LYKES BROS. OFFICIAL Blasts Growth-Limit Plans

By Jim  Konkoly of Highlands Today

Published: December 25, 2007


SEBRING John Tallent told the Highlands County commissioners last week he "didn't want to be the skunk at the church picnic."

He also said he didn't want to be "a Jeremiah," referring to the Old Testament prophet who made a habit out of telling the authorities what they didn't want to hear.

Nevertheless, Tallent was at least the proverbial "fly in the ointment" at the Highlands County commissioners' last meeting of the year as he denounced the county's pending "urban services boundaries" plan.

Through more than two hours of discussion on the urban services boundaries, which the commissioners adopted, Tallent was the only speaker who called them a bad idea.

Tallent warned that if the commissioners go through with the "urban services boundaries" and keep cow-towing to the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA), significant development in Highlands County will be killed for decades to come.

Tallent is the director of land management for the Ranch Division of Lykes Bros., the giant corporate farm/ranch operation in Highlands, Glades, Hillsborough, Lake and several other counties.

He told commissioners that adopting urban-growth boundaries is bad for property rights, bad for local land-use control by local governments, and will be terrible for counties trying to promote affordable housing.

Bert Harris III and several other Lake Placid officials called the "urban services boundaries," which the DCA has asked counties to adopt, a great idea.

Those boundaries must be proposed by the county commissioners and then approved by DCA officials in Tallahassee.

DCA officials by either approving, rejecting or sending the county's boundaries back to the commissioners for changes will set the limits on where and how much cities can grow in Highlands County for at least the next 10 to 20 years.

Lake Placid's Deadline

Lake Placid officials asked the commissioners to move extremely fast in adopting these growth boundaries, so that the county's proposed boundary lines can be sent to DCA before Dec. 31. If the commissioners don't meet that deadline, Harris and other Lake Placid officials said, the town could face state bureaucratic delays in approving the plans of Lake Placid developments.

Commissioners agreed to act fast to accommodate Lake Placid officials and developers.
In order to do so, the commissioners have to adopt the "urban services boundaries" which set the growth boundaries not only for Lake Placid, but also for Sebring and Avon Park under an unusual procedure.

Normally, the Highlands County Planning and Zoning Commission must hold a public hearing and make its recommendation before any land-use issue can be adopted by the county commissioners.
In order to beat Lake Placid's Dec. 31 deadline for transmittal to DCA, commissioners agreed to adopt the growth boundary lines on Dec. 18, then send them to the P&Z commission for review.

Last Chance For Local Comment

The P&Z commission's special public hearing on the growth-limit boundary lines will be held at 3 p.m. Dec. 27 in the meeting chambers of the Highlands County Government Center.

"The USB (Urban Services Boundaries ) is a bad idea for Highlands County," Tallent told the commissioners, after Lake Placid officials praised these boundaries. Lake Placid officials described the growth boundaries as a tool they can use to have controlled growth with the hope of seeing their town triple or quadruple in size.

By establishing boundary lines that will set where Lake Placid, Sebring and Avon Park are allowed to grow, Tallent said, "the USB locks out the other 90 percent of Highlands County" from any significant, tax-base building development.

If that occurs, Tallent said, the county tax base will suffer because new developments outside of the three municipalities will be "limited to 5-acre ranchettes."

State Politics, Local Consequences

Tallent said the USBs also will drive land prices up dramatically for people who want to live in a municipality in Highlands County, because the boundary lines will artificially create a limited supply. And, he said, those artificially inflated land prices will kill attempts to build affordable housing.
In effect, Tallent said, state-level government leaders want "urban services boundaries" because powerful state-level politicians decided to restrict growth in Florida to the coastal cities, and to kill it in the rural areas in the middle of the state.

Tallent told commissioners the DCA has been taking more and more power away from local governments ever since it was created in Tallahassee.

DCA, Tallent warned, "is like a pit bull: It only loosens its bite (on your arm) for one reason to get a bigger bite."

Nobody argued with Tallent or disputed his statements at the commissioners' meeting, which was attended by about 40 people, mostly Lake Placid officials.

But everybody at the meeting laughed when Tallent kicked off his comments by saying he didn't want to be "the skunk at the church picnic."

After the meeting, when asked where he had gotten the "skunk/church picnic" line, Tallent said, "It was just a 'bon mot' I threw in there, but I don't want that to take away from the issues I talked about."

Commissioner's Split Decision

The county commissioners passed their proposed "urban services boundaries" by a vote of 3 to 1. With Commissioner Barbara Stewart absent, Commissioners Guy Maxcy, Don Bates and Edgar Stokes voted for the proposed growth-limit boundary lines.

Commissioner Andy Jackson voted "no."

Highlands County's proposed urban growth limits now go to the P&Z commission Thursday for an after-the-fact public hearing. Assuming the P&Z votes to recommend approval of the boundary lines, those lines will then be sent to the state DCA.

Harris said he checked state law and found that Lake Placid officials will meet their deadline as long as the county's growth-limit boundaries are postmarked before midnight Dec. 31.