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When a "nimby" become a community activist

I stood on a catwalk a few feet above 23,000 gallons of churning raw sewage Wednesday morning and, honestly, didn't think it smelled all that bad.

Even so, I'm not thrilled by the idea of Johns by John II opening a similar lime stabilization facility next to the St. Petersburg Times office on State Road 50.

And in some people's eyes, I guess that makes me a nimby.

I don't like nimbys, which as I'm sure you know is derived from the phrase "not in my back yard."

I don't even like the word "nimby," and wouldn't use it except that it perfectly describes the extreme provincialism of people who won't lift a finger to fight global starvation but become petition-circulating maniacs when it comes to frontage roads. Or septic service companies. Or drug treatment clinics.

On Tuesday, a large group of nimbys got Hernando County commissioners to do what is sometimes called political calculus, but is really just arithmetic. Commissioners would have had to subtract a lot of votes in the next election had they supported Operation PAR's drug treatment clinic on Kass Circle. Predictably, none of them did.

Too bad. The legal test for this vote was whether the planned clinic "adversely affects the public interest."

Yes, it may have done some harm to property values, but that's more because of the perceived threat than a real one.

Operation PAR operates the same kind of clinic, dispensing methadone, in a similar mixed-use neighborhood in Port Richey. Nearby residents who had opposed its opening in 2007 said a year later that their fears had been unfounded. And the city's police chief said this week that the clinic and its clients had created no major crime problems.

And, like it or not, treating recovering drug addicts — and sewage — are things we have to do as a community. About 70 of the regulars at the clinic in Pasco are from Hernando, the company said. When nimbys refuse to allow necessary activities in their neighborhoods, they are dumping them on somebody else's.

Of course, some places are better suited than others for some land uses. And making a lot of small decisions about what goes where adds up to a large responsibility — building an attractive, orderly community.

And if nimbys promote this goal, well, they're no longer nimbys; they're community activists. Think of the Spring Lake residents who fought the wasteful and destructive plan to build the Hickory Hill community on the county's biggest remaining chunk of agricultural land.

Put them on the community activist end of the spectrum. On the other end, representing pure nimbys, place all of the groups that have fought against beneficial frontage roads that would have intersected their subdivisions' entrances.

Where do we opponents of the Johns by Johns plan fall on this line?

Well, two of them happened to be checking out the tanks at AAA White's Septic Tank Services north of Brooksville when I was there. Both of them live about a mile away from where Johns by John is planning to mix sewage with lime. Judging from the level of smell, and even acknowledging that I'm less squeamish about this sort of thing than most people, I have to think they won't even notice it.

But when White's and other large septic companies have relocated, the county pointed them toward industrial land. It's only fair that it should do the same for Johns by John. And with the smell and the heavy truck traffic, that's clearly where this use belongs.

That's especially true because the current site isn't just commercial land, it's near the Suncoast Parkway's State Road 50 exit, one of the main gateways to the county.

I don't think a septic service is the first thing visitors need to see, especially not a service operated by a company such as Johns by John, which has a miserable record with the state Department of Health.

So I think commissioners should deny the company's request for permission to build the plant on SR 50 when it comes before them on Sept. 13.

And if you neighbors want to pack the commission chambers, you can do it with a clear conscience. You're not nimbys, and, neither am I. We're community activists.

When a "nimby" become a community activist 08/25/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011 8:51pm]

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