The Clewiston News

U.S. Sugar sees new opportunities for Hendry County in 43k-acre sector plan

The latest version of U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers’ 43,000-acre sector plan, which would divide portions of Hendry County into six different land-use areas. The goal of the plan is to attract new people and businesses to Hendry County over the next 46 years.

A plan to develop roughly 43,300 acres of Hendry County over the next 46 years is currently in the works, led by the U.S. Sugar Corporation and Hilliard Brothers.

The Hendry County Board of County Commissioners OKed an advancement of the over 43-thousand-acre sector plan at their last regular meeting, held on Aug. 26 in Clewiston City Hall.

The Sugar Hill Sector Plan would allow U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers to develop more than 43,000 acres of U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brother-owned land, the majority of which is located west of Clewiston surrounding Airglades Airport. The Sugar Hill plan does not, however, include the airport in its scope of development.

The Sugar Hill plan would divide the specified land into six land-use categories: longterm agriculture, employment centers, rural estates, mixed-use suburban, mixed-use urban and natural resource management.

The specifically planned divisions are a required aspect of the sector plan as mandated by state law. As explained by Mark Morton, director of strategic development and planning for U.S. Sugar, sector plans allow one or more landowners to take an holistic approach towards future development of large-scale areas of land. Sector plans are “very big picture,” he said.

The Sugar Hill plan is based on a 46-year time period, within which U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers hope to attract new people and businesses to Hendry County by developing the land according to the six land-use categories.

The longterm agriculture division would maintain Hendry County’s agricultural efforts and consist of roughly 14,400 acres south of Clewiston and continuing east.

The employment center division would house the industrial and economic development projects that stakeholders hope to attract in the future. The division would be located near Airglades Airport to the west, northwest, northeast, south and southeast.

The mixed-use suburban area would contain housing developments where the community could “work, play and live,” according to Mr, Morton, and would be located south of the employment centers near the airport.

The mixed-use urban area would also contain housing developments, but would be located just west of Clewiston abutting the city limits.

The rural estates division would also provide areas for housing units, set at least one acre apart from each other.

Finally, the natural resource management areas would contain small patches of native plant species, including cypress trees and cabbage palms, intended to preserve the integrity of Florida’s land.

It is precisely this aspect of the project that has some groups worried about the effects of the plan’s implementation.

Julianne Thomas, who spoke on behalf of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said she was concerned about Everglades Restoration efforts and was interested in what the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) would have to say, though she admitted she was happy with some aspects of the project.

Rhonda Roth spoke on behalf of the Sierra Club and even accused U.S. Sugar of attempting to inflate land prices before they had an opportunity to sell it the state for Everglades Restoration.

Mr. Morton said the project’s intent was to raise Hendry County to the highest level of fiscal health.

Hearing all public comments, county commissioners voted to approve the transmittal of the sector plan to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), with a motion made by Commissioner Don Davis and a second by Commissioner Mike Swindle.

Once in the hands of the DEO, it will be sent to several other agencies and may undergo more changes before being sent to Tallahassee for approval. Some of the agencies who will vet the project include the SFWMD and the Department of Environmental Protection.

If the plan continues to progress, stakeholders hope to have it adopted by the end of the year.