And this is why my job is so fun.
Recall a while back I wrote about a proposed Tidal Wave car wash on C.R. 491 in Lecanto and how the County Commission torpedoed it on an unusual vote. The process — approving a plat to divide property into individual buildable lots — normally takes no time but not in this case.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard was ready to vote for it, but the other commissioners hedged for various reasons. Car washes are not high on the public’s happy list right now, and the developer made veiled promises that separating lots will entice national brands, including a Chick-fil-A.
I said at the time I thought the whole thing seemed a little odd. Lot of effort for a car wash.
What I had also learned then but kept under my hat is that a former statewide politician, now a consultant for the company wanting the car wash, is reaching out to Citrus County commissioners in hopes of changing their minds.
Jeff Atwater, Senate president in 2009-10 and Florida chief financial officer from 2011 to 2017, is hoping to convince Citrus County commissioners that a Tidal Wave is the perfect addition to the Lecanto landscape.
I reached out to Atwater in August by email and didn’t hear back. Flattering didn’t help:
“When a former CFO/Senate President shows interest in developing a car wash, well, that captures some attention here in little ol’ Citrus County,” I wrote.
Like I said, commissioners had different reasons for not voting for the car wash plat. Among them was the developer’s plans for outparcel lots including a Chipotle and Chick-fil-A, but no specifics. County commissioners are loathe to approve land-use changes without specifics because it always comes back to haunt them.
OK, got all that technical stuff? Here’s more:
This week’s random commissioner email batch comes from Kinnard, where I learned the Tidal Wave developer dropped the plat idea and will submit a planned unit development, or PUD. It’s the most common form of land-use these days, one that commissioners like because, as the name implies, everything is spelled out. No guesswork.
Here’s what caught my eye: The developer’s representative requested a meeting with Kinnard prior to filing for the PUD because he wants the commissioner’s input.
And that would be Atwater, the former CFO now with Ballard Partners, hoping to secure a car wash in Lecanto.
Couple of things about this.
One, anytime a former statewide politician-turned-consultant shows up in our neighborhood lobbying for a car wash, it has my immediate attention. Thank you CFO Atwater for that.
Second, this reach-out by Atwater exposes what I’ve long considered a major flaw in the public land-use change process.
Here’s what I mean:
The county has a rule, or maybe I should call it a strong suggestion, that commissioners do not discuss pending zoning cases with anyone. It’s called quasi-judicial, one of the worst ideas ever. It basically says the County Commission is like a jury and shouldn’t be talking with the applicant or opponents before the public hearing, and the hearing alone should determine a final vote.
OK fine. In real life, no developer worth his salt is going to come out with a multi million-dollar plan without first having a clue whether it’ll fly or not.
Well, the quasi-judicial rule states that commissioners can’t discuss projects with developers once their land-use application is filed. Before that, though, it’s just friendly chatting.
Except we all know better. Should CFO Atwater sit privately with individual commissioners to discuss a car wash development prior to the paperwork being filed, it gives his client a leg up on the public.
If the idea behind quasi-judicial is to provide all sides an even chance, developers who pitch their “concept” projects to commissioners ahead of time have a huge advantage over citizens once the application officially comes in.
Just my view, but if the former CFO comes calling on Citrus County commissioners to discuss this car wash, they should consider not taking the call. We’re not talking about a random developer trying to find out what he can or can’t build. This developer has already tried one route and been rebuffed.
Remember, it was four county commissioners who said they didn’t want a car wash out on C.R. 491 in a thriving commercial area. Not sure how a PUD changes that but I guess we’ll soon learn.
I mentioned in August that this thing has legs. I’m sticking to that prediction. Looking forward to seeing where this goes.
Car wash politics. Gotta love this county.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.