There is nothing quite the collective groan that emits from a disappointed county commission crowd the moment they’ve lost a 3-2 vote.
I sit in the back of the room and it all unfolds before me, just as it did Tuesday when Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach paused before very quietly voting to dash the hopes of the Ozello residents who were hoping to leave happy.
But they didn’t. The county commission majority – Schlabach, Scott Carnahan and new Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. – said they didn’t want a dime of local money going to pay for the Pirates Cove property and that was that.
But if anyone really thinks the conversation has ended, they don’t know Commissioner Jeff Kinnard and they don’t know Ozello.
First off, this is just another in a long series of hurdles. Ozello residents (“Ozelloeans”? “Ozelloians?” I thought I heard something like that Tuesday) – have been all over this Pirates Cove issue since the “no-name” reduced it to splinters nearly 30 years ago.
Ozello might be a sleepy little community known for its scenic 9-mile road and quiet Gulf access, but I’m serious when I say you don’t want to mess with these people.
When the late owner of the Pirates Cove property wanted to turn it into a resort, Ozello residents did their homework, organized forces, made the contacts and got projects stopped.
While at the Chronicle, I attended a few Ozello Civic Association meetings on Saturday mornings. The meeting hall was packed with residents who knew what the heck they were talking about.
That’s the way it is for communities that don’t get a lot of attention. Over the years, the really successful community wins have occurred in areas most people wouldn’t have even known existed.
The biggest of these is Heatherwood, a small rural neighborhood south of Inverness that for 10 years fought not only a big mining company, but also the county bureaucrats who wanted to give in to the big mining company.
Heatherwood won. The mining that would have destroyed their peaceful lives didn’t happen. One of the neighborhood leaders in that group, Joyce Valentino, was elected to county commission.
Things happen when passionate citizens unite for a cause.
Ozello is in similar shape. It’s never been big on the county political stage. I’ll save my funny Ozello voting story for another day, but it’s a place that’s quiet for a reason.
Then a stroke of political luck fell in their laps.
Not long after Jeff Kinnard was elected to the county commission in 2016, he and his wife bought property in Ozello to build a house right down the street from where we’re talking about. Close enough that a Citizen Kinnard likely would have been there Tuesday, wearing a white shirt like his neighbors.
Without planning to, Kinnard had walked into the middle of one of those Pirates Cove resort fights. Residents were coming to Kinnard, their new commissioner neighbor-to-be, imploring him to see the stupidity of condos in beautiful, quiet, Ozello.
Kinnard kept a public straight-arrow demeanor about the issue, but, c’mon? Here’s the quote he gave me at the Chronicle in 2017:
“Rezoning to commercial in the middle of a neighborhood – I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
The Kinnards eventually found themselves staying in Dixie Shores after their home in Woodland Estates flooded. They liked Dixie Shores and decided to build there instead of Ozello.
But Kinnard never forgot Ozello and Pirates Cove. He fought the fight Tuesday but it wasn’t to be. When I called him Wednesday morning, the first thing he did was express optimism that something was going to work out. He didn’t complain about the vote at all.
Ozelloians and Jeff Kinnard. We haven’t heard the last of them.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.