merrell of local law firm Cobb Cole, who Chaired the VCARD Committee that reviewed Daytona Beach’s land development code. “It’s certainly one of our proudest accomplishments.”

The decisions made about where we build, what we build and how we build literally become the community in which we live. For all of us, there is a vested interest in the answer to these questions. For employers, the connection to a thriving community with excellent quality of life has residual benefits with attracting and retaining top talent. For residents, there is a more obvious desire for access to diverse dining options and recreation and entertainment venues. So the dialogue about where, what, and how we build is critical to our own present comfort and enjoyment. Developing sustainably also considers the future comfort and enjoyment of generations to come.

Land development professionals number over 1,600 employees at over 300 establishments in Volusia County, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This includes architectural and engineering services, geophysical surveying and mapping services, land subdivision, and site preparation contractors. Their expertise is necessary to address intractable problems like how to accommodate future growth without compromising the environment. With the economy recovering from the Great Recession and growth on the rise, an organization dedicated to responsible development remains essential to creating livable, vibrant places. The work of development professionals is visible in all areas where we carry out our day-to-day lives. And the result of this work is liable to be called to account by future generations.

The future of sustainable land development is replete with as many challenges as there is opportunity. Hot issues such as climate change, global warming, sea level rise (particularly for a coastal community), and environmental protection are worthy of examination and discussion as each item impacts how we decide to grow. VCARD is up for the task of continuing to facilitate dialogue around emerging trends that will invariably shape the road ahead. Intrinsic to VCARD’s philosophy is a belief that through convening and education we create answers.