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New Perspective on Pine Ridge at the PDC

It’s a Thursday, or should I say, it is high noon for Pine Ridge residents and commissioners of the Planning and Development Commission. My word. I got to the Lecanto Government Complex about 25 minutes before the meeting was set to start and I was part of standing room only outside of the overflow room. The overflow room!

This wasn’t Taylor Swift. This was an application for a proposed change to a neighborhood master plan that went in front a board that has twice been overruled by its governing body. Eventually, the a representative from the fire marshal started asking people to leave the overflow room, even though there was no posted capacity, and about 60 people including myself stood in the hallway. There’s pictures on the Concurrent Facebook and under the Photos tab of the app if you’re interested.

As the meeting began, a representative from the county came out to ask if everyone in the hallway could keep it down, to which she was asked if the volume could be turned up from the overflow room so people in the hallway could hear, and she declined saying there were other offices around working.

That’s when I left. Unable to hear the meeting and knowing I wanted to get this show about this topic posted by noon, I had done all that I was able to do by being present but I am going to go back and watch once it is posted online. You may be wondering why it isn’t live streamed like commission meetings or how the county couldn’t find space to accommodate everyone and those are reasonable questions but not ones to get mad over.

Our county’s public information office has done an incredible job improving the live streams of the commission meetings, not to mention the high quality graphics on social media, so they’ll get there and we should be celebrating the civic engagement of Pine Ridge residents rather than deriding the county for being unprepared to handle the crowd. That’s how I look at life. Be angry all you want, but this show is about broadening the perspective to be happier.

That doesn’t mean you have to avoid anger. It wouldn’t be human to deny what makes us angry, and the proposed application to allow single family home development on what used to be a golf course might be a perfectly justified reason for that. I always marvel, though, as much as I do probably fall victim to being guilty of myself, at how counterproductive communication can be sometimes. I won’t be able to watch the meeting until after this show airs, but here are some predictive thoughts on how I think it will go.

The father of mass media academic study was a Canadian named Marshall McLuhin. He was born in 1911 and died in 1980 to give you an idea of the timeline, and even though he died at the dawn of the internet age, which started in North America in the 1960s but really became popularized in academia in the 1980s before becoming commercialized to the public in the 1990s. Anyway, McLuhin predicted it all and he coined the term that we commonly use to describe an effect the internet has had on it, the global village, as he was the first to call it. The global village might be his best known, but it’s not his most influential quotes however.

For that, we go to one you might have heard as well: the medium is the message. The medium is the message refers to the way something is communicated is just as important as what is communicated. The transmission is of equal to or more importance to the content. McLauhin proclaimed this in 1964, in the heart of the rise of the television era, and its new visual mass effect was certainly effecting everyone’s perspective on everything from foreign conflict, to presidential debates, to shaggy haired musical performers.

Think what you want about commissioners of the PDC but they are experts. Some are required by statute to work in certain fields to provide expertise and some are just so actively involved in civic affairs that they have earned appointment through their involvement. Either way, it’s a nice balance of people who know what they’re talking about. And on this board, they are volunteers. So if residents who have every reason to be concerned but might be full unknowledgeable about a situation show up in force, as we did, and repeat falsehoods with righteous conviction, then it becomes really hard for the expert to want to agree with the person. It shouldn’t be like that. The board member should be able to remain perfectly objective. But this also is the real world we live in. I grade all my students work anonymously because I would grade them differently based on their performance in class – that’s just the way it is.

Research has also tested another annoyingly obvious part of human nature. That is that the less we know about something, the more entrenched we get in an opinion. Social media reveals this pretty quickly, especially if you’re on Twitter but Facebook as well to some extent. There will be weeks where a sizeable number of the people you follow will go from being Supreme Court lawyers to geopolitical experts to economic advisors and lately of course, general physician practitioners. Chances are they know very little about any of those topics, but the ones who are willing to get the loudest, who demonstrate the most conviction tend to be the same ones that make you question the value of your high school diploma if they gave one to him too.

To the Pine Ridge residents’ credit, they appeared well organized. A man stood up in the overflow room and detailed how important civility and respect to the board was and reminded the crowd that the meeting is posted to social media and that one crazy moment could undermine the credibility of the entire effort. That was excellent. Even this good leader had some limitations though.

Included in his message was that the developers don’t live in the county. The point was that they don’t pay taxes here and aren’t invested here in anything beyond the financial. Okay. But why is that bad? We want outside investment coming into the county because it likely will be doing so in larger amounts than our limited county resources can offer. And the people who live there will be paying more in property tax than at its current rate so the county taxbase will grow.

Uh oh. We’re getting to a point where it’s sounding like I’m for the project and I’m not. It’s greenspace that needs to be preserved and the county has something like 80,000 plotted opportunities to develop so there’s no reason to make a change to a masterplan to add more at this time. 80,000 plots at roughly 2.25 people per house is around 200,000 more people the county can accommodate, more than doubling our population and putting us on pace to be about the size Manatee County is right now. Clearly allowing for more at the expense of a neighborhood is not necessary.

But at some point, the message is as important as the medium and so considering the strength of the argument is important. The neighborhood should not buy back the land if it was ever even for sale. The golf course is out of the question, already proven unsuccessful. So what’s the solution? I don’t know. But instead of getting righteous and full of conviction in that uncertainty, we can temper the message until clarity is obtained.

That’s the way government is supposed to work, and mercifully, it will look something like that when I watch the recorded meeting later today. Best of luck to the PDC commissioners and thank you fellow Pine Ridge residents for your civic engagement.


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