Sunday, February 25, 2018
News Roundup

Supermajority preservation an unexpected plus for Hernando

Hooray for Jim Adkins, crusader for the environment!

Three cheers for Jeff Holcomb, enemy of ill-conceived mining plans!

I know. Reading those sentences might be disorienting, even a shock to the system.

Writing them definitely was. But I had to do it.

Last week, Hernando County Commissioners Holcomb, Adkins and, more predictably, Diane Rowden voted to stick to one of the best rules the County Commission has ever established: the requirement of a supermajority vote to change the Comprehensive Plan, the county's blueprint for future development.

Their stand was especially crucial because if the attack on the supermajority (spearheaded by Commissioner Wayne Dukes) had been successful, it would have likely been permanent. And that's because the supermajority was, itself, an unexpected burst of government responsiveness, the product of a strange, brief era when the political tables were turned on developers.

The Suncoast Parkway was new, the boom was nearing its peak and voters were starting to express alarm at the advancing ranks of rooftops. County commissioners responded by shutting down so many planned projects, including a few good ones, that after one meeting I actually remember feeling sympathy for a development lawyer.

Told you it was strange. And brief.

It lasted just long enough for Jeff Stabins to be elected on pro-growth-management platform in 2004, and the next year to pass the supermajority provision. Previously, amendments to the plan needed votes from just three of five commissioners. From that point on, such changes required four.

The backlash was fierce enough that even the supermajority requirement couldn't prevent the commission from approving the 2,800-acre Hickory Hill development on the county's biggest parcel of agricultural land in 2007 and, a few years later, the delusional plan to build a city of 13,000 called the Quarry Preserve.

But the supermajority provision did help kill an idea almost as dumb the Quarry and much more dangerous because it would have actually happened in our lifetimes — the conversion of the pastoral western gateway of Brooksville into rock mine. Think of it as the real quarry preserve; it meant the continued creation of the wastelands that have destroyed thousands of acres of the county's best land.

When the owners of the proposed mine saw they didn't have the needed four votes last year, they at least temporarily pulled the plan.

The desire to reverse this decision was undoubtedly one reason Dukes suddenly thought the time had come to also reverse the supermajority requirement.

In other words, it had nothing to do with Dukes' stated excuse — Holcomb's deployment to overseas service in the U.S. Navy — and everything to do with bowing to the powerful landowners behind the planned mine.

As Stabins put it recently to Times staff writer Barb Behrendt, "Any commissioner voting to repeal should be looked at askew and assumed to be bought and paid for by local big business and lobbying interests."

Actually, that's my working assumption about most of the commissioners, which is why the decision last week is cause for celebration.

And, though I'm not sure of Holcomb's motivation, it's important to note that this show of independence is in line with several of Adkins' more recent positions, including withholding support for the mine plan last year.

What, then, should we make of Dukes and Nick Nicholson, who also supported scrapping of the supermajority provision?

Just take Stabins' advice: Look at them askew.

Contact Dan DeWitt at [email protected] Follow @ddewitttimes.

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Published: 02/24/18