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County needs to face future, not hide from it

By JEFF WEBB, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

It's a childhood memory for most of us, and if it didn't happen to you, you probably saw it happen to someone else.

After waiting patiently, but excitedly, in line for your first ride on the Ferris wheel or the Tilt-A-Whirl, the carnival worker finally opens the gate and you make your way into a seat. But just as you are strapped in, and as close as you've ever been to the ride of your life, you begin to have second thoughts.

In a matter of seconds, hesitance turns to panic and changes your mind faster than a NASCAR pit crew changes a tire. Before you know it, you're screaming for mom, dad or anyone on the planet who will listen. "Stop! I've changed my mind! Let me off!"

But it's too late. The carny has thrown the switch and the ride's in motion. Your options are quite limited at this point. Stay scared, get sick or learn to like it.

Most people learned a couple of valuable lessons that day.

Sometimes you don't really want what you ask for.

Most of the time you can't stop things once the wheels are in motion.

Alas, it appears those lessons were lost on some of the folks who are impetuously stomping their feet and yelling at the Hernando County commissioners to stop the ride. Fear may not be their primary motivation, but their cry is just as confused and unproductive as the panicking kids at the fair.

"Building moratorium!"

The plea has been precipitated by a steady stream of development proposals that include thousands of single-family homes homes, several so-called "big box" supercenters, and at least three apartment complexes, some of them set aside for modest wage earners.

At the same time, people are asking if the water supply is adequate, if the road system can handle the added traffic and if we can afford to build the schools these new residents will need. Those are valid concerns, and most are being addressed by county government every day.

But some of the no-growth crowd is capitalizing on the increase in building plans to push an agenda that is more selfish. They aren't at all concerned about whether developers build another supercenter, apartment complex, golf course or fast-food joint in Hernando County. They just don't want it to be built near them, or for it to cost them any money.

The lead voice in this wrong-minded crusade is the Good Government League, an undefined group of chronic complainers that tries to reinvent itself every few years. What its leaders are good at is pointing fingers and raising suspicions without offering reasonable solutions.

The group's biggest claim to fame is that they undermined efforts by former County Administrator Bonnie Dyga in 1999 to repave the county's residential roads. The GGL was able to sway just enough commissioners against Dyga's progressive and expedited plans. If you're still waiting for the road crews to arrive on your street, you have the GGL and a couple of weak-kneed ex-commissioners to thank.

Now the GGL, using a building moratorium as its rallying cry, is trying to organize a broader coalition of other citizen groups, including homeowners associations and preservationists, who are stirred up about apartment complexes and big-box stores.

An umbrella group is not necessarily a bad idea, but some of the more reputable and, frankly, cerebral groups should be wary of associating themselves with the thug mentality that pervades the GGL. The group craves the legitimacy it has been unable to earn since its inception a decade ago. The GGL is interested mainly in boosting its numbers with the intent of using them as a weapon to intimidate elected officials and promote the self-absorbed, yet nondescript, agenda of its core members.

A building moratorium is an absurd idea. It would cripple the county economically, possibly for years. It would keep new businesses, jobs and residents from moving here, placing a greater tax burden on current residents for infrastructure improvements.

This county is primed for development, the likes of which may rival the late 1980s, when Hernando was one of the fastest-growing spots in the nation. Expressways, country clubs, chain stores and commuters have cleared the way for that inevitable development. The challenge is to manage the growth with understanding and vision, not to cut off the head that feeds the beast.

We're not kids anymore, but the choices are the same. We're strapped in and the ride's ready to begin. Will we be too scared to enjoy it, or will we confront our fears and make the best of the adventure?

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