Wednesday, November 22, 2017
News Roundup

DeWitt: Repealing the supermajority rule is not a 'good idea'

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There's a marvelously detailed picture of Hernando County on the county Planning Department website, the intricacies rendered not in pixels or brush strokes but in charts and graphs.

It was compiled — or, you could say, created — over the years by David Miles, the county's longtime demographic planner who retired at the end of March. With zero fanfare, of course, because that was his style.

"And it's all up to date because David worked on it right up to his very last hour," said fellow planner Pat McNeese.

I mention this because our county commissioners would benefit from exploring this information-packed site before May 9, when they will decide whether to repeal the requirement that changes to the county's comprehensive plan receive votes from four of the five commissioners, a so-called supermajority.

Especially relevant is a table listing "subdivisions authorized but not readily visible on the landscape."

Another way to describe them would be "planned and approved but not built." There are a whopping 81 of these projects containing an even more whopping 35,621 lots. The list includes some small and forgotten communities, but also several massive developments planned during the past decade, among them Sunrise, Majestic Oaks, Hickory Hill, Lake Hideaway.

And it includes the largest and most ill-conceived of these planned communities, the 5,800-unit Quarry Preserve, which was approved in 2009, three years after the implementation of the supermajority requirement.

Still, some commissioners, especially one of the newbies, Steve Champion, believe this rule represents an obstacle to growth.

"I think the supermajority hinders business," Champion said at last week's commission meeting; developers "do not come to Hernando County because of this."

Wrong.

As Miles' chart shows, plenty of developers have not only come to Hernando, but based on our track record can still be confident of receiving the warmest of welcomes.

It also shows that Hernando's relatively slow recent growth is due not to "government overreach," as Champion called it, but a simple lack of demand.

Any developer discouraged by the supermajority requirement could buy one of those "not readily visible" subdivisions and start turning dirt almost at will.

Obviously, they haven't.

Yes, the passage of the supermajority requirement was a sign of resistance at a time when enough residents were alarmed by the rapid paving of their county that they could sometimes counter the influence of builders, developers and land-use lawyers.

It was a time when there was more respect for the comprehensive plan, which is based partly on statistics Miles collected and written by people like him — folks using solid data in an attempt to map out a cohesive community. Generally speaking, it shouldn't be messed with.

And it was a time when at least a couple of commissioners were aware of the social, environmental and economic costs of unrestrained sprawl.

I don't get the feeling that's the case right now. Three commissioners said last week that they hope to undo the supermajority in May, and one who was not quite ready to commit, John Allocco, acknowledged the board's pro-growth bent.

If a development is "a good idea," Allocco said, "I don't think we'll have a problem reaching a four-vote majority."

I'd likewise be willing to bet the repeal of the supermajority — which, by the way, doesn't require a supermajority — will receive one. In fact, I expect the vote to be unanimous, which means Allocco was half right.

But he was also half wrong. Because the willingness to repeal the supermajority shows the commission will support pro-growth proposals that are obviously, even stunningly, bad ideas.

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com; follow @ddewitttimes.

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