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Annoyances of wanton growth are boundless

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By JAN GLIDEWELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2000


Enough is enough.

The other day as I was sitting, waiting for the traffic light at the intersection of State Road 54 and I-75, sometime between the two light changes it took me to get onto the interstate, I had a great idea.

"Why doesn't someone build 13,000 or 14,000 more houses around here, so I can go through exhaust-sucking, bladder-bursting hell for three times as long," I thought out loud.

Like the old television commercials used to say, "The future . . . is now."

And, sure enough, I read in the next day's paper that a proposed new 1,599-home development is joining more than 12,000 new homes already on the drawing board in the Wesley Chapel area.

Oh, goody!

Let's see, that's about 35,000 or 40,000 more people, more or less, and probably 15,000 or so more cars.

Who said progress isn't wonderful?

Shucks, with book tapes, I'll be able to learn an entire foreign language and hear the entire works of Shakespeare between Zephyrhills and the interstate.

And it's not just Wesley Chapel.

On my way to Florida's east coast a few months ago I took a recently constructed bypass around Orlando. The bypass does keep you out of downtown Orlando's horrendous traffic . . . but what it shows you are thousands of acres of zero-lot-line, high-priced homes.

Funny.

You see and read things like that, then you hear that you can't wash your car because there isn't enough water for the people who already live here. The response, using what passes for governmental logic in Florida, is, "that's a terrible shame . . . let's go get some more people."

Florida always has been in the business of selling sunshine and low taxes, and it never has dawned on anyone that all those people who bought all those lots were going to require infrastructure and services to support them . . . especially in communities geared toward retirement, where increased services are demanded.

We have created a class of elected officials who largely answer to two groups: developers and those in growth-related industries; and, in large part, retirees or others who have moved here because of low taxes. They can't run without the growth money and they can't raise taxes to pay for services without the popular vote.

So the problem gets worse.

I admit to being bereft of mathematical or statistical skills, but I'll just bet there's a formula out there by which government can acquire land -- giving its potential developers fair market value -- and pay for it with what would be spent on providing infrastructure for the new development.

Call it parks, wildlife preserves, anything you want. Just don't pave it or move anyone in on it.

It won't happen, of course.

When I was a child, Clearwater was one of the places you headed to get away; then New Port Richey. When I was a young adult I started going to Weeki Wachee to get away, and, as development chased me up the coast, to Crystal River and then to Yankeetown.

Now I go to Cedar Key and I see the future written large in the pipeline installations I pass as I drive there.

It is why I am building a place in Colorado and, yes, I realize that I, by moving in there, am becoming a part of their future growth problem.

My point is that there is a lot of land and not many people there.

There may come a day when I look down into the valley and see fast-food restaurants, strip malls and a choked, four-lane highway.

There may come a day when the development from which I have fled all these years catches up with me.

But I think I have it timed right and, with any luck, I'll be dead by then.

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