Photo of Sarasota waterfront condominium.
Photo of the Florida House.
Photo of Betty Alpaugh.
Photo of Florida House.
Photo of guava fruit on tree.
Photo of bee on flower.
Photo of homes at Willowbend.
Photo of Mark Malkasian.
Photo of front yard of Willowbend home.
Photo of lawns and driveways.
Photo of Angela Polo Maraj
Photo of people talking.
Photo of front yard of Willowbend home.
Photo of Bob Sisum
Photo of Lakewood Ranch home.
Photo of Bob Sisum
Photo of Betty Alpaugh
Sarasota County Leads the Way to Sustainable Living

Narrator
Sarasota County is well recognized for its elegant gulf coastal communities, retirement living and vacation getaways. It is, perhaps, not as well known as a hotbed for testing green building and Florida-friendly landscaping concepts -- concepts demonstrated at the Florida House Learning Center, a model home for sustainable living. Betty Alpaugh, an educator with the University of Florida Sarasota County Extension, explains its origin.
Betty Alpaugh, University of Florida, Sarasota County Extension
Florida house resulted from a four-year drought in the late 80s and early 90s and as a result of this drought there was talk in our community of creating a building moratorium because we didn't know where the water was going to come from if people continued to consume at the levels they were at that time.
Narrator
The answer, in part, came with the development of Florida House, which has shown thousands of citizens, government officials and building and landscape professionals how sustainable building design and Florida-friendly landscape design could help protect Florida's water resources.
Betty Alpaugh, Sarasota County Extension
The concepts that we try to teach all center around Florida-friendly landscaping. By that I mean we use native plants or drought tolerant plants. We also have an edible landscape at Florida House. We have a butterfly garden and wildlife garden that teaches people how to attract wildlife to their yards. We teach micro-irrigation and the water conserving measures that go along with that. We have many examples of composting. Also, one of the big things that we stress is the reduction of chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides in our landscapes, because those are the things that end up going down into our waterways. When we have a rain event the stormwater that runs off from our yards ends up going down into bays and estuaries, so we want to eliminate or reduce at least detrimental runoff and the chemicals they carry with it.
Narrator
Florida House's educational influence is reflected in Sarasota County's unique landscaping ordinances and in developments like Willowbend located in Osprey. Willowbend is one the first developments in which the homes all feature Florida-friendly landscaping designs incorporating native and drought tolerant plants and reduced lawn areas. Mark Malkasian, a Willowbend resident and board member who has overseen the landscaping program, describes some of the features of the Florida friendly landscape.
Mark Malkasian, Willowbend Homeowner
I think the key aspect of the Florida Yards program is that it's a waterwise program. After a relatively short period of time the plants are established and essentially are on their own with Mother Nature cooperating, as far as rainfall goes and not having high irrigation demand. Also, it's low maintenance, not requiring lots of cutting, pruning and trimming. And certainly, there's very minimal use of pesticides and insecticides.
Narrator
Malkasian also points out the landscape designs include lawn areas that are smaller than traditional designs.
Mark Malkasian, Willowbend Homeowner
Most of the developments in Florida are very much oriented on grass. I think that's maybe a northern thing if you will. I know that folks up north are conditioned to have large expanses of grass on their properties. And you do see that with some of the older communities have expanses of grass. That's one of the things that's different with Florida yards is that we've minimized the grass placement. Hence it's a lot easier to maintain the overall environment because of minimal grass.
Narrator
For Angela Polo Maraj of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, who works closely with the Florida Yards and Neighborhood's builder-developer program, Willowbend is a shining example of how developers can reduce the environmental impact of a new home while also offering something that buyers are seeking - low-impact yards.
Angela Polo Maraj, Southwest Water Management District
We have used Willowbend as a model throughout the state to show other developers what can be achieved and how well it can be received by new homebuyers. Willowbend was sold out in such a quick amount of time that it astounded everyone involved in the project. People that are trying this type of landscaping are seeing what a great marketing opportunity. They're using the Florida Yards community-style landscaping as a marketing tool and it is helping to sell their homes.
Bob Sisum, Lakewood Ranch
We're going to take a look at the landscape out here where they've installed all zoysia grass and at least 80 percent native vegetation. Native or drought tolerant vegetation. And as we look around here, you can see that they used pine needles for mulch instead of cypress.
Narrator
Bob Sisum, who oversees green building programs at the 33,000-acre Lakewood Ranch community, which straddles Sarasota and Manatee counties, agrees that environmentally friendly developments attract buyers.
Bob Sisum, Lakewood Ranch
People are much more educated than they were at one time. They're not just coming down here with the Florida land sales and buying up lots and so on and so forth. They're looking for a lifestyle. And when they see a lifestyle that's based around the environment, they're latching onto it and they're embracing it. And all of our developers have to see that and do that. And we are doing it.
Narrator
That's a sentiment shared by the Sarasota County Extension's Betty Alpaugh.
Betty Alpaugh, Sarasota County Extension
The times are changing, they really are. Smart landscaping professionals and businesses are going to find a way to change their business model so that they can sustain themselves as well as our communities. They've got to find a way to adjust their business plans so that they can conform with the new landscaping practices and landscaping ordinances so that we can all conserve water and energy and work together as a community and have the business community be part of it. It's not the environmentalists working against the business people. We are all one community working towards the same thing and that's a sustainable lifestyle and sustainable communities.