Commissioner, yes, but citizen too
A long time ago the county went about building a park.
I was living in the Inverness Highlands, and the entrance to this park was one street over. The park would have five soccer fields, so the neighbors all envisioned Saturdays full of reckless soccer parents driving their kids to and fro.
As one of the affected property owners, I wanted to make sure we were protected. And that meant the potential of addressing the county commission.
I had never done that, not in a formal way. It’s just frowned upon for reporters who cover a local government to get up in front of it to speak an opinion.
But this felt like a true dilemma so I asked Chronicle Publisher Gerry Mulligan about it. Here’s what he said: Just because I’m a reporter doesn’t make me any less a citizen.
I think of that as Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach finds herself in the spotlight for something that is apparently none of her doing.
In a deal too complicated for me to even explain, the county wants to buy property the commissioner and her husband own on C.R. 491 opposite Horace Allen Street in Lecanto. It’s related to the C.R. 491 widening, though I could show Tuesday’s commission agenda backup to 20 people, not a single one could tell me what it means.
Essentially, the county wants to make the Horace Allen/491 a T-intersection, with a traffic signal, and somehow that necessitated buying acreage across the street, including the Schlabach property.
Exactly when all this was decided is a little gray. And exactly why the Schlabach property is needed is also a little gray.
Lining Horace Allen up with a traffic signal at 491 seems smart, even though C. R. 486 is only a short distance away. But it’s not smart without some additional thinking.
Horace Allen is a beautiful straight-away through rural farmland (or, as we like to say in the new Citrus, future homesites). But it connects with Maylan Avenue, a narrow two-lane with no center line, steep hills and strong candidate for resurfacing.
Maylan comes out at S.R. 44 just east of the parkway. The Maylan-Horace Allen connection could provide an excellent way to bypass Four Corners (what the old timers call 44/491) between the Central Ridge and parkway.
If that’s the plan, and this new intersection will coincide with improvements to Maylan, hat’s off to the county. Something tells me that’s not the plan.
Now we’re faced with this odd request for the county to pay $336,000 to the Schlabachs for their property which, according to what I’ve seen, shows a road going through it. There is no road there now.
The agenda language doesn’t help. It says the property is valued at $268,700, and the county is offering 25% higher as an “incentive.”
Before you go all nutso about commissioners getting a cool break on selling property, keep in mind why the government offers an incentive. It’s to keep the government from condemnation proceedings, which are costly and time-consuming. It’s much cheaper for the county to offer the incentive to willing sellers than to go through eminent domain.
As for Schlabach, well, she’s in a tough spot.
I don’t know if $336,000 is a good offer for highway frontage near what is shaping up to be the county’s busiest commercial intersection. If you were the property owner, you’d want as much as you can get, right?
But if Schlabach declines the offer and it goes to eminent domain, the Gotcha Gang will accuse her of milking taxpayers for more money. Which, frankly, is total nonsense. Again, wouldn’t any of us do the same?
The bottom line is twofold:
— This agenda item could use a better explanation. I’m not sure what we’re doing there or why. It wouldn’t hurt the county commission to punt this for a few weeks so everyone is on the same page.
— It’s not Schlabach’s fault the government wants to buy her property for a road project. Accusing her of wrongdoing is totally unfounded.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.