If you're used to living in Mayberry, you'd better brace yourself for something closer to Manhattan.
In the next half-century, Central Florida could become the most urbanized part of the state, a densely developed crescent running from Ocala to Sebring and from St. Petersburg to Daytona Beach.
Central Florida's population? Expect it to reach 15.5-million - close to today's statewide number - from today's 6.6-million. Forests and open space? Expect fragmentation if not outright elimination.
The deliberately provocative projections come from a study released Wednesday titled "Florida 2060." A companion report, dubbed "A Time for Leadership" purports to be a growth management guide for state leaders.
Both were commissioned by 1000 Friends of Florida, a Tallahassee-based antiurban-sprawl group that favors tighter development rules. The studies were paid for in part by timber, agricultural and planning interests that could benefit from their prescriptions.
Among the backers: St. Joe Co., Florida's largest private landowner; A. Duda and Sons, the southeast Florida agri-business, and Wilson-Miller, a planner that makes money helping clients navigate growth management laws.
"These studies provide a wake-up call for every Florida resident, business and elected official," said Charles Pattison, executive director of 1000 Friends. "A tidal wave of growth is headed our way, and we need proactive leadership and long-term, large-scale planning."
How big a tidal wave? In central Florida, built-out land is expected to more than double from 24 percent to 51 percent. An exception is Pinellas County, already 70 percent urbanized. By 2060, only bits of Polk, Lake, Osceola and Sumter counties will dodge the bulldozers.
Statewide, concrete and shingle would consume another 7-million acres. Population would double from 18-million to 36-million. Many backwaters ignored by development will no longer be ignored; the report forecasts a continuous urban corridor linking Fort Myers and West Palm Beach.
Widespread development will bypass only the Panhandle and Big Bend.
To manage the growth, 1000 Friends advocates developing dense "new towns" like Disney's Celebration near Orlando, establishing urban growth boundaries to contain sprawl and spending more public money to buy conservation land.
Conservation need no longer apply mostly to wetlands. In a move that could warm the hearts of companies such as St. Joe, the study recommends timber and farm land join the inventory of land suitable for public purchase.
"We right on agree with that," said Chris Corr, St. Joe's chief strategy officer.
The presence of big-money support tainted the study for Palm Beach environmental activist and lawyer Lesley Blackner. She knocked the reports for accommodating, rather than opposing, fast growth.
"Everything these companies do serves their bottom line, which is to keep the growth machine going," Blackner said.
Developers didn't like everything they heard, either. Don Whyte is president of Newland Communities, developer of thousands of homes in places such as Hillsborough County's FishHawk Ranch.
He suggested the emphasis on new towns and the attempt to build compact walk-able cities from scratch was a mistake.
"New towns are an interesting intellectual exercise, but there aren't a lot around the United States that have been successful," Whyte said.
The first study, "Florida 2060," was done by the University of Florida. The second, "A Time for Leadership," was by Georgia Tech.
James Thorner can be reached at (813) 226-3313 or email@example.com.
Snowballing growth predicted
Projected population change in Tampa Bay area counties
County 2005 2060
Citrus 131,728 262,747
Hernando 148,425 312,448
Hillsborough 1.13-million 2.31-million
Pasco 398,964 872,559
Pinellas 949,760 1.26-million
Source: Florida 2060