I've seen who-knows-how-many mirages over the years.
I'm talking about the tough-sounding reports from state planners that seem so solid at first, the ones that promise the government actually wants to halt stupid development, the ones that suggest maybe Florida isn't just a building-industry oligarchy after all.
Then, the developer drops in a few bucks of road money, redraws its plans to show a wildlife corridor, and, suddenly, all the objections vanish. Public control, it seems, is just an illusion.
But guess what? Last week, I came across the real thing — an oasis.
It was in the form of a letter from the Florida Department of Community Affairs saying it planned to issue an order of noncompliance for a development that, as far as I'm concerned, is another kind of illusion — the Quarry Preserve. Its plan is built on the idea that 13,000 people, along with dozens of stores and factories, will want to relocate to a new city in an old mining pit 6 miles north of Brooksville.
Noncompliance, in planner speak, means no. And though, of course, this order will be appealed and maybe reversed, the letter seemed to be a good, solid no.
It said the development company had fudged its analysis of how much land was already available for residential development in Hernando County. And even if it hadn't fudged, there would be no need for the Quarry's extra 5,800 dwelling units.
It said the Quarry would promote sprawl in not just one or two ways, but 10. And, no, the Quarry is not really a new town, the letter said. It doesn't have enough industry and stores to create jobs for its residents. It had too many homes set aside for the over-55 crowd, which makes it more like a very remote retirement community.
As I said, real. I put my toe in the water and it got wet. I knocked on the trunk of the palm tree and it was solid.
I need reassurance, of course, because I can't ever remember seeing the phrase "not in compliance'' for a major development that needed a change to the Hernando County comprehensive plan. Neither could Commissioner David Russell or planning director Ron Pianta.
Meanwhile, look around at all the stupid, sprawling projects the county and the state have allowed, and you realize the fallacy of some recent attacks on the agency.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott said "developments have been killed by all the regulation, all the paperwork. … DCA has killed jobs all across this state.''
State Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, in his re-election bid, went even further. He wants to get rid of the DCA altogether and for the same reason, saying it blocks economic growth.
No, not really. In 2009, the department found 29,197 projects in compliance and only 3,711 not in compliance. And most of those denials weren't for developments, but bureaucratic amendments; there was one like that involving schools in Hernando.
If the projects it did reject were like the Quarry, the state didn't lose any jobs. It has saved millions in road-building and other costs needed to serve sprawl.
Also, there's always that chance to negotiate. The developments are better for this, but as far as noncompliance equaling an outright no, well, sadly, that might turn out to be just another mirage.