News Press

November 6, 2014

 

Changing rural lands designation scares me

Frank Mann, Guest opinion

http://www.news-press.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/11/06/changing-rural-lands-designation-scares/18566447/

Changing Lee County's Comprehensive Plan to allow for a 50 percent increase in density, in what up to now has been called rural lands, may not have caught the attention of many local citizens, but it scares me half to death.

Thousands of our citizens, especially those residing in the eastern part of the county, fought for as long as eight years to include in county regulations special-density limitations for those rural lands. They had been led to believe that by including those restrictions in the county's official growth plan that the future for their neighborhoods was secure.

Previous county commissions had adopted their recommended plans, and three previous attempts to change those plans had been rejected by the county commission. And that act of pure democracy at the local level was certainly the intent of the Legislature when the state's first comprehensive planning act was passed in the mid-1970s.

With a recent 3-2 vote of our county commission to ignore the River Hall plan, why should any other community with its own plan feel safe that theirs won't be changed as soon as a well-heeled developer comes down the path?

Protecting our rural and agricultural lands for future generations will be the only thing that distinguishes us from the wall-to-wall concrete and asphalt jungle areas, such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami. And now a majority of our commissioners has spoken clearly, by this example, that what the citizens themselves worked for, and thought they had secured, no longer matters.

Why should any future developer not believe that the door is open, and the sky is the limit, on any lands previously protected under Lee's Comprehensive Plan? By the commission's action, a majority has clearly shown that the Lee plan is simply a holding pattern for future rampant development, rather than a meaningful growth management tool. What a sad commentary for those who labored so long and hard to protect their own backyard neighborhoods.

And how sad, too, that these same people, who relied on the promise of previous commissions, now have their dreams shattered by a broken promise.

Yes indeed, what a frightening precedent. There are 15 community plans already in place throughout Lee County, and several being readied for adoption. Be warned, my fellow citizens, that your efforts may have been in vain. Reasonable growth management plans, so critical to the development certain to come, are under attack, the result of which will return us to the days of careless destruction of those precious assets we used call our quality of life.

For much of the first hundred years of Lee County's history, we made terrible mistakes and seriously damaged so many of our natural assets. In recent years, we finally got around to correcting those mistakes, and the growth protection pendulum began to swing in the right direction. That pendulum took a sudden reversal recently.

Those who love Lee County and care about its future must not sit quietly and allow the wanton destruction to begin. Let yourselves be heard.

Frank Mann is a Lee County commissioner, District 5.