Plenty to cover in politics this week but let’s first dispense with the Meadowcrest apartments 3-2 vote.
Wow. Who saw that coming?
Certainly not me, who skipped the entire thing for a dinner date in Tampa. I heard about it later and immediately questions came to mind.
The biggest being: Are these three random votes for the apartment complex against overwhelming public opposition, or is it a collective shot across the bow for affordable housing?
A careful review of the video would suggest the latter.
So let’s break it down.
First off, this wasn’t your typical zoning case. Gulf to Lake Associates, owned by the late Stan Olsen, developed Meadowcrest in the 1980s with a master plan called a Development of Regional Impact, or DRI.
The Tuesday request was to change the master plan on this piece of property to allow apartments instead of commercial or offices. Residents said they relied on that master plan as fact, not theory, on the community's makeup.
Residents said they knew the vacant property was in the master plan for retail or offices and were fine with it.
Understandable, but these DRIs and master plans are updated from time to time. Citrus County is rife with large developments that didn’t pan out as originally planned. Market conditions change. Houses become condos and vice versa. You get the point.
Usually, though, they are met with little resistance. I don’t recall one ever getting the blowback that this one did in Meadowcrest.
The residents had their reasons, but they boil down to compatibility. A three-story apartment complex isn’t the right fit in their community, they said.
Let me say this about compatibility: That’s in the eye of the beholder and not so easy to discern. When a roomful of people in green “Save our Village” T-shirts say it’s not compatible, is that a factual response or an emotional one? Commissioners are supposed to decide land-use cases by fact, so the rules state.
That’s how Commissioners Holly Davis, Jeff Kinnard and Scott Carnahan can sit and listen to two-plus hours of opposition to a project and then vote in favor of it.
Their reasons varied but all pointed to the same spot: Citrus County needs workforce housing and that outweighs the pleas of nearby residents. And the three in favor pretty much ignored the compatibility argument, saying that apartments are a perfect fit in Meadowcrest.
That’s a harsh way to look at it, but what else are we to take from this vote?
Even Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach, who has repeatedly stated the county needs affordable housing, voted no but said: “I hate myself for it.”
Board Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. was the only one straight down the compatibility line, coupled with his belief that the government shouldn’t help people with subsidized housing.
But the message from two of the three remaining commissioners after November is they consider workforce housing of such significance they angered hundreds of people, when a vote the other way would have done zero damage.
Davis said the Meadowcrest community will actually be better served because the apartment complex will provide an affordable home for nurses, teachers and deputies.
Maybe. Maybe not.
The Fort Lauderdale-based developer, Green Mills LLC, provided a “conceptual” plan for 179 apartment units. It’s for information purposes, meaning it carries zero weight.
“At this time the applicant is considering occupancy options such as affordable, senior and/or market rate housing,” the county staff report states.
Got that? It could be a 55-plus apartment complex, which is great for those folks but not at all in line with what the three commissioners said they were supporting.
Kitchen is consistent on this one point: He will not support zoning type changes without having the actual plan in front of him.
That is smart policy. If commissioners approve a zoning-type change against the public’s wishes, they should have more than a best guess of what the developer is going to do. I realize this developer has promised to build what the county wants, but that’s no guarantee.
Let’s hope commissioners didn’t jump the gun. Seriously, it’ll be hell to pay if this ends up being something OTHER than the apartment complex that the developer described.
That said, the Meadowcrest case shows we need to have more conversation about affordable housing. This issue can get polar in a hurry and that’s the last thing we want.
There is a need and desire for affordable housing, that’s clear. There’s also a clear concern among current residents about compatibility. Both points are worthy of discussion.
Nothing should be crammed down anyone’s throat. Neither should we cower at change. That’s not how a smart, successful community thrives.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.