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Hernando Commissioners can't appease every resident

I used to hear it all the time as a reporter, that tired expression I'm sure you've heard, too:

"NIMBYs,'' a developer would say, shaking his head in disgust and muttering about a spineless County Commission that folds to local interests.

NIMBY, of course, stands for "not in my back yard,'' and a classic example came along a year ago last week. The commission, looking to appease angry residents, shot down a Wal-Mart Supercenter planned for Barclay Avenue that the company had a clear right to build.

It may have happened again — or, I should say, it looked like it was about to happen — on Friday afternoon when a developer pulled the plug on a recreational vehicle park planned for 24.4 acres near Aripeka.

Because the landowner, Dial One LLC, didn't give a reason for this decision, the project's opponents can only offer a guess: that the company feared its plan would be voted down by commissioners looking out over a sea of furious residents from Aripeka and Hernando Beach.

"In the 16 years we've been doing this, we have never felt we were in touch with such a big part of a community,'' said Leslie Neumann, of the Gulf Coast Conservancy. "Everybody was instantly up in arms over this.''

Why this development and not others?

The lead name on the application, Gary Grubbs, probably had something to do with it.

He built his construction and emergency services businesses on taxpayer money and then stiffed the county on nearly $500,000 in tax bills, said tax collector Juanita Sikes. Though the sum has since been repaid, mostly by creditors after Grubbs' 2003 bankruptcy, the county is still out $90,000 in attorney's fees.

The few imminently threatened black bears that sometimes roam the Dial One property on Osowaw and Shoal Line boulevards no doubt helped the opposition.

Also, these "boulevards'' are actually crowded two-lane roads. Traffic concerns were mentioned in several of the 35 opposition e-mails sent to the county and the same issue killed an earlier plan for a park at Weeki Wachee Preserve.

That vote showed that appeasing voters often can lead to bad decisions. I've seen plenty of developers get a raw deal after following all the rules. The county has potentially disastrous gaps in its network of frontage roads created by the need to keep a few residents happy.

But, let's be realistic: land use policy usually favors developers; neighborhood political pressure can sometimes just restore a little balance. And neighbors do, after all, deserve a say.

The Dial One property is designated by the county as conservation land and has enough environmental value that the Southwest Florida Water Management District has considered buying it.

I don't think the county comprehensive plan should have allowed the developer's plan: 100 paved pads for large, gas-guzzling RVs and a "country store'' twice the size of a stand-alone pharmacy.

But it did, just as zoning laws seemed to guarantee the right of Wal-Mart to build the store on Barclay — which is another reason to bring up that decision.

Not only did nearby residents not want that Supercenter, the county didn't need it.

That vote was a clear case of political pandering — and absolutely right.

Hernando Commissioners can't appease every resident 05/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2008 10:42am]
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