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Evil is in the eye -- and county -- of the beholder

By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2003

Just about everyone hereabouts lately seems to feel the need to be protected from something they find evil and most other people aren't that bothered by.

The devil, indeed, works in mysterious ways.

In Citrus County these days, it's condominiums, specifically a 54-unit project called Halls River Retreat that has created a lot of political controversy. Regardless of which side you are on, you have to admit that the debate is heated, and more mud has been slung there than in a swamp buggy race on a rainy day.

Condos in Pasco and Hernando counties are, essentially, accepted as necessary evils, although folks in Pasco did get a little exercised about a rental tower for seniors that got all the way through the governmental approval process without anyone noticing that it was nine stories high.

If the same building had been slotted for Hernando County it would have also created a flap, but only because its stated purpose was to provide moderately priced rentals for seniors.

Housing for poor and moderate income folks is a hot-button issue in Hernando, where some people are afraid that having poor people living nearby will ruin their property values. Poverty isn't a big issue in Pasco, but it can be a different matter if those potential neighbors are retarded. A bunch of folks in Embassy Hills got all upset a couple of years ago because a group home opened there for four adult women with Down's syndrome.

The woman who led that petition drive was afraid the residents might "escape," become peeping Toms and harm neighborhood youngsters.

It turned out that the petition circulator was a former drug dealer whose husband explained that she had turned to that trade to support herself while he was in jail for a sex offense. As far as I know, the women with Down's syndrome never circulated petitions trying to create hysteria about the drug dealer and sex offender living in their neighborhood.

Pasco's latest ongoing bugaboo is strip clubs, again a geocentric problem since nobody in Citrus or Hernando county ever takes off his or her clothes . . . at least not for money . . . that we know of.

Strip club magnate Joe Redner once opened a club in Homosassa Springs. One of a group of protesters there said he was praying for Redner to have a heart attack. That didn't happen, but the county eventually had Redner arrested and the club shut down, and there was probably a governmental chest pain or two when Redner and his attorneys collected a whopping damage settlement.

Pasco's latest move against strip clubs is being challenged by the same lawyer who represented Redner and who is arguing now that the things that happen inside the clubs have to offend someone other than police officers to be criminal. Since it would be difficult for someone who goes into one of those clubs to claim he was offended (How many times were you offended last year, Mr. Jones? Seventy-two? Really?") it may be back to the blue-pencil drawing boards again for Pasco government.

And, if you read letters to the editor, listen to talk radio shows and read my e-mail, it becomes readily apparent that everyone in all three counties hates Wal-Mart, even worse than they hate people who get naked or build condos. Wal-Mart foes blame the company for everything from traffic congestion to proposed destruction of wetlands and complete obliteration of mom-and-pop businesses and Life As We Know It.

That, of course, explains why the lots and aisles of Wal-Mart supercenters in all three counties are so crowded. People are going there to voice their environmentally based opposition to the chain -- and to pick up a few things.

Every time I write about this stuff, people call and ask how I would like it if Wal-Mart were next to me. In the interest of disclosure, I live about 5 miles from the nearest condos, 8 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart supercenter, and right next door to a single low-income housing unit. I don't know where the nearest group home for the mentally challenged is, because I don't care.

I live about 40 miles from the nearest strip club, but I do have an insurance office next door.

And I am willing to trade up.

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