Wednesday, June 20, 2018
News Roundup

DeWitt: Commissioners urge a 'flexible' growth plan that would cost us all

Look around.

Look at the relentless ugliness of tract housing and strip development. Look at the dry lakes and algae-choked springs. Look at the destruction of vast swaths of land that were once the home of deer, songbirds and gopher tortoises.

Look at a map like the one a county planner displayed at a Hernando County Commission workshop on Tuesday — one that showed approved subdivisions, both built and unbuilt, spreading to every corner of the county not in public ownership.

Look at all that, commissioners, and tell me, tell the public, that this county's big problem is its tendency to steamroll private property rights, that its land development rules have been too "inflexible."

But that was the overwhelming message during this meeting about a comprehensive plan update that has been in the works since 2011 and that would guide land use in the county through 2040.

It didn't just come from the expected sources — from activist Shirley Miketinac with her loony idea that this "socialistic" plan is part of a United Nations plot, or from the Hernando County Association of Realtors with its shortsighted concern about profits.

It came from all four of the commissioners who attended and, by way of a letter read into the record, from one who didn't attend, John Mitten, who based his pro-development stance on a power even higher than the United Nations:

"With the words, 'Though Shalt Not Steal,' God established the premise of private property."

Please.

The arguments were so misguided and one-sided that commissioners clearly need a reminder of what the comprehensive plan is all about.

First of all, development is not an entitlement. It's an expensive commitment from the county — from all of us taxpayers — to provide roads, sewer lines, schools and the services of deputies and firefighters.

The comp plan simply steers development toward areas where these services are already provided, the idea being that, in combination with adequate impact fees — the subject of an entirely different lesson — delivery of these services might come at a reasonable cost.

So, holding the owner of, say, a 100-acre farm in rural Spring Lake to the land use that was in place when he or she bought the property is not a theft of the person's rights. Just the opposite. Allowing this person dense development rights is a vast gift, one with the potential to multiply the value of the person's holdings many times.

It's a gift granted by a multitude of unwilling donors, including wild animals giving up habitat and human residents who foot the bill for public services and indirectly pay for the degradation of land that can reduce home values and make Hernando a less attractive destination for its core tourism market, outdoor enthusiasts.

Some folks, as Commissioner Steve Champion pointed out, don't want all that infrastructure, preferring to live "off the grid."

Sorry, but there is no cheap way out, as was proven later during Tuesday's workshop. Septic tanks account for 30 percent of the nitrogen that has clogged the Weeki Wachee River with algae, commissioners were told. The estimated cost of complying with a state mandate to provide sewage treatment to homes on septic — actually just the homes in the most populous southwest quadrant of the county — is a jaw-dropping $690 million.

Something else to consider: Much of our ugly, inefficient development was approved during a period when the state and the county were actually making an honest effort to control sprawl — a period that is fading into the distant past.

The 1985 state law that created modern comprehensive planning was all but wiped from the books in 2011. And as a concession to the weakened public support for growth management, the plan presented on Tuesday already would relax the rules prohibiting dense development in some rural areas. Commissioners further agreed to remove a map that would have created some reasonable corridors to allow wildlife to move from one wild area to another.

So, this plan is already plenty forgiving, way too forgiving. But still, the commissioners asked: Why not make it more flexible?

Because to do so is to steal from the rest of us and, if you choose to look at the world this way, from God's creatures and creation.

Contact Dan DeWitt at [email protected]; follow @ddewitttimes.

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