The first time I showed up at a government meeting and thought, “hey, this is somewhat interesting,” the topic was zoning.
I don’t recall the particulars. I was attending Central Michigan University, working for the student newspaper CM Life, writing about the city of Mount Pleasant, where CMU is located.
It was a zoning case. On one side of the room sat a property owner and his attorney. On the other side, angry neighbors.
No idea what it was about, but all these years later the zoning lesson hasn’t left me. Local government and the ordinary public interact in many ways, perhaps none more than zoning.
Zoning is your basic neighborhood squabble that the county commission or city council is tasked to solve.
The argument is also pretty basic: What you can do with your property vs me enjoying my own property.
So it was Tuesday when a landowner wanted to change the zoning on his State Road 44 property to allow for more commercial growth.
The applicant was Grow-Land LLC, headed by J.J. Grow, an Inverness agribusinessman who is also running for state House. Grow sought to change 2.7 acres from medium density residential to general commercial.
The area is surrounded by a mix of residential and commercial, and a little more commercial probably wouldn’t have hurt.
But what killed the plan was there is no plan. Grow sought the zoning change without a master plan, meaning it was a blank slate. Once the zoning was changed he could put in anything that general commercial would allow.
These are deal killers for county Commission Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr., who believes that anytime someone wants to upzone — do more on the property than what’s allowed now — that request should be accompanied by a master plan so that the neighbors and county all know what’s going on there.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard supported the zoning request, as did Commissioner Scott Carnahan. Commissioner Holly Davis seemed to be siding with Kinnard, but she voted no, killing it on a 3-2 vote.
Look. I know zoning is dull as day-old dishwater. But as we narrow in on the road congestion debate, we should also be narrowing in on zoning decisions.
Any decision the county commission makes that increases the capacity of people living here should be given considerable weight. Can our roads handle more people? Schools? Drinking water?
I’m not talking about our current zoning map. If zoning allows for another 100,000 homesites in Citrus County, so be it. But if commissioners, and city council members, are faced with zoning requests that increase the density, they should be looking at it with a longer lens.
Citrus County is facing critical growth issues right now. I know it’s easy to hit the panic button when we see these clogged roads, but that’s neither smart nor practical.
What is smart and practical is for our elected leaders to pause before stamping yes on every up-zoning that comes along.
Tuesday’s county commission decision on the Grow property is a smart one. Maybe the property should be general commercial, maybe it shouldn’t. But it’s practical from a public policy standpoint to find out what the future plans are before simply pulling out one zoning designation and replacing it with another. That’s only fair to the neighbors.
As Citrus County grows in a number of areas, we’re going to be getting more of these conformity issues in zoning cases. Expect NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard — to be a rallying cry in communities throughout the county, especially from folks who have moved to Citrus within the last year or two. We’re already hearing it big time in the turnpike debate.
During this campaign season, pay attention to candidates who grasp this challenge and have solid ideas about strong zoning that compliments business, residential, industrial and open space. Not everyone gets it. Some candidates will feed you a line like they know it when all they really know is the line.
Zoning is the ultimate neighbor dispute that always has potential for finding common ground to make everyone involved happy. Let’s not forget its significance as Citrus County continues to move forward.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.