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Letters to the Editors

Halls River decision was backed by laws and property rights

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002

Editor: When I chose to run for elected office eight years ago, I recognized that criticisms of decisions made in my capacity as county commissioner in the form of news articles, editorials and letters was inevitable. I respect people's right to differ with my decisions and their constitutional right to express their opinions. Although tempted many times, I've never responded on any subject until now.

The decision regarding Halls River Retreats is one that has drawn significant controversy, and it was my initial intent to treat it like past issues and not respond. However, as time goes on, I find the letters of opposition have not only continued but are perpetuating misinformation. Therefore, I am writing this letter, not to persuade my detractors but rather to set the record straight so those who look to the newspapers for information regarding this issue can understand how I arrived at my decision.

It is important to understand the basis of land use decisions. In the mid-1980s Florida law required all local governments to develop and adopt a comprehensive plan, a blueprint on how a community was to grow. The plan included a generalized future land use map and a local land development code, which were the implementing regulations for the comprehensive plan. This also included maps, which classified the property (zoning) to a parcel level.

The property on which Halls River Retreat is proposed was given a zoning of mixed use on both the generalized future land use map and the zoning after both the plan and its map were determined to be "in compliance' by the state of Florida. The mixed-use category was a broad one allowing most commercial use and high density residential. Today most of those properties are already developed or located inland but some exist west of U.S. 19. The Home Depot was developed on mixed-use land.

After the county corrected the Riverhaven problem and installed central sewer, mixed-use properties became attractive to developers. The developer that purchased the Halls River Retreat site researched our local laws and regulations before the sale and confirmed with county staff both the zoning of the property and the allowance uses. Contrary to some reports, I do not know the developer nor have I had any business dealings with him or even a conversation on this or any other subject.

According to our rules, this project, because of its nature, had to proceed through the public hearing process and receive board approval. This initial project was recommended for denial by county staff because three of the buildings would intrude on wetlands, contrary to our comprehensive plan. At the board public workshop, it was made clear to the developer by the full commission (including myself) that this was unacceptable.

The developer then modified his plan by eliminating those three buildings and reduced the project to 54 units with no wetlands impact. County staff changed their recommendation to approval with 17 conditions, including the need to have a valid environmental permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

It is important here to emphasize certain facts, which are often disregarded, omitted or misrepresented. Citrus County staff, the professionals retained by Citrus County government to review these projects for compliance with the comprehensive plan and the county land development regulations, found the project in compliance and recommended approval. Despite all the reasons available to the project's opponents, no professional planner, either private or governmental, has ever gone on record stating otherwise.

Let me share with you the facts regarding the final public hearing. Because of the numerous attorneys involved in the case, the public hearing was granted under quasijudicial proceedings. Each side was given the opportunity to present expert witnesses and testimony.

The developer has already established as part of the public record that he had Swiftmud and Army Corps of Engineers approval of his environmental permits as well as a certified survey, a traffic analysis and a engineered site plan with an engineer's seal.

Those opposing the plan produced no expert witnesses, no surveyor or engineer to refute the developers project. There was extensive testimony during the public input portion of the hearing. People talked about compatibility, the environment, traffic and claimed many inaccuracies in the developer's proposal. The attorneys for the opposition spoke at great length about why, in their opinion, the project should be denied. But no one submitted any professionally supported documentation.

There are laws in this country and in the state of Florida that require government to compensate property owners when they are denied the ability to develop their property after complying with the government standards on that property. I have always been and will continue to be a strong supporter of property rights. It is a fundamental principle of this great country and is part of the foundation upon which our nation was built. To deny a citizen his constitutional property rights because a room full of people are present is not why I was elected.

At the conclusion of the public hearing, Commissioner Gary Bartell made a motion to deny the project based on incompatibility. While I respect his opinion, I cannot agree with that view when the property is bordered on both sides by a residential vehicle park (also zoned mixed use), a restaurant across the street and commercial business located in the general area.

Two of my fellow commissioners agreed and the motion failed. Then Commissioner Josh Wooten made a motion to deny the application based on environmental issues, specifically that the Swiftmud environmental permit had been challenged. Again while I respect his opinion, it was my opinion that a challenge did not translate into revocation or denial. This time, three of my fellow commissioners agreed and the motion failed, one to four.

Finally, Commissioner Roger Batchelor made a motion to approve with 17 conditions as recommended by staff. I, along with Wooten, supported the motion and it passed, three to two. This, in my opinion, is what the facts and property rights protection dictates and to do any less would have put the county in a lawsuit that, if lost, would have cost the taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.

So now my vote has become an election issue. You now have the reasoning behind my vote. Since that vote, the board has directed staff to correct all the mixed-use problems and we recently adopted an ordinance that should prevent projects like this from occurring. This was the proper way to decide this issue, not to deny someone's rights due to political pressures.

Finally, I've lived here a long time, over half my life. I want my grandsons to learn to love and appreciate this beautiful place we call home. I also want them to learn that we have to protect everyone's property rights. If we don't, we endanger all rights, especially our own.
-- Jim Fowler, chairman, Citrus County Board of County Commissioners

Make elected officials hear Citrus voices

Editor: The Sunshine State is awash in development, losing more than 800,000 acres of open space between 1992 and 1997, alone. Even so, the current legislative session has featured proposals for cuts in fiscal year 2003 that would undermine efforts to build affordable housing and reduce funding for open space protection.

An unusual alliance, including the Florida Home Builders Association, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Catholic Conference and the 1,000 Friends of Florida, defeated a proposal to reduce funding for affordable housing early in the legislative session. This group is also pushing for building the Suncoast Parkway and diverting funds to protect the environment.

While environmental and smart growth groups secured funding for open space once this year, there is a proposal in the state Legislature that would shift $100-million dedicated to open space protection to nonenvironmental initiatives. This proposal would shift money from popular programs, such as Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever. In addition, there is another proposal that would cut $20-million from the Conservation and Recreation Lands Trust.

Because of this, the people of Citrus County should keep a close watch on what is going on in Tallahassee. And as we learned just this week, even though it is passed, the governor has veto power of everything that comes across his desk.

So, if you are interested in saving the Nature Coast and the open spaces, you must keep in contact with the elected officials and make it known what the voters want them to do, and that includes the governor.

Your voices and letters must never stop. They must not think that the citizens of Citrus don't care about what happens here.
-- Kathy Evilsizer, Crystal River

To the rich, water shortage doesn't exist

Editor: I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who once said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time; however, you cannot fool all of the people all of the time."

This brings to mind the edicts and pronouncements of (the Southwest Florida Water Management District), claiming drought conditions over the past few years, with lakes drying, a very low aquifer and the rationing of water in Beverly Hills.

Now a spokesman for Swiftmud announces there should be enough water in Citrus County to supply the proposed Tuscany development and caps off everything by saying, "We don't want to waste water because it's a limited supply. That doesn't mean there's not enough water to meet projected demands."

Some things never change.

I guess if you're a big land developer with millions to throw around, the shortage of water disappears. The rich get richer and the residents of Beverly Hills water their lawns once a month and shower once a week. The citizens of Beverly Hills will remember this when election time comes around.
-- George W. Wilde, Beverly Hills

Rep. Argenziano is more Hun than queen

Editor: Florida District 43 Rep. Nancy Argenziano (R-Crystal River) has almost everything a politician can ask for: a sharp mind, good looks, supremacy skills, speaking skills, and electability.

She lacks, perhaps, only two characteristics necessary to achieve greatness, and they have combined to keep her from ever achieving Queen of the Hill: esprit de corps and savoir faire.

Argenziano would make a great Hun, you see, but a lousy Marine.

In the 1950s, a Citrus County state senator named James Conner, who lived on Pleasant Grove Road just outside Inverness, had everything Nancy has plus two: teamwork and polish. Conner, from little Citrus County, became one of the most powerful people of his time in the state of Florida, maybe the most powerful person, when he became Florida's president of the Senate.

It's a shame, but over time, due to those two deficiencies -- loyalty and class -- Nancy Argenziano has become politically stone cold dead.

Here's an example as to why she's defunct: After getting most but not all of her way on a Nursing Home bill, she shrilly attacked her own Republican leadership and continues to do so rather than to come back gamely, to come back and fight another day.

A second example (there are many): According to the Citrus Times, (May 29), Argenziano "rebuked" the Republican governor for vetoing a water board she had hoped to concoct.

And how about when, in a rage, Argenziano sent 25-pounds of cow manure to a lobbyist not of her persuasion. Times readers will note that Argenziano did not send as much as a single gram of manure to any of the many trial-lawyer lobbyists that infect Tallahassee. Uh, uh! Nor will she.

Nancy's best shot at passing legislation of substance might be to turn Democrat and hope that Janet Reno becomes governor and Democrats achieve a majority in the Legislature.

That would give her one or two years to legislatively do something for Citrus County before Democrats discover the Hun that's in her.
-- Jim McIntosh, Lecanto

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