Here’s a question for your Monday:
Is it fair to distrust developers simply because they’re developers?
Someone promises to spend millions of dollars preparing property to build houses, apartments, and restaurants, and somehow we think he’s trying to pull one over on us.
Why is that?
James Dicks knows all about it. He’s the developer behind Pine Ridge Reserve, his plan for 85 one-acre homesites on the closed Pine Ridge Golf Course.
You may have heard about it. The County Commission has a public hearing at 5 p.m. Tuesday that should conclude sometime Thursday if everyone who has an opinion and wants to speak, does so.
Dicks, manager of DIX Developments in Lake Mary, is not some flashy out-of-towner looking to carve up Citrus County for his own tastes. At least that’s not my impression after an hour-long Cattle Dog chat.
His is a familiar name. His dad was the late Jim Dicks, former owner of the Port Paradise Hotel, and quite the Crystal River character. Ask anyone who’s been around Crystal River for a few decades about Jim Dicks, and what you’ll get is a smile and a story.
I don’t know whether James Dicks is a good developer or a bad one. I don’t know if he creates quality projects or slaps communities together with an Erector set.
This isn’t his first Citrus County rodeo. Crystal Ridge, the 900-home development at the former Rock Crusher Canyon, is Dicks’ project. He’s also the winning bidder for the Betz Farm property and has another project near Black Diamond.
We didn’t talk much about the golf course project, or any of them for that matter. I told James I don’t take positions on land-use cases; my emphasis is on the conversation.
He’s sat in crowded government meetings where he’s the most unpopular person in the room. Dicks said he tries to accommodate concerns, even though he realizes in many cases there is no compromise with opponents.
What Dicks is asking for, and why the Pine Ridge community is enraged, is to change the community master plan to eliminate 200-plus acres of open space so he can build houses.
It matters little that the golf course has not been used for years. This isn’t a zoning case. It’s not a question of what’s the best use of the property.
There’s a big difference between zoning and a master plan. Zoning is a snapshot in time that changes over time as markets and lifestyles shift.
A master plan, on the other hand, is a promise. Pine Ridge property owners weren’t promised there’d be a commercial golf course forever, but they were promised the property would stay golf course-ready.
That’s the master plan.
Dicks knew that when he bought the property. He knew he was buying a golf course. He also knew three votes on the County Commission could change that.
He seems to have good intentions. He promises trails and a conservation easement to protect against further development.
And yes, Dicks is a businessman looking to turn a profit for himself and his investors. Not sure why we’d hold that against him, so long as we’re all clear about intentions.
Again, I have no allegiances to either side. I’m fascinated by the debate.
A few other Pine Ridge thoughts:
— I was only half kidding about a Tuesday-to-Thursday meeting. This one has all the markings of a long, long night.
— Did you notice a Pine Ridge woman, Paula Sutton, took out a full-page ad in Sunday’s Chronicle encouraging community support for residents against the developer? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before in a land-use case. Just goes to show the issue’s intensity.
— Common argument: There are 1,500 vacant buildable lots in Pine Ridge, why does this developer need 85 new homesites?
For the same reason developers didn’t knock down the dilapidated shopping center on U.S. 19 for a new Target. These fancy-pants developments don’t want the old or the ordinary. They want a fresh canvas.
— For some commissioners this may still come down to a density issue. Yes, it’s only 85 houses. But it’s 85 not on the books right now.
— Finally, I encourage readers to take a drive through Pine Ridge. It’s always better having a visual to help understand an issue.
Plus, it’s just a beautiful community. Regardless of what happens Tuesday, that won’t change.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.