A friend the other day asked a very simple question:
“Are we ready?”
I knew what he meant. Are we, as in Citrus County, ready for the growth arriving daily before our very eyes?
Well, that’s easy. Yes, we are. Um…actually, no we’re not. Or…as I think about it, we’re more ready than we were a year ago but not ready ready.
We were talking about the growth epicenter of the County Roads 491/486 intersection. The Target and friends extravaganza being built on the northwest corner. Commercial construction creeping along the roadways.
I told my friend, 491/486 is probably the only thing we’re ready for. The intersection was designed for heavy commercial use and, guess what, that’s exactly what’s happening.
But as I thought of his question a little longer, the answer is, of course, no. We are not ready. I would not expect us to have all of our ducks in a row considering we’ve never experienced this before. It’s all brand new. How could we possibly prepare for the unknown?
I’m not one of those who say we shoulda done this or shoulda done that. We do the best with what’s in front of us.
Does that mean we’re doomed to be suffocated by unbridled growth? Of course not. Don’t be silly.
Are we ready? Let’s look at three areas.
— Major roads: Not ready, but trending up. While the 486/491 intersection was designed for what we’re seeing, someone forgot to send the memo to other county departments because a 2-mile segment of C.R. 491 remains two lanes. Plus, while the politicians are promising construction will start this year on widening those 2 miles, I haven’t seen a timetable or anything official.
Why trending up? Commissioners are VERY AWARE of the 491 bottleneck. And they’re starting to have conversations about other roads that will need attention. Commissioner Rebecca Bays believes we need a transportation master plan. I hope to see more about that soon.
This will trend down in a hurry if commissioners don’t start planning the widening of C.R. 491 north of Forest Ridge Boulevard to at least Deltona Boulevard. Major growth is headed that way and no one is uttering a peep about it.
— Water/sewer. Trending up with a caveat. Ken Cheek is the county’s point man on water/sewer projects and that guy can explain it to a third-grader, which is how our conversations usually go. Nothing gets past him. Citrus County has made a name in Tallahassee for getting state sewer money. I don’t see how this doesn’t continue trending upward.
Caveat: Cost. It’s pretty dang expensive for a homeowner. While the county has done a yeoman's job getting those costs down, it’s still pretty high.
The assessment for the sewer line is $6,000. Connecting it from the road to your house, plus proper discarding of your septic tank, that’s another $5,000 or so.
The residents of Cambridge Greens, a Citrus Hills community, are in line for the next big sewer project and they’re madder n’ heck they have to pay anything at all. They’ve heard of communities in South Florida that are essentially getting free sewer projects.
Although the reasoning is logical — it’s the state wanting sewer so the state should pay for it all — life doesn’t usually pan out that way.
While the county is in good shape now and tomorrow in planning sewer projects, the commissioners may find it tougher than their predecessors in convincing residents to bite the bullet.
— Zoning. Unsure of a trend. One thing we’ve learned from this new county commission is an inconsistency in land-use decisions. They haven’t had a conversation about how they, as a board, envision the county’s growth so it’s difficult to see collectively or even individually their direction in zoning.
Aside from individual cases, there is so much overall to consider. Concurrency — which ties new development to road improvements — would take at least a year and likely longer to get approved. Same for tinkering with impact fees. People gripe about consultants but these big-ticket items need experts to craft them.
I don’t know where we are on land-use decisions. We’re going to learn plenty which way they’re headed when commissioners decide on the Ozello glampground request.
There you go. Three areas. The ones in my notes and didn't get to: Neighborhood roads (trending up); secondary roads (trending down); law enforcement (trending up); schools (trending up); affordable places to live (trending down); environment (unsure); health care (trending up); county government (trending up); Crystal River (trending up); Inverness (unsure).
It’s a lot to consider.
Are we ready? No. But we’re getting there.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.