'No growth' has a new ring to it
An interesting phenomenon is taking place with the pendulum swing.
The pendulum swing is how I’ve long referenced the shifting political winds in Citrus County. It’s not Democrat vs. Republican, but rather relates to local ways of life.
Growth vs. environment, parkway vs. no parkway — you get the idea. Public opinion always plays out at the polls.
To explain this let me go back a few years. Scott Adams was elected to the county commission in 2012. That was a huge indicator that folks were not happy. Adams was not the typical candidate — very Trump-like before Trump. Populist. Anti-government. Distrusting of authority.
Adams promised to clean house and that’s exactly what happened — within a year, the county administrator, county attorney and other higher-ups were out the door.
Scott Carnahan and Ron Kitchen Jr. came aboard the commission in 2014. The pendulum shift that brought in the late Randy Oliver as administrator came with clear public direction: Slow everything down and make finances a priority. The tax rate dropped and so did the county’s investment in itself.
By 2020, the public was ready to move on. Suncoast Parkway construction had commenced and our world was a little nervous about how growth would shake out.
That year, Commissioner Jeff Kinnard was re-elected to a second term without opposition. Holly Davis defeated an incumbent who, before his term on the county commission, served six years in the State House. Ruthie Davis Schlabach outlasted a five-candidate Republican primary where second-place was 34 points behind.
The pendulum had clearly swung. Unfortunately, Carnahan and Kitchen were still in office and either didn’t hear the voters or didn’t care. If anything, they dug in and refused to move the county forward, and none of the other three seriously challenged them on it.
So the county government pretty much wasted two years. Meanwhile, the community began to learn in 2021 what “growth” looked like. Even before the parkway opened to S.R. 44, our roads were clogged overnight, houses shot up $100,000 in price and sold as soon as hitting the market, and we all had that feeling of a million eyes peering at us with bad intent.
With all that taking place, the 2022 elections happened. Voters swept Rebecca Bays and Diana Finegan into office and we’ve been waiting since then to see what that means from a growth standpoint.
Growth affects everything: Crime, roads, sewers, litter, economy, traffic signals, boat ramps, gopher tortoises, taxes — the list goes on.
Which gets me (finally) to the point. What we’re experiencing is a pendulum shift within a pendulum shift.
On one hand, the public clearly expects action from this county commission. Solid plans and the finances to make it happen. Tough decisions about what we should or shouldn’t expect from our government.
On the other hand, we’re also in serious no-growth mode. Let me explain: it’s not NO growth, it’s no EXTRA growth. That means heavy opposition to any zoning changes that increase housing density or bring apartments in homesite neighborhoods.
The amount of emails from Sugarmill Woods residents to county commissioners in opposition to the proposed 250-apartment complex in Oak Village is very impressive. This week’s random email is from Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach and it was quite a bit: 317 emails. At least 80% relate to either Sugarmill Woods or the Ozello glampground and all but one are in fierce opposition.
Commissioners can’t comment on pending zoning cases so they generally don’t reply with anything but a generic “I can’t respond” response.
Citrus County citizens, longtimers and newcomers alike, have awakened to the idea that growth is inevitable but under current rules. Developers who want zoning changes or planned unit developments (PUDs) may find the going a little rougher than they first thought.
We’ll know soon how this sudden pendulum swing plays out in actual county commission votes. The Sugarmill public hearing is May 11; the Ozello glampground will be sometime after that. Many more are to follow.
These conversations will get tougher, not easier. They’re necessary to move forward. Communities with difficult open dialogue produce bountiful results.
We’re ready for this talk. We are so ready.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.