Clear view from back of the room
Notes from Tuesday’s first meeting of the county commission that we will recall 20 years from now as the group that got it all started:
— This new board fired a shot across the bow of development-as-usual by defeating what seemed like a standard zoning change.
The vote was 4-1 against a switch from residential to commercial to allow for a mini-storage business along County Road 491 between S.R. 44 and C.R. 486 in Lecanto. Commissioner Jeff Kinnard voted in favor, but the others agreed a storage warehouse backing up into residential zoning didn’t make sense.
After that, they unanimously shot down a second unrelated zoning request as being incompatible to the neighbors.
These votes were a dime a dozen favorable in recent years. They’re near no-brainers. So long as there was a specific plan, and neighbors didn’t care, the county commission went along with it.
(And that’s why the dollar store and membership car wash industries have us in their sights.)
These two zoning cases fit right into Commissioner Rebecca Bays’ wheelhouse; smart growth was the central theme of her campaign.
“We are going to have quality development in this county,” she said Tuesday.
Every developer and his cousin is looking at Citrus County right now. That puts us in the driver’s seat and, without passing judgment on these zoning cases, it’s always nice to see county commissioners make a call for the community’s overall best interest and not that of a single landowner.
This is a subject for another day but the new county commission’s sudden interest in development standards is a good sign for us all.
—Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach handled her new chairman duties well. She had control of the room and encouraged discussion, though on one or two occasions she called for the vote before Commissioner Diana Finegan had a chance to weigh in.
There was some lack of presentation, meaning I had no idea what they were voting on.
One example: The county had a public hearing on an “ordinance pertaining to criminal background checks.”
No one had a thing to say about it and the ordinance passed unanimously.
Just one question: What is it? There was no summary for the public, nothing. Probably just an ordinance change to clear up language, but a little explanation would help.
One significant improvement from her predecessors: Schlabach kept things light. She didn’t pretend to understand all the quirks of running a meeting, and there were times the conversation sort of slogged along. At least everyone seemed relaxed.
— Happy to report Finegan did not spend her first business meeting in leftover campaign mode, which often happens to freshmen. She was hardly a wallflower, questioning early why the county was contracting with a Coral Gables company for pest control.
And in a back-and-forth about whether the county should continue to fine CoreCivic, the jail contractor, for not meeting staffing requirements, Finegan encouraged the county to work with the company for a resolution but to keep up the pressure.
“I don’t want to be in the jail business, but CoreCivic does,” she said.
—Lots of conversation about public input. Schlabach’s plan to modify the public comment rules created plenty of discussion but no change. All the commissioners said they’re accessible to citizens, and Bays went to step further by blurting out her new county cell number: 352-697-1494.
(Finegan’s is 352-697-3097. Very important: No texting on county cell phones.)
— It was a long meeting, nearly to 8 p.m. During their seven hours, commissioners heard from citizens facing thousands of dollars in sewer hookup fees. They discussed and voted on a bunch of government stuff. They did a deep dive on zoning cases.
Commissioners kept the lines of communication wide open with citizens and each other. They conducted the public’s business without veering off into irrelevant tangents. With few minor exceptions, each commissioner stuck to the mission. New Administrator Steve Howard said little but took it all in.
Just one meeting, but it’s a start. A darn good one.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.