© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001
Editor: Times guest columnist Len Becker said in his series, Citrus County: Our Garden of Elysium, exactly what so many citizens of Citrus County have been saying since April 1995, when the preliminary plans for the Suncoast Parkway extension were revealed. Over the years many letters have been written by concerned citizens warning the residents of Citrus County of the impending desecration this toll road will have on their lifestyle.
Mr. Becker states, "There is untold strength in numbers when residents act in unison." In February 1997 a public hearing for the Citrus portion of the Suncoast Parkway was held and the Turnpike District of the Florida District of Transportation received opposing comments by 549 concerned citizens. Also, 79 comments supporting the road. The Citrus County commissioners turned down requests allowing the public to vote on Phase II, even though part of the criteria for building the toll road is public support.
Thank you, Mr. Becker, for reminding us that corporate-governing officials take advantage of people at every turn. We, the people, need a more reformed government: A Charter Government for Citrus County.
-- Betty A. Woehlk, Crystal River
Editor: Where to begin, regarding the unending negativism expressed by dyspeptic guest columnist Leonard Becker, and the hideous future supposedly awaiting all of us in Citrus County, should any attempt at modernism, growth or progress be made here in "pristine, unspoiled" Citrus County?
Politeness in teenagers? Has he not encountered any who are rude, crude, belligerent, because Mom and Dad had "no bringin' up," and didn't know how to teach any to their kids? Said Mom and Dad began early to shell out progeny they really did not want, and must leave them for long hours a day, not because of "me-greed," but because they struggle to provide for themselves and their broods, working at low-paying menial jobs, as these are the only ones available for those who have no training for anything else, or who cannot easily access the markets where better-paying jobs might be available.
Humans, wherever they are, are not some kind of lab-rat experiment, from which it would seem Mr. Becker is drawing his dreary conclusions. Dealing with the public in Citrus County, it is painfully evident, and the results of environment and its restrictions. It is imperative that growth be responsible, which I thought was in place at the government level (until I see that Gov. Jeb Bush is considering upseting the current county comprehensive land use controls across the board, but that is a different letter).
Citrus County is a microcosm of the world, and the world's chief problem is overpopulation. My personal, but unpopular hobbyhorse: Drive to any burgeoning city in Florida and see mile after mile of expensive housing, much of it built to accommodate comfortable retirees attracted here because of no state tax, yet burdening the existing municipalities and infrastructure.
There is no free lunch. Perhaps a state income tax would accomplish many things: More money for social programs and perhaps stem the flow of new residents who burden our ecology so tragically. Isn't this a "win-win" situation?
Now, I must call Mr. Becker to see what he prefers in an antacid. Surely, bad digestion is influencing his thinking.
-- Marilyn M. Booth, Inverness
Editor: After reading those frightening articles about the possible effects of growth and development of Citrus County by Leonard Becker, maybe it's time to again move northward. I moved here 20 years ago from St. Petersburg after living there for more than 40 years, to spend my retirement without the rush and stress Mr. Becker describes.
I assume Becker is attributing these terrible changes to our county to the Suncoast Parkway. The parkway is already here and is not going to go away. I suggest it would be far better to run it through the county and have it dump out north of Crystal River, rather than at the Hernando County line. U.S. 19 is crowded now and it's going to be even worse if the road ends at our front door. Eventually the Parkway will be extended and it would be better for all concerned to know now where it's going.
Another suggestion is to limit development on U.S. 19. Why do all the developers want to be jammed on U.S. 19? The people would have found Home Depot no matter where they built it.
I visited Cape Cod and was impressed with the beauty of the place. Their main roads had trees bordering them and bicycle paths running alongside them. They were not smothered with atrocious billboards and signs, and flowers were everywhere. Instead of strip centers, there were small pods of homogeneous, or similar cottage-type, buildings for gas stations, convenience stores, etc. There were small signs directing one to shopping centers off the main roads connecting towns.
Here in Homosassa, there seems to be plenty of available land on Grover Cleveland Boulevard, or Homosassa Trail (County Road 490) that could accommodate these larger centers, professional buildings or apartment complexes where setbacks and trees could be utilized in the landscape. The professional buildings off County Road 491 set back off the road surrounded by large trees and are very pleasing to the eye.
We call ourselves the Nature Coast, so why can't the part of U.S. 19 that will be the entrance to Citrus County, from Chassahowitzka to Ozello, be developed to project the image that drew us all to the county in the first place? A true natural beauty spot that would beckon visitors to slow down, relax and enjoy life. This could be done at minimal cost using trees, bushes and wildflowers in the median and along the road. Build Florida Cracker or some-such-type buildings and have bicycle/bird watching paths nearby. St. Petersburg did a wonderful job of improving its image by planting the roads leading into town with oleander bushes and flowers.
Our County Commission needs to pass a tree ordinance to save or replace trees, a limiting sign ordinance, a building ordinance to limit height and conform to a design criteria and refrain from letting any more wetlands be developed on U.S. 19 or anywhere else. Understandably, the infrastructure should be in place before any development is allowed.
The people of Cape Cod guard their environment, including trees, lakes, and waterfront zealously. All of Citrus County should be treated the same. The civic clubs, chambers of commerce, environmental groups, interested citizens and city councils should join together to formulate a plan for the county and their towns, and then urge our commissioners to act on it before it is too late. State Road 44 has pretty much been ruined, but any part that could be saved, should be.
We have a chance to make this one of the most beautiful and pleasant counties in the state and to cut down on the damage over-development can bring. We do not need any more barren car lots, ugly strip centers, gaudy fast food restaurants and large, flashy billboards and signs decorating our highways and roads. I live in a lovely, tranquil spot in Homosassa and have no desire to move north. But if Mr. Becker's scenarios come true, I would be sorely tempted.
-- Sally Cox, Homosassa
Editor: I would like to comment on the recent articles by Leonard V. Becker. The topics concerned the effects of development on many facets of life in Citrus County and Florida.
The author rambles on and on, concluding that development affects family life, crime, traffic lights, increased traffic, mental health, etc. His premise seems to be that we must stop all development or the world and our environment as we know it will be forever degraded and sullied.
What he utterly fails to realize is that we cannot stop development because that would require stopping population growth in our county and state. People are flocking to Florida every day and they will demand jobs, housing, education, health care, protection, food, etc. If no provision for these needs is made, only complete chaos, squalor and degradation of the environment will result. The only way to stop this is to drastically reduce the influx of people.
The Congress, under heavy pressure from religious groups, special interests and immigration activists, has failed completely to reduce the continued immigration into this country from South America, Asia, Europe and Africa. These immigrants move primarily into California, Florida and Texas, drawn by factors such as welfare, job opportunities, environment and health care. The recent census showed there are about 28-million immigrants in this country and the flow continues. Florida attracts a major proportion of these people, as well as emigration from other states because of our policies of generous welfare, education, cheap land, homestead exemptions and job opportunities.
Unless Becker can suggest some ways to staunch this continued flow of human beings into Florida, he will have to live with continued development of housing, manufacturing plants, business, agriculture, service industries and all the other growth activities he complains about. He really deludes himself if he thinks home invasions, rapes, muggings, thefts, drug sales, carjackings and traffic lights, etc., are going to cease and desist if only we stop all future development in our area.
Who does he think will provide the jobs, housing, health care and education for all the future residents of our areas if we retrench and do nothing? Becker should get his priorities in better order.
-- George J. Myers, Homosassa
Editor: Mr. Becker really hit the nail on the head with his series of articles on Sundays' Opinion pages.
I looked forward to each and hope that a plan is in place to halt this development.
-- Steven Finley, Crystal River
Editor: Thank you for running the series on growth and its inevitable effects on undeveloped areas in our state. Mr. Becker has seen firsthand the paving over of South Florida and the attendant loss of its unique quality of life enjoyed by residents in the 1940s and '50s.
My husband and I fled this paving over in 1965 when we left our home of nearly 20 years in Delray Beach and discovered Citrus, a beautiful, rural county of about 15,000 people. We loved the trees, the waterways, the marshes, the wildlife and the friendly people.
It wasn't long before we realized the same thing that had happened to South Florida could, and most likely would, happen here. But we felt that somehow, if we were smart enough, Citrus County residents could control the inevitable growth better.
We were in a small group of like-minded people who formed an organization called Concerned Citizens of Citrus County when a permit was issued for construction of Citrus County's first highrise, Peppins Mooring, on Lake Tsala Apopka wetlands in Floral City. Almost immediately applications for the west side's first highrise, Kings Bay Village in Crystal River, appeared and our numbers mushroomed in our opposition to these projects. We hired attorneys and won cases in court and in public hearings. That probably was the beginning of the environmental movement in Citrus County.
The next decade was spent working on Citrus County's comprehensive plan, zoning ordinances, groundwater protection, applications for Outstanding Florida Water designations for the Withlacoochee and Crystal rivers, manatee protection, tree and sign ordinances, acquisition of environmentally sensitive land for public ownership, and other issues. Concerned Citizens Inc. came and went, other environmental organizations were formed and are active.
Thirty-five years later our question is the same. Are we smart enough to preserve the unique natural resources of Citrus County and still accommodate the people who want to move here and enjoy them with us? At times the outlook is discouraging, as a toll road is planned right through the middle of the county, and statewide the over-developers have succeeded in persuading our governor and some legislators our growth management and environmental regulations should be weakened, thus ensuring the replicating of the paving over, strip mall complexes everywhere in the state.
We welcome Mr. Becker's thoughts on this subject, which affects our future and the quality of life in Citrus County for years to come, and thank him for his clear presentation of the problem.
-- Miriam Cohen, Floral City