Commissioner wants to revisit super-majority requirement for comprehensive plan changes

The commission will be shorthanded with Jeff Holcomb absent.
Commission member Jeff Holcomb will be in Asia on Navy Reserve duty for up to 12 months.
Commission member Jeff Holcomb will be in Asia on Navy Reserve duty for up to 12 months.

BROOKSVILLE — The temporary deployment of county Commissioner Jeff Holcomb to Southwest Asia may be the catalyst that derails a county ordinance that was strongly opposed by the county's building and development community when it was passed in 2005.

A member of the Navy Reserve, Holcomb announced last month that he would be gone from six to 12 months fighting the war on terror. Later in the same meeting, Commissioner Wayne Dukes said that, since only four commissioners will be making decisions in the coming months, the commission should consider repealing its supermajority ordinance.

The ordinance requires that, in order to change the county's comprehensive plan, its blueprint for growth, four of the five county commissioners must vote in favor of the change. Most other commission decisions require a simple majority — three of five.

The supermajority ordinance is the reason last year's controversial push by Cemex to expand its mining operations into an area west of Brooksville — a location that was intended for residential development — was thwarted. Commissioners Jim Adkins and Diane Rowden said they would vote against the comprehensive plan change necessary to expand the Cemex operation so Cemex pulled the application before the vote.

The former commissioner who was instrumental in getting the ordinance approved, Jeff Stabins, said he is unhappy that commissioners would even consider changing the supermajority requirement.

"The comprehensive plan is our local equivalent to the federal Constitution,'' Stabins said. "Both are extremely important documents which should not be extremely easy to amend.''

He noted that amending the U.S. Constitution requires approval by two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the states. The supermajority requirement for changing the county's comprehensive plan follows that same pattern, he said, restricting changes to the document to only when there is extremely strong support.

"It is an important and final hurdle that rapacious developers must meet if they are to change the basic blueprint for growth that was created with the interests of all our citizens in mind,'' Stabins said.

At the time the ordinance was approved, Stabins was hit with a barrage of criticism in calls and emails from unhappy developers and real estate brokers. But despite the criticism, he said, he still supported the measure.

"My hunch and my gut feeling is that they do not represent the views of the majority of citizens,'' he said at the time.

Stabins, then a Republican, joined forces with the two Democrats on the board, Rowden and Chris Kingsley, to enact the ordinance. Only a simple majority was needed to put the super-majority ordinance into effect.

Dukes told the Times that he thought until recently that the supermajority requirement was state law, but once he found out it was a local ordinance, he realized there was some flexibility built in. And while he used Holcomb's deployment as a reason to raise the issue, he said he had no intention of tying the repeal to a fixed time to match Holcomb's absence.

"I'm not going to put a time line on this. It's until further notice. Obviously, three votes could bring it back anytime,'' Dukes said.

On Tuesday, the commission will consider as part of its consent agenda approving the advertising to begin the process to possibly repeal the ordinance. That will be Holcomb's last commission meeting before heading overseas.

The ordinance change would require three public hearings. The first would be before the Planning and Zoning Commission in June, followed by two hearings before the County Commission in July, according to Ron Pianta, the assistant administrator for planning and development.

Stabins said the original idea for the ordinance came from a retired judge, Ed Wright, who had homes in Syracuse, N.Y., and in Brookridge. The topic was discussed during a series of town hall meetings in 2005, which was near the peak of the building boom.

"I called the supermajority ordinance the Wright Proviso to the comprehensive plan. It was right in 2005, and it is still right today,'' Stabins said.

"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.''

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.