Hope you had a relaxing weekend because it’s thinking cap time.
The county’s strategic planning kicks off today and when all is said and done, we’ll have a living document, shaped by community ideas and suggestions, to help guide Citrus County’s direction.
Generally, it’s the “we want this, we don’t want that, and here’s how we get there” sort of process. Commissioner Holly Davis explains it here really well.
I’m over simplifying it. I trust in the process, though, and I hope our citizens do as well.
Because, by golly, this is pretty important.
You don’t need to hear from me that our little slice of heaven is changing rapidly. A 30-minute drive between Inverness and Crystal River is now 40 minutes or longer. Houses are cropping up everywhere. More people, more problems, more more more…
The challenge is now that we’re post-parkway, we see the immediate impacts and therefore may find it difficult to envision a Citrus County in 20 years when we’re trying to see what scallop season is going to look like this summer.
Guess what? That makes strategic planning even MORE significant so that we don’t jump out with ill-informed decisions based on a current crisis.
This is what I’m talking about:
In 2010, the county commission voted to pay Citrus Hills developer Steve Tamposi $2.9 million for Ottawa Avenue so that it could create a direct route between State Road 44 and County Road 496 through various Lecanto neighborhoods. It was wildly controversial, unpopular, and horribly planned.
The idea at the time was the county needed another north-south route to help get traffic off C.R. 491. Common sense played no role. Anyone could see no one in his/her right mind would use this inconvenient “connector.”
Then the county said C.R. 491 was the top priority and commenced to start that widening project, with the idea that the entire stretch between S.R. 44 and C.R. 486 would be finished by time the Suncoast Parkway opened.
Along the way, the county decided it couldn’t finish 491 in time, so it convinced the state to add a Suncoast Parkway interchange at C.R. 486 to draw that traffic off 491. And the state did that.
But guess what? Only half of the 491 project is done. Somewhere along the way it just fell off the radar. Something so important in 2011 that taxpayers spent millions of dollars on a perfectly good road, which today has no redeeming public purpose, is now not even that big a whoop.
The second phase of the C.R. 491 widening is fully funded, but construction doesn’t even START for another year. (By the way, it’s fully funded but hasn’t been bid yet, so construction costs may be a wee higher than anticipated, since everything else has gone up a gazillion percent the last 18 months.)
Now. That’s a lot of government junk, I know it. But can you see where lack of planning led to one poor decision after another?
Four areas I see the strategic plan should address (among others):
1. We should acknowledge that our challenges are happening right now. Whatever we come up with to answer today’s issues also should dovetail into 20 years from now. We can’t leapfrog today to plan for tomorrow and we can't ignore tomorrow to fix today.
2. This is a great opportunity to have a countywide discussion about roads. Just saying. Citrus County needs to get a handle on its road situation — condition, capacity, network, turnpike, parkway. I’m going to keep pushing this idea of a transportation master plan for all of Citrus County, including the two cities.
3. Similar discussion about growth. Don’t let anyone tell you we can’t regulate growth. Horse feathers. A lot of this county is zoned for residential but a lot of it is not. The county (and cities) do not have to upzone every scrap of vacant land for residential or commercial growth.
4. Affordable housing. Workforce housing. I don’t care what you call it. We have a heavy service-based industry. These workers need an affordable place to live. If they won’t find it here, they'll have to work and live elsewhere. Tourists love manatees but they won’t love waiting two hours for a table because restaurants can’t keep good employees.
That’s just a few ideas. I expect to hear many more. Public input sessions are today from 1-3 p.m. at the Citrus Springs Community Center and 6-8 p.m. at the Lecanto Government Building.
Let’s get the conversation started.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.