Ocala.com: Other Voices “County cutting corners for privileged few in land use process

June 30, 2014

OTHER VOICES

County cutting corners for privileged few in land use process

 

Developer Scott Siemens plans to preserve this area in the planned 450-acre Sunny Oaks Research and Development Campus south of County Road 318 near the Orange Lake exit off I-75 north of Ocala. Siemens is seeking a land use permit for 150 of the 450 acres for the regional activity center.

Bruce Ackerman/Staff photographer/file 2012

Published: Sunday, June 29, 2014 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 27, 2014 at 6:21 p.m.

The Marion County Citizens Coalition (MC3) has initiated a lawsuit against the Marion County Board of County Commissioners. The suit resulted from a growing concern about the lack of due process.

Among the violations which Ralf Brookes, the MC3 attorney, has identified are the right to request timely documents, to examine documents, to ask questions and to receive timely answers. MC3 is asking that Marion County strive to take actions to increase meaningful participation enhancing the public voice in government public hearings and proceedings.

Neighborhood property owners have the right to ask for notification of land use changes, the changes those land use amendments will bring, and how homes and property values will be affected.

So-called “tag-along” and last-minute land use requests without proper notice violate procedural due process and have no place in democratic government. Yet, these are becoming increasingly common in Marion County land use proceedings.

Procedures for notice and public records explaining even minute changes must be followed by everyone, without regard for status, position, profession or standing with government entities. Too often it is just the inner circle or those with high-powered lawyers who are provided with email notifications and for whom procedures are shortened, fees are waived and shortcuts are granted.

Tag-along and last-minute land use requests without proper notice should not be allowed. Period. Marion County should have a procedure that is followed by everyone.

Fees for applicant-generated land use changes should be collected and not waived as tag-alongs to county-generated plan amendment updates. We, the taxpayers, should not foot the bill for development that impacts our infrastructure, and not every piece of land should be converted to shopping centers and housing developments. What has happened to our sense of place and farmland preservation?

Further, Marion County taxpayers and residents have the right to provide input and feedback regarding appointed boards. Boards which play a significant role in development decisions — the Land Use Regulation Board, in particular — are currently made up of the regulated, and weighted with developers, their contractors, and companies with which they do business.

We ask that commissioners seek balance on all county business as the constitution mandates. It is time we had a voice.

Jeri Baldwin is a farmer and operates a wildlife refuge in Citra. She is a member of the Marion County Citizens Coalition.

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