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League seeks to unify many into one voice

By establishing a coalition in the beginning, leaders want to provide timely input on issues such as responsible growth.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002


With disputes about retail and affordable housing developments swirling, more voices are seeking to make themselves heard as commissioners shape Hernando County's future look.

The Good Government League, one of the county's older advocacy groups, wants to forge the disparate people and organizations into a unified force that might push more effectively for what they consider responsible and controlled growth.

"There's a lot of smart people in this county," said Chet Peters, Good Government League president. "Unfortunately, some of them wait until the last minute when something happens. . . . A coalition could be very strong if they come in and go forward."

Leaders of other established community alliances are hesitating to jump on board, though.

Arlene Erdrich, founder of the Coalition for Anti-Urban Sprawl Efforts, said her group has made progress on its own. Most recently, it has pressed hard against a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter at U.S. 19 and Osowaw Boulevard in Spring Hill.

Supporters circulated membership petitions at a recent workshop on affordable housing. The flier read: "Have you had enough of Hernando County forcing development down your throat? CAUSE may be your answer to controlling unwanted, unnecessary growth in this county."

Erdrich said she suggested that the Good Government League join its effort.

"I said to (Peters), "Why duplicate the thing that has already been established?' "

Still, she planned to attend the coalition's organizational meeting, tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. May 25 at Oak Hill Hospital.

"We'll go and see what it is they have to say," Erdrich said.

John Bloom, president of the 5-year-old United Communities of Hernando County, said he knew little about the Good Government League's proposal. He, too, wondered how a new organization would differ from those that exist.

Composed of 20 homeowners associations and several associate members, United Communities lately has played a role in crafting ordinances dealing with large-scale retail stores, commercial landscaping and land subdivision. It also has a seat at the county's growth and development round table.

"We've been working behind the scenes," Bloom said. "Our government committee is constantly working with the county."

He did not want to discourage another coalition from forming. But he doubted United Communities, which strives to remain apolitical, would join such an effort, although the full group has not discussed the matter.

"I hope everybody doesn't just step on each other's toes and murk up the water," Bloom said.

County Commission chairwoman Nancy Robinson welcomed the Good Government League proposal, noting that the county soon will embark upon a lengthy review of its comprehensive growth plan and no input should be ignored.

Commissioner Diane Rowden also praised any attempt to draw more views into the discussion.

"If the GGL is talking about that, that's great," Rowden said. "We can all work together."

On the other hand, Commissioner Betty Whitehouse suggested that the county should lead the effort.

"I think all of the organizations need to get involved with the visioning process with us and attend the meetings we're going to set up at the county level," Whitehouse said. "I want to hear from the people who don't belong to anything, what they think."

Peters stressed that, in order to succeed with the overarching goal of good growth, the players must get beyond who will be in charge of the effort. Power and glory are not the points, he said.

"Time is moving quickly. A lot of people in this county now are showing interest" in growth issues, he said. "If you're interested in your government, don't wait for something to happen. . . . If we can stick together, this coalition will work. We've just got to give it a chance."

-- Jeffrey S. Solochek covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to solochek@sptimes.com.

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