With uncharacteristic speed, Pinellas County is preparing to change land use and zoning codes in ways that could harm the Brooker Creek Preserve and other natural areas of Pinellas. Residents who care about land preservation should pay attention.
On Pinellas' countywide future land use map, nearly all of the county's biggest and most valuable preserve, 8,000-acre Brooker Creek Preserve, is designated "Preservation," a restrictive category for land that is being conserved and protected. Nothing legally can be built on land designated "Preservation" on the countywide land use map.
But a number of facilities — educational, recreational and utility-related — already have been built in Brooker Creek Preserve. (How did that happen, county commissioners?) Now the county wants the opportunity to build even more.
If changes on the agenda at tonight's County Commission meeting eventually get final approval, the county will have a legal way to build water-related facilities such as wells, pipelines, water treatment plants, water storage tanks, chemical storage facilities or even a reservoir on lands intended to be saved from development. The enormous impact on wildlife, wetlands and other natural resources does not seem to concern the county. And once the county government clears the way, city governments will get the same authority.
Last week a fortuitous hitch developed. The staff of the Pinellas Planning Council, an agency created by the Legislature and Pinellas voters to oversee administration of the countywide land use plan, declared the county's proposals are inconsistent with the countywide plan. Consistency is required by Florida law.
What is the county's response? It will push ahead with its votes tonight and send its desired changes out for required regional and state reviews, even though they are inconsistent. That seems awfully arrogant.
With the county demonstrating such determination to get its way, only a public outcry can truly protect Pinellas' preservation lands from potentially damaging uses nature never intended.