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03.16.07 -- EDITORIAL: Be angry with me, but don't be thrown asunder

By CHER PHILLIPS

If you didn't notice, I touched a nerve this week, unleashing a literal firestorm in the forums denouncing me and the blog. Since a couple people I talked to were unsure about what one or two of the points in Tuesday's story meant, I'd like to recap and clarify.

See, I think this is pretty important stuff. Other people must too, or they wouldn't be so mad at me for pointing it out. And frankly, it's crossed my mind that all the hollering at me is meant to distract readers from the questions the reporting uncovered.

Florida's ethics laws and the January meetings:

Background: Florida statutes (112.3143) prohibit a municipal official from voting on an issue which might benefit him, or his family, with a special private gain or loss. When something like this comes before a board, a procedure has to be followed in which a statement is read into the record before voting and forms should be filed within 15 days.

In January, Council Vice President Howard Walkup put the issue of rezoning his land, as well as the Stranges and the Glasses on the agenda, and then he voted with the council to send rezoning these three parcels of land to the LPA, on which his brother Jim Walkup is a member. The procedure spelled out in Florida statutes was not followed during the January council and the LPA meetings.

Discussion: For all practical purposes, the January meetings regarding zoning were used to "feel out" the mood of the council and the LPA to see if this rezone would fly. If either Walkup had followed the procedure in statutes, the final decisions on those first votes would have gone the same way. Further, the current council has been open to land owners exercising their property rights.

By not following procedure, this process is into a questionable light. Walkup's rezoning had been voted down by a previous council in 2005. There was personal gain involved in the January votes, even if the meeting just served to test the waters.

The key question in this part of the rezoning issue isn't "Should Howard get his land rezoned?" -- but "Should a councilman use his elected seat to accomplish this?"

Need I mention that the penalties by Florida statute range from removal from office to a $10,000 penalty? Not to mention, the waters are further muddied by the fact that the rezoning process left other land owners, the Wrights, out in the beginning stages.

Going against the will of the council:

Background: In February, the council heard the LPA recommendation and voted to table the issue of rezoning to either a later meeting or a special meeting. The reasons given were that this is an important issue, and people will want to know about it. After the vote, Councilman Lee Deaderick told the land owners to see him if they wanted a special meeting called. The council tossed around the idea of paying for the rezoning of these parcels of McIntosh's agriculture land to residential. To her credit, Mayor Marsha Strange suggested that land owners pay for their own rezoning. Although, she suggested that Walkup not have to pay for his since he's pursued the process already. Nothing in February was decided by the council other than this was an issue that needed to come up with time enough to discuss it.

But by the March council meeting, applications had been filed and planning reports had already been finished by a regional planner, on the town's payroll.

Discussion: As someone pointed out in the forum, land owners can file for zoning changes if they want. I agree. They sure can. But don't expect the town and the taxpayers to pay for something if you aren't going to honor the wishes of a council that was both willing to hear the issue but wanted to do it when residents could be more informed about it.

By pushing this issue through, the residents were put at a disadvantage. Rezoning 20 acres of land in McIntosh is a HUGE issue. It's the tip of the iceberg. Rezoning was contentious for a long time, and rushing it isn't going to change the issues that were at hand in 2005 when Walkup's request was previously turned down.

My other concern is that ignoring the will of the council could become a trend. I look back to the repeal of the historic ordinance and see this is the second time inside a two-month period that this has happened. I've never been a fan of Historic Ordinance 151. But the fact is the council wanted the LPA and the Historic Preservation Board to work on 151 together, not for the LPA to repeal it the first time they met -- without even going through it as a board and addressing the concerns spelled out by council member. Especially since that was specifically stated in a February vote, making it the will of the council.

(I didn't mention this in my report (there is only so much space and story people will read), but Councilwoman Eva Jo Callahan did an excellent job of mediating by asking committees to at least try to work together before the public hearing March 27 to repeal the ordinance altogether.)

Public need versus private need, and future development:

Background: The McIntosh codes say that a public need should be justified to change agricultural zoning.

The other night, the LPA decided that the land owners stated need was sufficient for rezoning the Strange's and Walkup's agriculture land to residential. One board member said need was fulfilled because it was Walkup's need to have his family living close to him.

Discussion: One or two land owners' desires, or even needs, are not necessarily the same thing as the public need-- even if we really like those land owners. And let's face it, we do. They're good people who've given a great deal of service to this town.

But together, this is a whopping chunk of land we're talking about opening up for development.

And that brings me to the final question that I have not seen adequately addressed yet: What EXACTLY is going to go on this land after it's rezoned? A rezoning process should make this clear to a community, or public need can, in no way, be properly determined.

The planning reports show a potential for 36 homes. The 2000 Census reports show there are only 279 housing units in town. It doesn't take very many new homes to significantly increase this community. Does anyone else think that adding even the potential for 36 is something that McIntosh should seriously consider?

While building 36 homes may or may not be the land owners' actual intentions, if the land is zoned for that many homes, that kind of development would be possible.

However, if Walkup and the Stranges just want some land zoned for the purpose of building a few homes for their families, then why not create a zoning classification for that? Or, as Danaya Wright suggested the other night, why not rezone just enough land to allow them to do what they want and need to do?

Another thing that hasn't been considered is that these are only two of six large parcels of land on the southeast end of McIntosh. What happens if these two parcels are zoned at R1, allowing two houses per acre, and then the Burry's, the Glasses and the Wrights decide they'd also like to rezone their land to the same classification? Can the town's facilities really accommodate all six parcels? Or, what if they decide they oppose it? What will the other homeowners on Avenue H think of the kind of traffic that intensive development would bring to that end of town? Nobody polled those folks when they "tested the waters" in January.

It comes down to this: What does McIntosh want future development in the southeastern part of town to be like? I'm just not seeing that question seriously considered in this process.

And, folks, that's the key question residents in this town need to consider. Be angry at me for asking it, if you want. But don't let yourselves be thrown asunder.

Labels: , , ,

posted by Cher @ 7:08 PM,

8 Comments:

At   March 19, 2007 11:05 AM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Once again Cher, its the facts plus all of your opinions. Hence, stirring the pot with your opinions!

 
At   March 19, 2007 11:15 AM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Let me just say that you, Cher, are now seeing why the council last year was trying to do things differently. This town has had a long history of the Walkups and the Stranges and the Stotts getting what they want at the Town's expense. We had a chance to change that last year and they stirred up the fires with people and made all sorts of false accusations against a lot of people who were trying to be reasonable and moderate and put the town's interests first. But no one was willing to defend the other council or the citizen boards. Jim Strange, Danaya Wright, Bev Dodder, Suzanne Stevens - these are the people we should have on the council. But they were harrassed and driven away and now look what we've got. So unless people in this Town stop listening to Howard's and Marsha's lies, they'll get their land rezoned and the Town will be irrevocably changed. I only wish people realized that there is a middle-ground between unlimited development and highly regulated development. If we ask to slow things down a bit maybe we can get there.

 
At   March 19, 2007 11:28 AM     ,    Blogger Cher    said...

That's why this one is labeled "EDITORIAL."

 
At   March 19, 2007 1:09 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Why don't you call it Cher's e-opinions.

 
At   March 19, 2007 1:18 PM     ,    Blogger Cher    said...

For the same reason newspapers don't call their editorial pages by their editorial editor's first names.

I label reporting as report and editorial as editorial.

Ya know, if you've got a differing opinion about the issue, I welcome letters to the editor and guest editorials and would be happy to run them... of course, you'd have to gather up enough guts to sign your name.

 
At   March 20, 2007 11:23 AM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Cher has done nothing wrong anyone who feels she has is just plain stupid to me. And maybe the person complaining about Cher has something more to worrie about!

 
At   March 20, 2007 4:56 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Personally, I find the blog very entertaining and informing.

 
At   March 20, 2007 4:58 PM     ,    Blogger Cher    said...

Anonymous said...

Personally, I find the blog very entertaining and informing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007 4:56:00 PM

***

Thanks. You made my day.
-C

 

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Editor

Editor and Publisher:

I'm Cher From McIntosh, FL I'm a graduate student at the University of Florida working on a master's degree in Mass Communication. While I was finishing my undergrad degree in journalism last year, I reported on McIntosh, Fla. for an in-depth reporting class. I figured that the reporting and the public record files should go somewhere people can access them. Reporters don't report to keep the information they find to themselves. Some of that reporting is included here in a forum that allows response. McIntosh suffers because with no news coverage, the local government and the rumor mill have too much potential to run rampant over residents. I moved to McIntosh in the fall of 1999. My profile

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The primary purpose of this blog is to accurately reflect what happens in town public meetings and dispel rumors. I record the meetings and make them available for download. One of the goals of this blog is to offer residents a place to voice opinions. The comments, views and opinions expressed there are not necessarily those of the editor.

 
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"A Popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, 1822

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