Letter: Advocates carefully planned growth


Letter: Advocates carefully planned growth

John Valdes
St Augustine, FL

Dear Editor:

Money spent by our tourist and visitors is what underwrites so much of the good life that we full-time residents enjoy in our City and County. As a fifth-generation Floridian and third-generation builder, I truly appreciate the importance of newcomers, tourists, visitors and homebuyers. I absolutely understand and appreciate the economic impact of tourism and certainly don’t advocate turning off the tap.

What I do advocate, however, is carefully planned, growth that enhances the quality of life experiences for visitors and residents alike while also protecting our precious natural resources and one-of-a-kind, historic assets.

What distinguishes St Augustine from being just another coastal town with great beaches and restaurants is our unique environment. We are blessed with 450 years of rich history and some of the most extraordinary architecture to be found anywhere in America.

Geographically speaking, we are not very large and the historic fabric of our city is quite fragile. None of us would like to see the same thing happen to St Augustine that has happened to other coastal cities such as Clearwater and Sarasota, where I grew up. Coastal Florida cities and towns have generally been forced by circumstance to be reactive, always playing catch-up, initially to tourism, then later to development. While the results of these forces may at first result in a better quality of life, there is invariably a “tipping point” where out-of-control development overwhelms the distinctive qualities that make a place special and unique.

I truly believe that we are at a pivotal point in time in St. Augustine and St. Johns County where we could pass that tipping point and lose forever a great deal of what makes us so very special. However, I sincerely believe that with proactive, clear and focused leadership we may still be able to have our “cake and eat it to.” The city can manage an expanding tourism base and the County can continue to grow, but a delicate balance must be maintained. There simply has to be a symbiotic relationship between the tourist and business developmental interests in the City and County and the environmental quality of life issues that significantly impact our visitors and residents.

The City of St. Augustine and St. Johns County need to actively encourage the Tourist Development Council (TDC) to continue to work vigorously to embrace and promote heritage and eco-tourism. We need to focus our publicity efforts on what it is that makes us different and special and attract tourists and visitors that appreciate what we have to offer. In order to accomplish this we will have to resist the temptation to be something we are not. We simply can’t afford to grab as many dollars as possible from whatever sources are available with total disregard for our ecological, historic and cultural heritage.

I am by no means anti-growth or anti-tourist; rather, I am a free enterprise loving, capitalist, who happens to be a building contractor. However, I do recognize the value of what we have here. To a large extent, we are still the old Florida before the giant resorts and mega tourist attractions arrived. Those of us who live in St. Augustine and St. Johns County are lucky enough to be in one of the few remaining coastal areas of Florida that has not been developed and commercialized into a state of complete mediocrity. What makes St Augustine and St. Johns County so special is its natural environment, it’s people and its history. That’s what attracted and captivated all of us and what continues to hypnotize and attract so many visitors to our quaint little City.