Planning Director Ron Pianta spoke of a threat on the horizon, a looming "mistake,'' "a concern we have and should have.''
And what is this brewing cataclysm? Basically, the state Department of Community Affairs is showing signs of actually doing its job.
DCA Secretary Tom Pelham has decided his agency should not approve new developments where local governments have already allowed two or three or — in a well-publicized case of a developer who wanted to build 800 houses in Marion County horse country — FIVE TIMES as many new houses as its future population can be reasonably expected to need.
Such a hard line, such outrageous inflexibility, has developers all over the state "freaking out,'' said Commission Chairman David Russell, who asked for the discussion of what is technically known as "needs assessment'' at Tuesday's meeting — a discussion requested by, among others, Realtor Gary Schraut.
Of course, panic in the development community should be a balm to the general public. It usually means some rule or agency is working in our interest, which I think is definitely true here.
DCA's denial of the Marion subdivision, a decision confirmed by the Florida Cabinet in September, made it easier for our county planners to call the proposed Quarry Preserve sprawl — a reasonable conclusion considering its 5,800 new houses and apartments six miles north of Brooksville would bring the total capacity for new residential units in the county to at least 71,000.
To give local governments even clearer direction, DCA has started writing a new needs assessment rule. The end result of Tuesday's meeting was that Pianta promised to keep on top of the process.
To be fair, Pianta's main concern was that the DCA will come up with an ironclad law preventing all comprehensive plan changes that allow more subdivisions, no matter how desirable. And, yes, it's possible to imagine that such a widely beneficial proposal might come along some day, say redeveloping a raggedy grid of lime rock roads in Royal Highlands into a tidy, walkable little cluster of a community.
But I don't think DCA would do anything to stop such projects. And besides, the true aim of the development boosters who spoke on Tuesday — including Commissioner Rose Rocco, who mimicked Schraut's arguments so perfectly I wanted to check her back for one of those little pull cords — seems to be more of the same.
Otherwise, why would Brooksville engineer Cliff Manuel's congratulate the County Commission on all the "very smart growth'' it has approved in the past decade.
Smart? Think of the faceless developments pocked with vacant homes and lots along the Suncoast Parkway. Think of the approvals for huge developments of regional impact and their satellite projects stretching from Ridge Manor to U.S. 19. Think of these subdivisions' claims to cover every conceivable market niche, to satisfy every consumer need, and then remember that none of them have so much as a single resident.
My concern is that if they ever do develop, and if by then we have more of the same on the way, the county will be so far along its current path — chewing up green space, promoting congestion, spreading ugliness — that nobody with a choice will want to move here.
And how many new homes will we need then?