We're rolling out a writing style today borrowed from a national sports columnist.
It’s called the running diary and, while it works better for the Super Bowl or World Series Game 7, I always wanted to try it out at a county commission meeting.
Tuesday was that day. Fishcreek Glampground public hearing, room full of Ozelloeans. Perfect time to experiment.
Halfway through, I realized a flaw in my thinking. The sportswriter didn’t have a self-imposed 700-word limit. So, it’s either an abridged running diary or 3,000 words on a zoning case.
Abridged it is:
5 p.m. — We’re about to start and it’s a full room. Kind of disappointed the opponents aren’t wearing blue “no rezoning” T-shirts.
5:01 -- Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach, in her first meeting as she receives cancer treatments, lays out the rules. Bad behavior means you’re shown the door.
“I’m polite but I’m not nice,” she says.
5:15 -- Attorney Clark Stillwell, representing applicants Jen and Dimitri Magradze, explains the zoning request. No one walks commissioners through land-use details better than Clark. Never underestimate the guy. Clark knows the political landscape but doesn’t make a lot of noise about it.
5:25 — Now I remember why I haven’t done this diary before. A county commission meeting isn’t the World Series.
5:36 — I can’t believe I spent an entire career sitting through these things. As a reporter, they’re killers to cover. I used to take a ton of notes, but 99% never see the light of day. While my friend Clark is quite efficient, it’s not exactly riveting stuff.
5:40 -- “FLUE Policy 17.11.18 Definition of a Central Sewer System.” See what I mean?
5:45 -- Stillwell tells commissioners they can trust the new-fangled septic system that will serve the campground. That’s another area that I never thought would intersect my life so much. My newspaper career included lots of stories about sewer plants, septic tanks and, dare I say, raw sewage. I finished in the bottom 5% of my journalism class at Central Michigan University for this?
5:48 -- Forgot to mention: The over/under on finishing up tonight is 10:30 p.m. It’s generally smart to figure five hours for a significant contentious land-use case or ordinance, and that’s clearly the case here.
5:55 -- Stillwell tells us there are 70 RVs and 36 short-term vacation rentals in the immediate area. His point is clear: Ozello is already an RV/tourist destination and the opponents, at least some of them, are hypocrites for saying an RV campground isn't a good fit.
5:59 -- Stilwell: “You know, this is not a popularity contest.” Yeah, Clark, good luck with that.
6:30 -- Co-owner of the company that makes glamping tents says they’re specifically built to withstand local weather issues and high winds.
6:32 -- Know what we’re missing at the Just Wright Citrus World Headquarters on the shores of Big Lake Henderson? A glampsite.
6:38 -- “That concludes the applicant’s presentation.” Ninety minutes. Not bad.
7:23 — Mike Czerwinski, a respected environmental expert from Lecanto, gives several reasons why the campground is a poor spot for Ozello: No regional sewer, hurricane evacuation of RVs, not compatible with the area, among other things.
7:25 -- Mike also has the Citrus County soil survey booklet. Good thing, because I left mine at home.
8:57 -- Nearby property owner on the narrow roads: “We never bring our RVs to our property because there is no room.”
9:18 — We’re getting a detailed explanation of how a septic tank works. Just a guess, but this could be a 5-0 vote for rezoning. What we’re missing are the impassioned arguments from neighbors who would be directly affected. All those letters to the editor, Sound Off calls, comments on Just Wright Citrus blogs, and I’m not seeing it here.
9:27 — Multi-generational Ozello resident talks about the flooding. “Every day I need to know the moon phase and tide. It affects my daily life.”
9:49 -- Someone from Pine Ridge is now carrying the anti-campground flag for Ozello residents. Frankly, this is disappointing. We’re hearing fairly compelling but predictable info from environmental groups, but it’s not registering with commissioners.
9:57 -- Schlabach: Everyone was so respectful. She’s right.
10:12 -- Public comment ends. Should have a vote within 30 minutes.
10:12 -- Commissioner Jeff Kinnard: “I hope the Ozello community will take time to heal and get to know your neighbors again.” He makes the motion to approve it.
10:32 -- Schlabach, noting an evenly divided community: “I was hoping Ozello would make it very clear what they wanted.” From those who spoke Tuesday, Schlabach counted 11 Ozello residents for, 11 against.
10:40 — A 5-0 vote in favor of the glampground rezoning. And that’s a wrap.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.