Commissioners will consider pausing future development approvals

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Posted December 27, 2022 | Jennifer Hunt Murty

At a Dec. 21 special meeting of the Marion County Board of County Commissioners, Commissioner Kathy Bryant asked that the board set a time to discuss pumping the brakes on approving proposed developments considering the county’s increasingly stressed infrastructure or the budget to improve it.

“I would like to challenge our board to take the next few weeks to really think about what we are doing with planning and zoning,’’ Bryant told fellow commissioners Michelle Stone and Craig Curry at the close of the meeting. “I really think it would be worthy of us to consider a pause, as was brought up before, when it comes to approving new development.

“We have so much infrastructure that we are behind on and that we have no idea where it’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen, how we’re going to fund what we need for all of the growth that we’ve already approved. And I’m not saying a building moratorium. There is plenty of stuff out there that’s already been approved,“ she said.

Bryant pointed out that the commissioners don’t know how they are going to fund much of the necessary infrastructure improvement, including transportation, public safety, wastewater utilities and other issues. Bryant pointed to the board’s conversation about a huge residential project near Silver Springs Shores, Maricamp and Baseline Road the board did not approve just the day before. She described it as a mess when it comes to traffic and asked how the board could approve more building when “we have no plan to fix that situation out there.”

Bryant suggested a six-month pause on approving new development while the county worked on their planning.

“There has to be a lot of discussion on that, particularly with the Builders Association and Realtors, and everybody else involved in that industry,” replied Curry, the board chair.

Bryant responded, “With all due respect commissioner, it is not up to them. We are here to plan that, and it falls on our backs when we have created a mess that needs to be cleaned up.”

County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes and the commissioners agreed the subject would be included in a Jan. 19 strategic planning workshop. Curry agreed it should be added to the agenda for discussion but expressed doubt that development could be summarily paused as Bryant suggested.

Curry told Bryant that even with a six month pause, “You are not going to be any different than you are the first day of the study. You are going to know a little more, but you’re still going to be in the same ditch. So, what we’ve got to figure out when we do our strategy sessions is how we’re going to fund these things but to shut it down in the process, I don’t know.

Curry and Stone both felt analyzing each development as the board now does is a better choice. Stone called for the county to dust off all the old tools and consider new tools for better planning.

Bryant gave an example of a planning issue that could be worsened without a pause: the need for new corridors.

Bouyounes agreed that new corridors were necessary, but they should anticipate public disagreement because “Who wants them in their backyard?”

Bryant said putting off the decision for new corridors would only make it more complicated with continued building because there would be no place for the corridors.

“Well, that’s where we, too, need a backbone. In those geographical areas, and I mean I’m just talking straight up, that’s where we come in. We got that opportunity every time it comes before us,” Stone replied.

“But in that same vein, be careful where we’re opening new problems,’’ added Curry. “Like (County Road) 318. You know we’ve already got the first couple of dominoes falling and you know people are beginning to buy land and do things seeing what’s going on out there, and I can just see it. We have to really be careful about opening these new areas and creating a problem.”

He and commissioner Bryant were the only members of the board to vote against the Ocala Jockey Club plans at the World Equestrian Center that would bring development into the Farmland Preservation Area and require widening CR 318 through extreme government measures such as eminent domain.