A presentation by an agent from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of US Homeland Security, at Monday’s Marion County Commission meeting resulted in the agent being mocked, berated, and dismissed by Commissioner Stan McClain. But did McClain have any idea what the agent was talking about?
Frankly, McClain was playing to the narrow-minded, asshat Tea Party handful, and judging from his biting and clueless remarks, apparently failed to grasp any of what the agent was saying. In fact, most of the commissioners looked like deer in the headlights, totally dumb about what to do, as if they needed someone to take them by the hand. The awkward silence was embarrassing.
This bonus offering of Commission crazy on Monday began when David Younanof, ICE Special Agent, Homeland Security Investigations, made a compressed but clear presentation on the agency’s IMAGE program. IMAGE stands for “ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers.” It is a program to assist employers with navigating the complex and difficult processes for compliance, ensuring that workers and new hires are in fact legal workers in the USA.
Younanof noted that ICE had been very successful in cracking down on employers who failed to be complaint, subjecting their employees to seizure and deportation, and exposing their organizations to federal fines and even arrests. The special agent claimed that over $80 million in fines had been assessed against employing organizations since President Obama took office.
Partner organizations enrolling in the free IMAGE program were also covered on any possible instances of non-compliance. Younanof stated that partner employing organizations had saved $11 million in possible fines for non-compliance, fines never assessed because of their enrollment in the free program.
Then commissioners start looking at one another for direction. They don’t understand immigration issues, fear the federal government, and recoil at the notion of partnering with the feds on immigration enforcement. They fear because they’re cowed and clueless.
Commissioner Carl Zalak asks in roundabout, ham-fisted fashion whether county contractors would be subject to compliance. Hey, Commissioner: it’s federal law – of course, they’re subject to compliance … regardless of what you might do!
With a little interpretive help from Commission Chair Kathy Bryant in translating Zalak’s verbal contortions, a further question is produced. Would the County Commission have to report on contractors if they were non-compliant? No, ditzo – don’t you get it?
Zalak seems indifferent to actual enforcement of immigration law, doesn’t want county contractor violators to face the music for hiring undocumented workers, and still doesn’t understand that IMAGE protects partnering employers. Good grief, Carl! Listen!
Then Commissioner Stan McClain senses that he knows what’s really going on, perhaps taking non-verbal cues from the perennially misinformed, arrogantly ignorant, and proudly xenophobic Butch Verrando of the Tea Party. McClain begins berating ICE Special Agent David Younanof, telling him, “It’s your job! You go find them! Why don’t you do your job? Go do your job before you come around here.”
Younanof tries to explain it again, but truly there is no arguing with stupid.
Verrando and his handful of paranoids burst into raucous applause. Why? They don’t really know, except McClain just chewed out a federal agent. Um, awesome.
Of course, the only problem was that Younanof was doing his job and McClain sadly once again was not doing his job. McClain is so challenged, God bless him.
Younanof was offering the county free assistance with a difficult area for employers, with partnering organizations protected from getting fined or being subjected to arrest for a lack of compliance, and ensuring that only legal workers get the jobs.
For this, McClain berates the special agent, makes the Commission look like a bunch of jerks (okay, deserved and difficult to avoid) while his county leadership colleagues stare blankly or smirk stupidly. And the Tea dummies cheer, always a sign that someone has firmly stepped in a big, steaming pile of jackass.
Don’t you want worker verification laws enforced? Don’t you think partnering with ICE through the free IMAGE program would be of benefit not only to the county as an employer but also to other employers in Marion County? Don’t you think major employers in the county already partner with ICE through IMAGE? Think national hotel and restaurant chains? Wouldn’t you, as county leaders, want to see county employers in compliance with Federal worker and immigration law, not getting fined, not getting arrested, and addressing a national problem? Or do you think you have compensated for inadequacies, projecting “macho” manhood behind a loud mouth chewing out a federal agent? Damn poor form.
And Tea Party dolts: if you want to see immigration law enforced, how about encouraging the twits on the commission to partner with ICE instead of fight with them? That really doesn’t seem like a demanding “ask” from you, even though it requires a teeny bit of thought. Too much of a heavy lift for you? Sorry.
McClain needs to apologize to Special Agent Younanof, whether he ever comes back to Marion County or not. If he never returned, no one could blame him. Further, if ICE formed a special investigative task force dedicated to finding non-compliance in Marion County and county employers, using fines and arrests as a “teaching tool,” you can thank Commissioner McClain, his useless colleagues and administrators, and the Tea butts. For sure, they’re now talking about the Jerks of Marion County at Homeland Security, and for a perfectly valid reason.
In an appalling show of bombastic and bumbling ineptitude, three of five Marion County Commissioners – all 5 Republicans – voted Tuesday morning to deny the Amendment 11 tax exemption to poor, longtime resident seniors. Despite public pressure from news articles and a Star Banner editorial that chastised the Commissioners for their reluctance, and about a dozen public commenters who appealed for its adoption during the meeting, commissioners made it clear that poor seniors are not as important as half-baked, hypocritical ideological positions.
After approving $350,000 in tax breaks for R+L Carriers, a huge trucking company owned by local mega-millionaire “Larry” Roberts, which is locating a logistics center at the old Taylor, Bean and Whitaker office building near North Magnolia Ave., Ocala, pictured right, there was a presentation by an official from ICE of US Homeland Security whose ill treatment by Commissioner McClain is the subject of another post.
A parade of public comment ensued, most seeking adoption of the Amendment 11 tax exemption which was passed by Florida voters last November by 61%, and also by 61% of Marion County voters. Adoption would require a super-majority of commissioners – 4 of 5.
Amendment 11 narrowly defined who would qualify for a complete property tax exemption;
- resident in the home for 25 years,
- income under $27,000 per year, and
- over age 65.
An exact number of possible qualifying properties has not been provided, but the County Tax Appraiser estimated the annual cost at $162,000 per year. The Marion County Commission’s annual budget exceeds $500,000,000; yes, over $500 million.
Among those struggling to pay their property taxes, James Bowden of Belleview explained how he had lived in Marion County his entire life, never made great money in a community known even today for its abysmally low wages, and how his taxes had increased to accommodate others as the community grew by leaps and bounds.
David Sullivan from northwest Marion told how he was now “broke” and too old to work any longer, and called the impact on the county budget “miniscule.”
Anita Frauenshuh of SW Hwy 200 said that her household would not benefit from Amendment 11 but she stood as an advocate. She noted that the affected seniors had paid taxes and contributed to the community’s economy and well-being for over 25 years, and were still doing so. Further, the 61% voter approval was not simply votes from likely beneficiaries, but a popular endorsement by all citizens.
Irvin Curtin of Belleview, who had been mentioned in the first article raising the issue to the County Commission, asserted that 60 of 67 Florida counties plus 118 municipalities had adopted Amendment 11. He wryly commented that with a $162,000 cost and a $500,000,000 budget, “there isn’t much slack to be picked up.” He noted that there are dozens of tax exemptions in the county’s property tax code, and it was “reprehensible” for commissioners to oppose this one.
Nancy Noonan of Summerfield contrasted the commissioners’ willingness to commit $30 million of taxpayer funds for rich local developer John Rudnianyn to have an unneeded exit ramp on I-75 to benefit his neighboring property, yet couldn’t allow a mere $162,000 for longtime resident, poor seniors. Sge calculated that the funds set out just for Rudnianyn’s wish would pay for the Amendment 11 exemption for 185 years. She said it seemed that the wealthy and privileged could get taxpayer funds, but deserving seniors were dismissed.
Tea Party leader Butch Verrando bellowed against adoption in threatening terms for commissioners’ re-election. Verrando claimed that today the amount was $162,000, but in 5 years it would be $1 million, and in 5 more years it would be $5 million. He was just pulling the numbers out of thin air, of course. He’s Tea Party; that’s what he does. He further showed his complete ignorance of the subject by declaring that if adopted, the exemption would make Marion County into a “repository for every old person who has no income.” He called it a “socialist agenda.” He probably thinks lunch menus are a socialist agenda, too.
Commission Chair Bryant had John Schaefer, the county’s Fiscal Manager, verify the $162,000, and he noted that adoption was up to each county or municipal government. It did not apply to school taxes. As far as Verrando’s assertion of gigantic increases, Schaefer said “one could speculate” that increases could possibly occur over time without guessing any amounts.
County attorney Guy Minter noted that the law allows for “periodic adjustment for income limitations.”
At the end of the public comments, new commissioner Earl Arnett (pic left) moved adoption of Amendment 11 and gained a reluctant second from fellow new commissioner David Moore (pic right). Let the crazy begin.
Arnett noted that 17% of seniors struggle with their day-to-day costs, and allowed that this would provide needed relief. Moore didn’t like a narrow tax break for a special group, and preferred across the board tax cuts, yet remained reluctantly in favor.
Commissioner Carl Zalak tried to claim that charity was not the government’s business, that it was a matter of personal free will. Indeed, it would be hard to categorize the county’s giveaways to wealthy families and rich corporations as “charity,” but they were giveaways nonetheless. It seems he did not consider the difference between the undeserving and the deserving. Typically, the rich and powerful don’t need government charity, but they get it all the time from the County Commission. The deserving simply don’t get (or deserve) anything in the upside-down world of Carl Zalak. To top off his inane comments, he said it was “picking winners and losers.” Huh? Who? Well, that’s so dumb, irrelevant, and out of context, it doesn’t deserve further comment.
Commissioner Stan McClain reiterated his favorite line that property taxes are just plain wrong. Therefore, you might think he would be in favor of this tax exemption for poor seniors. You would be wrong. His view reflects another bowl full of wacky. He correctly chastised state legislators for not simply taking action themselves and making local officials do their work. He went on to rail about the accumulated cost of $162,000 year after year, and what the county would not be able to do as a result.
As Ms. Noonan said, this pittance would be paid up for 185 years with the money committed to Mr. Rudnianyn’s useless exit ramp. McClain had no problem at all with the Rudnianyn giveaway, to cite just one glaring example of wealthy welfare. Advocating the so-called Fair Tax which is a regressive and harmful tax scheme, McClain said there were too many property tax exemptions, it was an unfair system, that only a small segment of the community was actually paying taxes, and soon everyone would want a tax exemption. If you were looking for a consistent and logical explanation from McClain, that was as close as it came. None of it made much sense or held much water. His final flourish was to call the Amendment 11 exemption “progressive, liberal tax policy.” Loopy, I know, but that’s what he said; a tax break is “progressive, liberal tax policy.” Yup, and he’s been elected three times.
Any hope for an intelligent remark from an experienced county commissioner was lost when Commission Chair Kathy Bryant started. She babbled about working two jobs and raising four kids and helping an elderly neighbor, none of which connected to the issue at hand. (What, she is a “real” person, too?) Finally she said adoption of Amendment 11 would “open Pandora’s box” and have everyone wanting a tax break. They must all have been reading from the same playbook. Ya’ think? Niblock’s “Poppycock” or did they think it up by themselves? She, too, parroted the meaningless criticism that the property tax system is broken. She claimed that “only property owners support county government” and it was unfair. This would be shocking news to the many folks who pay a variety of taxes that form revenue streams for county government. If taxpayers don’t own property, they don’t seem to exist in Commissioner Bryant’s world, much less count for anything. Of course, even if you do own property and qualify for Amendment 11 tax relief, you still don’t count for anything with Commissioner Bryant. Get rich if you want attention.
As broken as they claim the property tax system apparently is, none of the commissioners seem capable of lifting a finger to fix it. Isn’t that why they were elected? But enough logic; there are exemptions that rich people need to stay wealthy. Consider the impressive agricultural tax break likely received by mega-millionaire Larry Roberts, private owner of R+L Carriers – yeah, the one getting that tax break mentioned in the beginning of the meeting. His ag tax break for his mammoth horse farm on oodles of northwest Marion acres is worth a bundle. The aerial view at left shows the Roberts estate. Pretty nice.
It’s the same agricultural exemption used by developers for choice properties worth millions; ‘plant pine and you’re fine.’
Sorry, poor seniors who have lived here for over 25 years: you can go and suck an egg.
It was a sad and shameful day for Marion County as the majority of commissioners failed to serve its people fairly, turning a blind eye to their own hypocrisy while offering a stupidly inconsistent ideology in condemning poor, longtime resident seniors for daring to seek a puny tax break.
The title refers to a quote in Bill Thompson’s article in Tuesday’s edition of the Star Banner by Marion County Administrator Lee Niblock (pictured) in describing his theoretical assumptions for consolidating functions and changing the name of the department from “Growth Management” to “Growth Services.” Here is the full quote of Niblock:
I think the private sector is involved in the management of [growth], and I think government, to support the various industries that utilize those services, we should be in the service provision.
The article cites the realignment of a variety of county staff positions, attempting to streamline the number of managers involved with buildings, code enforcement, fire safety, permitting, etc. Given the budgetary impact of the economic slowdown since 2009, this is not the first attempt to consolidate and reduce the number of managers and staff. Assuming that the local economy remains sluggish, it does not seem unwarranted on its face. However, citizens should view this further hollowing of management and consolidation of activities with a sharp degree of concern.
The change to the department’s name seems peculiar, and when Niblock explains his reasoning, the assumptions reflect a disturbing relinquishment of responsibility by county government, the ongoing dominance of developers over intelligent planning, and the fawning obeisance of the government to developer’s whims. It’s like déjà vu all over again, as the sage Bronx backstop once said.
This attitude is aptly reflected in the County Commission’s recent approval of the massive Sunny Oaks development in rural Irvine, in the heart of what is (now mockingly) called the Farmland Preservation Area. This development has been followed on this page previously when it was first approved, and again with a further reflection on what this development means.
Billionaire Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs Ranch development has also shown the County’s deference to the extremely wealthy, allowing the project to advance with little if any impediment despite of host of grave concerns about matters like massive water withdrawals and nitrate contamination of the aquifer which remain hotly debated. Posts on Adena Springs Ranch on this page have looked at the owner’s problematic strategy, the potential for much higher water withdrawals, and a sobering consideration of the recent reduction in the water permit request.
The planned disruption and destruction of the scenic Shady area and the development of what many regard as a superfluous (and gratuitous) new I-75 interchange at SW 95th Street is another recent example of government serving the interests of developers while dismissing valid citizen concerns. The County taxpayers are footing a bill estimated several years ago at $30 million to proceed with developer John Rudnianyn’s folly. The whole scheme seems blindly oriented to serving the speculative interests of Rudnianyn who owns property on the west side of the proposed interchange, a location which would have very modest value without the interchange.
Finally, expect a new application for a controversial mine in Martin to be filed since the state of Florida has now largely abdicated its role in planning since the original attempt. The proposed Martin mine was also sited within the hopelessly compromised Farmland Preservation Area. The mine developers, Steven Counts of SCI, a major road construction contractor, and Chris Boyd, a major developer, had sued Marion County (and its taxpayers) for over $16 million for being prevented from using the (agricultural) land in the manner they desired. The principals are also significant donors to Republican political campaigns. The suit was recently dropped, but only the naive imagine this is over.
Dr. Niblock’s remark is a candid observation that the practice of Marion County government has hardly skipped a beat from the wild, wild days of sprawl it-pave it-build it of a just few years ago; we simply need more developers with a smidgen of cash and a hare-brained idea. Not only has our government learned nothing from the infantile excesses of the past, it now appears to be enshrining its arrogant disregard for sound public policy as our future looks to explicitly “serve” developers.
Now let’s present the developers with a key to the county and the PIN for its checking account.
Oh, I’m sorry. My bad. I forgot that they’ve had those for years. A trophy or a plaque perhaps?
A court decision last week on the controversial CB Three, LLC mine proposed for rural Martin in northwest Marion may also shed light on the peculiar Sunny Oaks Estates decision by the Marion County Commission on April 25, revealing the Sunny Oaks project to be a “stalking horse” for running over the Farmland Preservation Area like a drunk driver.
A previous post here stated that something didn’t smell right when in late April, 2012 the Marion County Commission approved a truly stupid project called Sunny Oaks Estates, a “science and technology park” in the middle of nowhere – indeed, amid the “Farmland Preservation Area” (click here for a map of the Farmland Preservation Area) in Irvine – at the I-75 exit at County 318. That post outlined a host of reasons why this made no sense from any perspective, although admittedly commissioners have always liked it [head scratch]. This project being total nonsense further suggests that, in some convoluted way, this is all going to make perfect sense in due time. These aren’t stupid people. Just wait for it, citizens.
The first tip may have come last week when CB Three sought permission to withdraw from a lawsuit filed against Marion County for being denied a permit to conduct a limerock mining operation on property zoned for agriculture, like the horse farms around it. While hailed as a victory by preservation advocates, it turns out that the plaintiffs, CB Three, had petitioned the court for this decision. In other words, CB Three got what it wanted. Uh-oh.
It seems unlikely that CB Three’s principals, developer Chris Boyd and paving contractor Steven Counts, have simply given up, walking away with 167 acres of pasture and no return on investment.
Was the lawsuit against the county suddenly a bad idea? No, the lawsuit was a bad idea when it was filed in early 2011. The Ocala Star Banner penned a scathing editorial against the greedy, overbearing plutocrats for failing to accept that putting a mine in Martin was a gamble in the first place, and their bet lost. Their $16 million lawsuit didn’t become less winnable. Something better must have come along.
While the CB Three lawsuit simmered on the docket, several things happened. By May, 2011, Tea Party Republican Gov. Rick Scott had chucked several decades of environmental protections with the help of the Tea Party GOP legislature, beheaded and dismembered the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) which had stood in the way of very few development proposals, and crowed that local officials would now be largely responsible for their own developments and approvals.
This idea of local authority sounds okay until you realize that throughout Florida local officials lost that authority decades ago because of rampant corruption, incompetence, and environmental devastation under their “stewardship.” The prospect for responsible development seems slim to none in 2012, particularly given the Marion County Commissioners.
The development known as “Heart of Florida Campus” in 2008, a massive proposal for the rural exit in Irvine in north Marion, was ripening fast. Renamed in 2010 as “Irvine Regional Activity Center,” it had been slapped down by DCA, so it must have been bad news. The County Commission had liked the proposal, of course. The developer for the Irvine project has been Heath Brook developer Scott Siemens from Boca Raton.
In fact, the discussion about developing mining opportunities in the northwest county region within the new comprehensive plan had been occurring at the same time as the Irvine project. While the commissioners at the time – in August 2010 – didn’t like being surprised by a proposed mining zone in the comp plan at the last minute, they were ready to play ball and blew off the 200 citizens mostly objecting to both ideas.
The Star Banner showed its disappointment with the whole mess, including the “revised” comp plan, in an editorial in October, 2010. It noted that DCA’s 21 page report took issue with the comp plan’s overall poor design, vague to non-existent definitions, and conflicting purposes, citing particularly the idea of mining operations in the Farmland Preservation Area (duh), and the Irvine Regional Activity Center as unnecessary and more sprawl being placed – where else? – in the Farmland Preservation Area (duh, again). However, by that time the eulogy was being written in Tallahassee for DCA.
The re-emergence of the project in Irvine in 2011 should not have come as any surprise. With protective laws gutted, DCA obliterated, and developers given free rein following Scott’s election and the 2011 legislative session, every stupid idea could now be pursued.
The Sunny Oaks project had appeal for testing the ability to willy-nilly skewer the Farmland Preservation Area, possibly without repercussion.
Besides, Sunny Oaks was hailed as bringing good paying jobs, adding to the tax base, seeding the future, sustainable development, blah-blah-blah. It was all nonsense, but most importantly it was not a dirty, noisy, ugly mine. Still it could carve out the ridiculous exception from the Farmland Preservation Area that could enable developers of uglier, more unseemly projects, like mines.
Sunny Oaks may well be what’s known as a “stalking horse” for Boyd, Counts, and other big local players. If Sunny Oaks blew up somehow, it was a stupid loser of an idea anyway – nothing lost. And adjustments could likely be made, if needed. But not to worry.
Sunny Oaks produced only minor questions and issues from state officials in June, any of whom could be flushed by “Scotties” for seriously standing in the way of locals and their developer buddies. Green lights are ahead for Sunny Oaks.
With such smooth sailing for Sunny Oaks, it should be no surprise that CB Three has withdrawn from its whole previous course of action. With big, open doors now beckoning since their initial attempt, CB Three’s next proposal should be a no-fuss, no-muss occasion, except for the annoying little people who live there. That’s speculation, of course, but who expects to see Boyd and Counts tending cows in Martin anytime soon?
The stalking horse was loosed in the Farmland Preservation Area. Its mission complete, we now know the Farmland Preservation Area is all up for grabs.
UPDATE: Do you think its idiotic to have massive developments in Farmland Preservation Area? Sign the petition: Oppose Marion County High Density developer proposition for I-75 exit/Irvine, click here.
Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach’s syndicate has made a big splash in Marion County, but if they had done the requisite homework, they would never have thrown away the master’s money by investing here.
While the championship golf course being built off N. Hwy. 441 seems like a reasonable reclamation of a property that included a bleak vacated mining landscape, it will depend on water to keep it “professional green” in the parched, blistering, Florida spring, early summer, and fall seasons.
The big ticket investment is Adena Springs Ranches, a mammoth property that runs from E. Hwy. 40 north beyond Fort McCoy halfway to Orange Springs (click here for a [inset] map of Adena Springs well sites, and click here for all his Marion land holdings as of February, 2012; he also owns thousands more ranching acres in Levy County), amounting to over 25,000 Marion acres with acreage for timber, but 10,000 acres for the ranch that will somehow support perhaps more than 30,000 head of cattle.
As pictures accompanying articles revealed months ago, the bulldozers have been very busy already. Indeed, the “Stronach Syndicate” made fast friends with legislators like Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Stand Your Ground-Voter Suppression), gaining the billionaire’s scheme a tax break that was gratuitous at best in a supposed belt-tightening year for … um … the little people.
But the success of this intensely ambitious gambit hinges on the availability of water, not only for the grasses but for the slaughterhouse and its power plant. The amount of water requested is so incredible that no sentient being can imagine it being approved (except in today’s Florida): 13.27 million gallons per day, in excess of the total daily withdrawals of the entire City of Ocala. While “Stronach Syndicate” media spinners demur that they likely will not need so much, they clearly need a major pipeline of endangered aquifer.
Further, the consumptive use permit (CUP) is simply permission to withdraw. It does not restrict use. If the Syndicate wants to sell the water for a gigantic profit, there is nothing stopping the Syndicate from its greed. Note and remember the term “water mining.”
Frankly, the state GOP has so fully dismantled environmental regulation, removed local control and authority, plus defunded and emasculated the water management districts, complete with shameless developer appointments to the Boards, there is nothing stopping the Stronach Syndicate from their piracy.
Indeed, regional water consumers/citizens – you – should be thankful they didn’t ask for all of the water because it seems like they could legally obtain it. Truly, that may be the Syndicate’s big mistake.
Assuming that the state GOP and its lackeys on the water district boards remain indifferent to citizens, stewardship, and sanity, the Stronach Syndicate ought to realize that the water it desires today will likely be gone tomorrow. Our water resources themselves are already screaming the warning of exploitative over-use to our deaf, apathetic leadership.
Between the evisceration of the Farmland Preservation Area by Marion County Commissioners and the Stronach Syndicate’s land and water exploitation scheme, the call will be heard loud and clear among the greedy developers/exploiters that Marion County is open for the taking. Unless you’re in the business of taking out profits, Florida is not the place to invest any resources. Wise investors don’t come to Florida to stay; you come here to take … and run. Florida is a dead end.
Judging from the recent article quoting Stronach at the UF building dedication, he is either clueless or pathological. My generous guess is the former. The Syndicate is advancing its plans while Stronach does whatever a 79 year old billionaire does.
Can the Stronach Syndicate recoup its $80 million investment and beat out the scrum of the scum scrambling to pirate resources, just like the Stronach Syndicate?
Stronach will discover the need for frequent six and seven figure checks to the Florida and national GOP, buying and owning the agenda like Gary Morse of The Villages. But he will soon be up against Nestle and Coca-Cola and other corporate bottlers eager for the biggest CUP they can get. They’ll drain the aquifer and, as with the Stronach Syndicate, there is nothing to stop their thievery either.
You see, Florida is now a great “no regulation” location. In today’s GOP-authored Florida, the biggest, baddest, and boldest corporation wins. This level of free-for-all is fairly new, but it is the new reality.
As for citizens and old style investors like Stronach who envision something long term, like building a family and life here, or starting a business and contributing to a community here, think again.
If you have investment dollars, extraction and quick profits is the only worthy bet remaining in Florida. Ranching, slaughterhouse, and golf course? Bad investments, chum.
Water mining? Smart! But steal it while you can … and then get out. The feeding frenzy has begun. Your CUP will not runneth over for long.
A proposed research and development park with high density residential and retail space plus a hotel in rural Irvine was approved in a 3-2 vote by the Marion County Commissioners after a 4 ½ hour meeting concluded at 10:30pm on Thursday night.
You have no idea where Irvine is, do you? A couple of county commissioners showed their unfamiliarity when they were surprised to learn that there are no traffic signals anywhere besides the intersection of CR 318 and Hwy. 441 in Orange Lake. By “anywhere,” I mean there is virtually no traffic signal in almost the entire northwest quadrant of the county apart from 441 in Orange Lake.
Do you know the I-75 interchange at CR 318? It’s the one with the Petro Truck Stop and the always tasty and satisfying Iron Skillet buffet. That’s Irvine.
Now imagine 900,000 sq. feet of office space, 100,000 sq. feet of retail space, a 200 room hotel, and 258 new residences mixed from apartments to town homes to single family, all shoe-horned into a 150 acre strip running from east of Jim’s Barbecue on 318 south along the interstate, nearly halfway to the CR 316 bridge. The colored graphic above is an early version of the project at 450 acres, but it does reveal what this could become. The red and lavender color is the major portion of the 150 acres.
The centerpiece is a mammoth R & D office space that exploits a geographical position between Gainesville and Ocala. By the way, someone should point out that this is not Raleigh-Durham, NC, Dallas-Fort Worth, TX, or Tampa-St. Pete. It’s Gainesville-Ocala, FL: two nice small cities with little in common besides I-75.
The centerpiece of the Irvine area presently is the Petro Truck Stop, perfectly suited to its location and a genuine destination for hungry truckers – and they know good food. The proposed complex is wholly inappropriate for Irvine.
For starters, the project is in the “Farmland Preservation Area” (see the blue blip in the map graphic). While the county staff found that the proposal was within allowed use variance for the Farmland Preservation Area, it raises the question, “What the hell? Really?” Using the CR 318 frontage for retail may make some sense as far as zoning, and less sense commercially, but dropping a whole new town into this site passes as “Farmland Preservation” use? C’mon.
Here are some valid points cited in opposition. The proposed project:
- expects to double the traffic flow, causing a wide range of problems,
- has no supporting infrastructure,
- impacts a fragile water system (see nearly dry Orange Lake)
- expands the county water utility inevitably into a whole new area,
- has no anchor client, and no sign of support or interest from UF,
- relocates jobs that will be primarily for non-residents,
- is totally contrary to the comprehensive plan,
- is inappropriate since other areas are development priorities,
- is simply a gambit to get a land use waiver, increasing property value,
- clearly constitutes “urban sprawl,” and
- lacks commercial viability since a property on the southwest corner of the interchange was approved for a 200 room hotel years ago and it was never built; in fact, nothing has been built there in many years for that very reason.
Okay, this proposal has nothing going for it. Even the name is abysmal, “Sunny Oaks.” As an audience member chortled, “It sounds like an old folks’ home.” Yup. (It started out as “Heart of Florida.”)
The Star Banner’s Bill Thompson does a great job capturing the full range of opinions and the dynamic of the discussion in his article on the meeting.
Commissioners Amsden and Bryant did not believe that this was the right place for this project and didn’t believe that the developer had adequately allowed for the project’s impact. For instance, the project’s planning never considered traffic flows within the interchange and the need for upgrades like traffic lights to manage the increased flow there. These commissioners believed the county would end up footing a major bill and coping with a range of headaches in a quiet, rural location that should simply be left alone. Further, lacking a client partner makes the venture too speculative.
On the other hand, Commissioners Zalak, McClain and Stone were giddy in their approval. It does not seem unreasonable to expect commissioners to be discerning, but being so devoted to the lie that ‘any development is a good development’ suggests their immaturity and gullibility despite years of experience, or else their duplicity in winking at a scam. That’s how appallingly bad this is.
Zalak hoped for traffic congestion because it would mean people were going to their jobs. No, really; he actually said that. Urban crawl plus urban sprawl equals success. Or jobs. Regardless, Mr. Zalak apparently believes that a good Farmland Preservation Area is one that gets developed into something useful like urban sprawl.
McClain was thrilled that a new developer’s agreement put the developer on the hook for every impact. Yet the developer’s representative David Tillman was dancing and hedging only moments before. The objections by Amsden and Bryant were ignored as McClain gushed about having an airtight developer’s agreement. Waving the document like a magic wand, he swallowed the paper promise hook, line and sinker.
Not to be out-done, Stone’s imperturbable smile beamed as he endorsed the project, echoing Zalak’s enthusiasm for any development, and McClain’s zeal for the developer’s agreement. Bait-and-switch is clearly a strategy which Stone cannot imagine, but then neither can Zalak or McClain. Yet somehow, Amsden and Bryant seem to get it.
Who knows what “Farmland Preservation Area” really means now? No one probably imagined it included a hotel, research center, stores, and 258 residences, all on 150 acres. In an area zoned one dwelling per 10 acres. If you ask three of our County Commissioners, they will tell you that such a development is perfect for a Farmland Preservation Area.
It is unlikely this project will get very far in its present scheme. Any sane person can see this is a doomed over-reach. It is more likely that the bait was taken in a bait-and-switch. The switch? We’ll have to wait and see.
UPDATE: Reader Pete surfaced some interesting news. Sunny Oaks Estates, LLC of Boca Raton, where Siemens Group is headquartered, has unpaid taxes for 2010 and 2011 totaling about $3,000. Hey Commissioners, missed an easy collection here.
Now that’s $1,400 for 2011 on the whole 450 acres, or $3.18 per acre. Since I paid about $1,200 for my 1/4 acre in the Shores, I completely understand the logic at work here. Well, not really.
The Republican candidates for County Commission District 5 are at least consistent. Those candidates who were quoted in Saturday’s Star-Banner article essentially said we shouldn’t change course.
Here’s Earl Arnett, a window-tinting and sign shop owner:
“I don’t have an agenda, or want a change in the county’s direction. I think it’s a good direction. But there is a chance of it being stopped if another candidate gets in there.”
Inspiring, right? Now here’s Butch Verrando, former manufacturing business owner, also making an argument to stay the course:
“I feel we have a conservative commission and I feel if that seat is not populated by somebody with a pretty strong conservative direction, the bureaucracy could push the commission to the left.”
The amazing thing here is I think if you asked most Marion County citizens if they liked the direction that the commission was taking our community, most wouldn’t agree. The commission, completely dominated by Republicans, has mostly moved the deck chairs around regarding economic development, done next to nothing about foreclosures or the housing crisis, attack and undermine one of our local treasures – Munroe Hospital, and continue to bend over backwards for developers at the expense of our community’s character (see 95th street, scenic roads ordinance, etc.)
Candidates like Arnett and Verando along with all the other Republicans running can certainly count on one thing regardless of what they say: Marion County voters consistently vote these folks into office. But why do they do that if most are unhappy with where our community is? That my friends, is a topic we could spend many hours discussing. While it’s a conversation that deserves more attention and debate, for now let’s focus on one reason of many.
It is perhaps best illustrated by Jessica Hadley, a funeral director and the lone Democrat in the race. You’ll undoubtedly agree with her platform in a nutshell:
“I want to bring partnership with our community and influence our county government,” said Hadley, who lives in Citra.
Her campaign, she said, would emphasize the county’s need to be a sound environmental steward, to be protective of water resources, to have diverse economic development and to excel in creating opportunities for promoting new technology and innovation.
Sounds good to me. However, the problem here isn’t what she said, but what she isn’t saying. The issue here, as has been the problem with so many Democratic candidates in Marion County, is that there is no contrast or reason for people to elect her as opposed to the other folks. One day, I hope some Democratic candidate is going to wake up and realize that if you’re the party that’s completely out of power, you have to point out to the voters that the folks in charge (yes, that would the Republicans) have messed things up royally, and that your vision and ideas are much better for them. Such a strategy is often not used because of some conscious or sub-conscious aversion to conflict. That’s actually normal and understandable. Who likes getting into arguments? But offering up a positive vision without contrast has clearly gotten the Democrats absolutely nowhere. The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass put it best when he said the following:
Those who profess to favor freedom
and yet deprecate agitation,
are like men who want crops without
plowing up the ground.
They want rain without thunder and lightning.
They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters.
This struggle may be a moral one;
or it may be a physical one;
or it may be both moral and physical;
but it must be a struggle.
Power concedes nothing without a demand.
It never did, and it never will.
The conservative movement that powers the Republican Party and their candidates understand this well. Conservative candidates are propelled by an endless stream of propaganda by Fox News and talk radio that mentally place them in a pitched battle between freedom and tyranny, the righteous and the godless. With that frame of mind, it becomes much easier to draw contrasts and fight the good fight, even if in the end their ideas are ultimately terribly destructive to society.
The District 5 races tells us a lot about where we are in Marion County right now. The Republicans are more than willing to continue the current misguided and at worst destructive path were on without question or hesitation. The Democrats are either unwilling or unable to offer up a truly competing vision that draws contrasts and holds the powers that be accountable for their actions over their 20 years of unfettered power. Until this dynamic changes, or unless there is a national political realignment on par with the 1930s or 1980s, Marion County voters will have very little reason to sit up and take notice and to change our community for the better.
A few questions arose in reflecting on the recent article on the Board of County Commissioners’ proposal to have a brief prayer meeting with a local pastor before every County Commission meeting … and arose and arose.
When the church is invited into the chambers of the state beyond any ceremonial purpose (we need another whole article for that subject) to perform religious services for the state – including its officials – or the state is invited into the church to perform its state services, the ability of one to redirect the purpose of the other gets enabled.
Clergy entering into the chambers of the state to perform a religious function have a unique ability either to endorse the state with a religious affirmation, or gain the endorsement of the state for its religious affirmation, or both.
The same applies inversely when the state enters into the religious space.
The wisdom of the nation’s founders, with regular affirmation by the Supreme Court, has maintained separation of church and state. Actually, the further apart they are from each other, the better.
With regard to the pre-Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting prayer meeting, one can ask loudly, “Huh?” Since the commissioners rotate offering the usual start-the-BCC-meeting -prayer already, why do they need to pray before the start-the-BCC-meeting-prayer, too?
Do they believe more prayer is better prayer? Do they believe prayer only “works” when it’s done outside (just outside, in this case) the venue of governing? If so, then why continue the start-the-meeting-prayer, and are there other places where prayer is nullified by time, location, occasion, etc., as if the Divine could be prevented from eavesdropping?
There is more. The commissioners have invited Rev. Phil Wade of Trinity Baptist (O for the days when Baptists were all separation-of-church-and-state-ish, the old days) to lead their prayer, among other clergy. Surely Wade is a man of God, but one must again ask in loud voice, “Huh?”
It seems it is not the amount of prayer that concerns the commissioners, but their own perceived inability to pray effectively on their own. Not knowing how to pray, they need a professional pray-er to do it for them. In the same way, this religious professional seems to agree with them; they are incompetent at praying and require his assistance.
One wonders, why is Rev. Wade accommodating this prayer incompetency? Wouldn’t building the spiritual life of believers be a priority for him? Shouldn’t he give them lessons in prayer rather than pray for them? You know, teach them how to fish instead of giving them a handout. It would not only be easier than commuting from Baseline Rd to E 25th Avenue for BCC meetings but it would also empower the commissioners to pray at other times than before BCC meetings.
One would have to conclude that, given their prayer incompetency, the commissioners have no experience of prayer and praying outside of start-the-meeting prayers which, as noted above, may not work, may not be sufficient, and may have other undisclosed disabling features. If they attend church on the Sabbath, whatever church they attend has obviously failed in empowering their individual prayer and spiritual lives. If so empowered, they would be able to attend to their personal prayers before, during and after BCC meetings without assistance, and indeed without public fussification (making of fuss). Sadly, they are unable to do so, becoming poor advertisements for the churches they attend, although in the church we would call them “poor witnesses.” Hopefully they don’t attend Rev. Wade’s church; how embarrassing that would be!
The above may have seemed cynical or even snarky (heaven forbid!). Is it possible that this is not about prayer at all? Now it truly does seem cynical, trying to read into this new religious emphasis on the BCC something that is not explicitly being disclosed. The cynical would be led to speculate that there was some agenda within the BCC or Rev. Wade or both that produced this development in order to benefit one or all of the parties.
There is no need to suggest that there is something being gained financially. Fortunately, Rev. Wade’s congregation’s major building expansion is a few years past now. How dicey it would be if that building expansion was unfolding simultaneous with an invitation to pray before the BCC meetings! That would fuel the rumor mill! Amen!
So, is the BCC trying to make a statement about religion in Marion County, that it is a Christian county, or even a Baptist county? Would they be suggesting the second class status or even non-status of those who do not profess Christian faith? Is there a particular Christian tradition that is being promoted, like Southern Baptist? Are Rev. Wade’s theological views the ones that will guide the county into the future? Does the county now have theological views? Is Rev. Wade now the county chaplain? Does the county need a chaplain? It certainly seems unwarranted given the fact that there are over 600 congregations in Marion County. Messy, isn’t it?
It remains unclear for whom this pre-BCC prayer meeting is being provided. Is this a private religious service for the county commissioners, or is it open to others, like the County Manager, the Clerk of the Court and county counsel, other BCC staff, those bringing business before the BCC, or to the general public and thereby acting just like many religious organizations already serving Marion County? Or is it for the commissioners alone, or the commissioners and their families, close friends, campaign donors, golfing pals, or what? Is it for non-Christians, or atheists, realizing they may not be too thrilled with it (but they may recognize the need to play along for their own cynical reasons)?
What if one decides not to attend the pre-BCC prayer meeting? Will the BCC evaluate you differently as staff, as citizens bringing business before the BCC, as a representative of someone else like a lawyer or vendor?
How would someone know what the BCC’s motivations are? Wouldn’t it invite a lawsuit to challenge a BCC decision that disappointed a non-prayer, a non-Christian, a non-Southern Baptist, a non-member of Trinity Baptist?
There are an infinite number of speculations that could entertained, and none make this new feature preceding BCC meetings okay in the slightest.
The point should be clear by now. The commissioners were not elected to arrange their private religious services within the BCC, nor were they elected to arrange for public religious services within the BCC. They weren’t elected to do anything religious.
Their actions would establish religion by the state, something specifically prohibited in the US Constitution. Yes, my revisionist history friends, the Constitution really does prohibit the mash-up of church and state. It isn’t some half-baked liberal plot to persecute Christians and eliminate the faith from the USA, but a stance affirmed by the US Supreme Court repeatedly for over 2 centuries and wisely conceived by the Founding Fathers.
Final question for the commissioners: do you intend to continue this absurd and embarrassing episode, likely coming to use taxpayer funds to defend a losing lawsuit, getting billed bucket loads by some crackpot law firm like Liberty Counsel which has an appalling track record of abject failure, or will you end this promptly?
Breaking the usual weekend pundit-fast at Daily Marion, startling news exploded into the Ocala scene late Friday thanks to the able reportage of the Star Banner’s Fred Hiers. In the article Doug Cone is New EDC Chairman, it was revealed that a reportedly real live mother not only attended the event but also asked a real live question. Historic. The answer was an utter turd, but it was still historic.
Obviously this woman used exceptional stealth to enter an event that is typically attended by well-heeled, totally insulated, snoot bags only, like Economic Development Council (EDC) and Chamber of Commerce Board members, Republican politicians and people who have aspirations to be Board members or Republican politicians … and a few sycophants.
The event was to hail Doug Cone as the new EDC Chairman. EDC is slated to go out of existence in January because it ran afoul of the County Commission. Cone apparently made no comments on any goals for his term, referred to nothing he wanted to privatize or pasteurize, and seemed content to ride out the remaining weeks until his Chairmanship passes like infant gas.
You remember, of course, how the EDC was out fishing-for-businesses, doing what it does. But the County Commission wasn’t happy. Imagine their outrage. Here the County had cut the guts out of its budget, and then went back and decided to huff bone marrow for good measure. The Commissioners felt that they had done their job, budget cutting savagely and freeing up the marketplace, and yet the local economy was dead. Shoot, the Republican legislature cut the very heart out of the state budget, and stomped it, freeing up the marketplace even further, and still no pulse in the local economy. Something was obviously wrong.
Running out of government to amputate, what else could defibrillate the local economy and create jobs? They turned their eyes on the EDC, perennially on the County dole. That’s right, the EDC was sucking on the County’s teat, and Pete Tesch was its Caddy-riding welfare queen. When fictional sources claimed commissioners were muttering that EDC was a condition that could be overcome with Viagra, it was clearly getting ugly … well, uglier than normal.
The commissioners decided to start up their own fishing-for-businesses operation. Yeah, you could see where this was going. They were ready to cut off the EDC like a spare right arm in an abattoir.
And here we are, at the passing of the baton as the shaft is given to jolly Doug Cone whose Cone Distributing has the franchise on most beer for the northern reaches of Florida including Ocala, Gainesville (read UF) and Tallahassee (read FSU). By the way, Doug Cone is so so rich, oh just forget about it.
Cone Distributing has had a great relationship with EDC and the County Commission. Cone was the only applicant for a $10.2 million grant from the County funded by … wait … drum roll … FEDERAL STIMULUS DOLLARS! Republican loyalist and Chamber lover Doug Cone has had to chug a goblet of Dom Perignon Oenothèque 1966 every time someone said, “corporate welfare.” (To be fair, Doug did have to kick in almost $6 million of his own money, but unreliable sources say Cone nets that much on UF Homecoming Weekend before kickoff.)
For $10.2 million, he got a brand new 150,000 square foot distribution center and created 50 jobs, or so it was reported. According to highly biased Republican sources, no jobs were ever created by the federal stimulus, so someone is lying lies like a lying liar with pants on fire.
EDC has a brief video of the occasion featuring Pete the soon-to-be-outed welfare queen, and doughy Dougie. It features well-heeled, totally insulated, snoot bags only, yadda, yadda, see paragraph 2. They all have shovels. Shovels were required to get through the event. And the shovels were used. Ah, those were the days – August, 2010 – just a year ago – when a few shovelfuls tossed in the air could make the snoots sneer.
Returning to the recent event, here was Doug Cone bending over in gratitude and getting the magic wand of EDC. With $10.2 million in government stash in his pocket, Cone admitted that the EDC dole was over in the merger with the Chamber, brilliantly remarking about the merger,
“It’s the right thing to do and we are in a time to do the right thing.”
Thank goodness, “the right thing to do” now is not take government money. Way back when twelve months ago, “the right thing to do” was to suck up $10.2 million in Obamoolah like Doug Cone who is so rich, oh my God will you just forget about it.
Sharing the event was soon-to-be Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, causing the snooties to puff up and toothy smile a bit more. A handsome strapping young reactionary, Weatherford is chair of the House Redistricting Committee, the deservedly criticized group of useless, dissembling malingerers. Here are some selected Weatherford quotes:
There is no $30 million pot of money [for redistricting issues, including defending redistricting lawsuits.] Your tax dollars are not being spent on anything like that. [a statement rated totally False by PolitiFact]
[Former Gov. Charlie Crist] wanted to make sure that the PSC was always fighting back and not approving anything that he thought could potentially increase rates for consumers. Well that goes against what the whole PSC was supposed to be. The reason we created the PSC was to take politics out of the decision-making process and make it a judicial decision on facts.
He proclaimed that “uncertainty kills investment,” not likely referencing the uncertainty from idiotic extremist cutting, privatizing and deregulating by Gov. Scott and the Republican Legislature, or the uncertainty caused by pathological Republicans in Washington who would maim the nation that they’re sworn to serve. If “uncertainty kills investment,” he perceived the long term answer in education, an area in which he has led murderous disinvestment. He must have been uncertain about something.
With education being such a priority for this dapper young Janus, a real live mother blindsided the home-schooled Weatherford with a real question.
During a question-and-answer period, a woman with school-aged children asked what he [Weatherford] could do for students needing after-school programs. He said the solution must come from the private sector and help from churches. “We [government] can’t be everything to everybody,” he said. “The church, the private sector, the community has to step up.”
Roughly translated, Weatherford told this real mother to get real. He is a politician and pretty damn good looking. That’s all, and for a Republican, that’s plenty (just look at Baxley, Van Zant and Cretul). If you want answers, go to church, WalMart or the dog park. And for heaven’s sake, stop looking to suck on the teat of government. It’s so-o-o 2010. Just ask Doug Cone.
The over-building of the residential and commercial real estate market in Florida showed what barely restricted growth can do, like sink an economy. With corporate interests calling every shot in Tallahassee these days, an open invitation has been issued to developers to have completely unrestricted growth in the future.
While Gov. Scott has promised to terminate the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for being a “job killer,” DCA being the single state agency given slim authority to challenge locally approved projects, his new DCA Secretary Billy Buzzett (pictured above) who had worked for developer St. Joe Co. overturned a DCA decision by his predecessor against a 5,000+ acre development in Volusia County ironically called “Restoration.” (It seems like “Exploitation” or “Devastation” would be more accurate.)
A new land-use category created for the property would allow up to 8,500 housing units and up to 3.3 million square feet of commercial and office space, while more than 50 percent of the development is left in conservation.
Meanwhile, the bad bills being produced by the 2011 legislative session are truly stunning. Remember last year’s SB 360 which was ruled unconstitutional? It’s back with fixes.
SB 174 has the same intent of basically doing away with concurrency requirements, that developers should have to pay for the impact of their development on transportation and schools. This way, developers can build and build and make lots of money. Meanwhile you, the taxpayer, get slapped with the bill for traffic congestion and overcrowded schools caused by the developers. They make profits; you get the bill. Yes, Baxley, Perry and Van Zant voted in favor while Chestnut voted against. Best quote is from Associated Industries of Florida lobbyist and former DCA Secretary Linda Shelley (pictured left):
“When I build a house, I don’t build a kid.”
‘Hey, when I fertilize my lawn, I don’t make algae blooms. When I drive on the road, I don’t make potholes. When I make a profit, I don’t pay taxes.’ Oops, I got carried away on that last one … maybe?
By the way, Marion County Commissioners have already relieved developers of the need to pay impact fees, adding to the backlog of transportation costs that had at one time approached $1 billion, was reduced by a tax-payer subsidized bond issue, and will likely rise again. There are no plans to re-impose impact fees or a plan to pay for infrastructure besides handing the bills to residents.
Then there is HB 991 (SB 1434) which aims to “streamline” permitting of all kinds of activities like mining and landfills, and makes it much harder for groups to challenge permits. No surprise that developer lobbyist Frank Matthews helped bill sponsor Rep. Jimmy Patronis (R-Panama City – pictured left) write the text. The bill was described:
“It is unraveling 30 years of environmental regulations,” said Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida.”Nothing is repealed. It just makes it harder to enforce the law and to say no to a polluting industry.”
The developer talking point seems to be “eliminating redundancies,” uttered both by Keyna Cory, a lobbyist with Associated Industries of Florida, and by Keith Hetrick of the Florida Home Builder’s Association. It would be redundant to have to apply for permits when you’ve already paid good money to get the legislature to eat from your hand; let’s end reasonable permitting so everyone can build, build, build. Developers certainly know when, what and where to build, right? Right?
“It’s like they’ve taken every bad idea in the last two years and rolled it into one monster bill.”
The developers, the geniuses who built Florida’s economy into its current abysmal state, are getting anything they want. Why? They bought their legislators and want to make a brighter future for themselves, even if no one wants anything built by them for the next few years.
Developers will get unfettered building rights and largely tax-free profits while you get the bill for roads, schools, polluted water, destroyed landscapes, hazardous waste clean-ups, and a host of other maladies that they will cause with complete indifference.
Run amok, developers! Florida’s government is all yours.