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Sprawl may ruin what we have left

I guess we know how our new governor wants to create jobs:

Let 'em build.

Let 'em build a city of 13,000 so far from adequate highways that it will leave the rest of us with a bill for tens of millions worth of new roads.

Let 'em build even though our economy was ruined by a glut of housing and now we can look forward to 5,800 unnecessary dwelling units.

Let 'em build even though our neighbors to the north tell us the Chassahowitzka isn't nearly the river it used to be and this development will pump more than 2 million gallons a day from its watershed.

Let 'em build even though it will open the way to develop more of Hernando's rural, scenic land.

Yep. Let 'em build the Quarry Preserve.

In October, the state Department of Community Affairs sent a letter to the county with a long list of reasons this mega-development 6 miles north of Brooksville didn't fit in with our comprehensive plan.

Then the Quarry people agreed to add a few bike trails and apartments, promised to provide "x" number of jobs before building "y" number of houses; they got rid of some gates and half the houses that were exclusively for older folks.

And — Bingo! — it's a so-called "new town," worthy of the DCA's okay and ready to come back for County Commission approval Feb. 8.

Gov. Rick Scott's well-publicized hostility to growth management had nothing to do with this decision, said the Quarry's lawyer, Jake Varn.

Most findings of noncompliance have always ended just as this one did, with a negotiated settlement. And almost all of the negotiating for the Quarry took place before Scott appointed William Buzzett, a former executive with development giant St. Joe Co., as DCA secretary.

Still, everybody at the table knew hard-nosed DCA Secretary Tom Pelham was on his way out and that whoever followed would be anything but hard-nosed. During the campaign, Scott called the DCA a "job-killing" department, and several powerful lawmakers seem to agree. There is talk about folding the DCA in with another state agency, or even doing away with it altogether.

And that's what's changed over the years.

See, for all the efforts to weaken growth management, for all the circumventing and loophole adding, it seemed that there were always grownups around who recognized the long-term economic necessity of controlling sprawl. As tight as the Republicans might have been with the building industry, the responsible ones realized that growth management was crucial for, well, growth — that it's hard to sell houses in a place where the environment is a wreck, where roads are clogged and schools are packed to overflowing. It's even harder to bring in new business to help us break our dependence on the housing industry.

Some examples: The 1985 growth management bill came from the recommendation of a bipartisan commission. Pelham was originally appointed by a Republican governor, Bob Martinez. The head of the group that proposed a massive environmental land-buying program in 1990, Preservation 2000, was a Republican — Nathaniel Reed. A decade later, when this program was extended, the GOP was in control of both houses of the Legislature.

A pair of Republicans, Gov. Jeb Bush and Senate President Tom Lee, a builder, pushed for the reform of the growth management law in 2005, which was supported by another Republican, then-state Rep. David Russell, now a Hernando County commissioner. This bill wasn't exactly a tree-hugger's dream, but it at least recognized that the state needed to do more to make sure road and school building kept up with development.

I guess nobody's as worried about all this now that the building has slowed way down. Personally, I expect to be laid out on a slab before they pour the first slab at the Quarry. But somewhere down the line it will help make the kind of mess that costs us jobs, not one that creates them.

Sprawl may ruin what we have left 01/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 29, 2011 10:56am]

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