A Victory for the Farmland Preservation Area!


Horse Farms Forever® is excited to announce a recent victory for the Farmland Preservation Area! On April 30, a large-scale Text Amendment to the Future Land Use Element was successfully adopted as part of Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan. This Amendment helps protect the Farmland Preservation Area from incompatible Zoning Requests and Special Use Permits.

We worked diligently for over a year with community leaders, major land owners, developers, and other stakeholders to seek support for the Amendment to strengthen Future Land Use Objective 3.3 – Farmland Preservation Area. After 14 months, these efforts paid-off when the Growth Services staff recommended approval of the Amendment, the Planning and Zoning Commissioners voted unanimously for approval, and finally the County Commissioners voted unanimously at the two public hearings to approve the Amendment.

The County’s Comprehensive Plan is similar to a company’s Mission Statement in that it lays out Goals, Objectives and Policies to provide a vision for sustainable urban, suburban and rural growth that supports a transportation network, a variety of land uses, natural and agricultural resources, and open space.

In the Comprehensive Plan, Objective 3.3 establishes the Farmland Preservation Area. Policy 3.3.1 defines the Elements of Rural Character.

The Horse Farms Forever® Amendment enhances the definition of Rural Character and further requires that all applications for Zoning Requests and Special Use Permits “be consistent with and preserve, protect and support and enhance the rural, equestrian, and farmland character of the Farmland Preservation Area.”

Throughout this year-long process, HFF worked closely with the Growth Services and County Administration departments to develop a Text Amendment that would help protect the Farmland Preservation Area and also be compatible with the existing language and guidelines in the Comprehensive Plan. We especially thank County Commissioner Michelle Stone and County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes for their leadership and guidance through this year-long process.

“This amendment is important because a Special Use Permit is requested when the proposed land use doesn’t meet the guidelines in the Comprehensive Plan. It will have a positive effect on the Farmland Preservation Area. This is the hard work of real land conservation and where the rubber meets the road.”
Busy Shires

Director of Conservation Strategies, Horse Farms Forever

Why Amend The Comprehensive Plan?

If you live near Flemington in the Farmland Preservation Area, you may remember the ATV racetrack and drag strip that was proposed during the summer of 2020.

Horse Farms Forever® opposed the Special Use Permit for the ATV racetrack and drag strip, and launched a strategic outreach campaign to oppose the Special Use Permit as incompatible with the Comprehensive Plan Objective 3.3 – Farmland Preservation Area.

Objective 3.3 reads: The Farmland Preservation Area is intended to encourage preservation of agriculture as a viable use of lands and an asset of Marion County’s economy and to protect the rural character of the area. Planning principles within this area are designed to protect significant natural resources, including prime farmland and locally important soils as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture and unique karst geology that provides high recharge to the Floridan Aquifer, a key source of freshwater for central Florida. The County establishes this area as critical to the enhancement and preservation of its designation as the Horse Capital of the World.

We were surprised and disappointed when at the meeting for the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Growth Services Director recommended approval of the Special Use Permit. Thankfully, our outreach campaign paid-off when the Planning and Zoning Commissioners and the County Commissioners both voted to deny the Special Use Permit.

After the votes, the Horse Farms Forever® leadership met the Growth Services leadership to better understand why they recommended approval. It was out of that meeting that the campaign to amend Objective 3.3 of the Comprehensive Plan began.

What Is A Comprehensive Plan?

Every City and County in Florida is required to adopt and maintain a local Comprehensive Plan, which must also be consistent with the state and regional plans. These plans help guide growth and development to appropriate areas while also protecting public health and safety as well as natural resources.

The Introduction of Marion County’s Comprehensive Plan states:

The Marion County Future Land Use Element Goals, Objectives and Policies are designed to provide a comprehensive, area-wide vision for sustainable urban, suburban and rural growth that supports a transportation network, variety of land uses, natural and agricultural resources, and open space.”

The Land Development Code is a separate document with specific guidelines to implement the Goals, Objectives, and Policies of the Comprehensive Plan.


How To Amend The Comprehensive Plan

A comprehensive plan can be changed and updated over time. In fact, in Florida, there is a requirement for each municipality to update the plan every five to seven years through the Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR) process.

The ability to amend the comprehensive plan is not limited to municipalities.

Any resident, business owner, or organization can submit a request to amend the comprehensive plan, but the Board of County Commissioners makes the final decision to adopt the amendment. However, the process to submit a request is lengthy and costly, as the process takes months and months, plus the application fee is $5,000.

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.