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The conservative argument for approving Ozello campground

What a Wednesday. Great to have you in, we could be absolutely jam packed today so it’s a struggle to know what’s going to get in, what’s going to get pushed, the county commission wrapped up a ten and a half hour day of meetings just before 11 p.m. last night, still don’t know why anyone wants that job, I was asleep by 9:30 but it was quite the day. First Republican presidential debate tonight, no Donald Trump who has opted out, but plenty of fireworks I’m sure, you’ve got failed presidential candidate former governor of Wisconsin who had once faced a recall vote Scott Walker who keeps offering unsolicited advice to Governor DeSantis, don’t understand it but pretty much all federal politics is above my level of comprehension.

Fortunately, local is right in my wheelhouse. The Chronicle editorial today was titled “Concerned about healthcare issues” apparently I’m not, didn’t read it. Okay, I did read it but there was an abbreviation in it for the community health needs assessment or CHNA, or China without the i, so I ended up reading the whole thing as if it was a review of healthcare in our sworn enemy country rather than our home county - that’s on me, not them.

The Just Wright Citrus piece is on the approval of the Ozello camping ground, I just can’t say glamping and continue to take myself seriously, but it was a scaled-back the project to include 32 RV sites, 16 luxury campgrounds (or glampsites) and 20 primitive (traditional) sites. And it will be the main topic. The meeting held a lot though from a 3-2 vote regarding amendments to the contract with mental health services provider Lifestream and the unanimous approval of the five year extension with Right Rudder Aviation, congratulations to them. Also, Right Rudder executive Andy Chan organized several people to speak on his behalf, he let everyone - whether it was positive or negative although there weren’t any negative from the crowd - speak and then he personally delivered an appropriate, if not almost humble acceptance of the outcome. Great job from him, great job from the board, I’m glad we can put this behind us and do it all again in a half decade.

But there are going to be some upset with the board today based on their decision late last night. So let’s get to that now.

After the presidential debate tonight, you’re going to see headlines that look like this: the biggest winners and losers of the debate! In fact, the most listened to episode of this show so far followed the exact same strategy. But I’ve also advocated on this show that not everything should be viewed in a zero sum context. I’m a competitive rower and a campaign consultant, I know all too well that there are winners and losers in life, and maybe that’s what makes me hyper sensitive to recognizing that not everything should be this way. Sometimes everyone wins. Sometimes no one wins. Sometimes it’s best to just recognize things for what they are.

I think everyone won with the Right Rudder outcome. The county keeps a wonderful FBO, the company gets an extension consistent with expectations from the first contract they signed which was four, five year increments of a 20-year deal, and the public feels both protected as a taxpayer while getting the tremendous service from the business. Win. Win. Win.

But the people of Ozello and friends of the hyper-environmental conservationist ideology are going to feel like they lost last night. While the passionate environmentalists tend to lean ideologically left, there’s no doubt that they will be joined by those on the ideologically right who define conservatism as leaving everything exactly the way it is who will ally with the environmentalists against this decision.

I am a native Floridian, second generation on my mother’s side, both born in Sarasota, but I’m still relatively young, feeling older every day, but my father said something Monday that implicitly I knew but it always strikes me hearing it outloud. He is highly aware of civic ongoings but never much of a participant, and he revealed why when he said something along the lines of, I do’nt know why I would get involved in an argument when I already know the other side. They have a house in Lakewood Ranch, a Villages-sized development in Manatee county, and he said everytime a new branch of the development wants to go up, the first people to speak against it are the Lakewood Ranch residents themselves, many of whom had just moved there. Why?

We’ve talked about this before. Fundamental attribution bias. When I move here, I’m being a responsible resident, but when you move here, you’re destroying the environment. Therefore, an alarmingly large number of people often conclude, the walls should go up after my roots go down. And that was my dad’s point. That’s been the basis of every Florida conservationist argument for forty years, probably longer, and you know what’s happened to the state in that time? It’s improved through growth. That doesn’t mean all growth is an improvement. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to hate it or even disagree with that statement. But that Chamber scorecard and other aggregate stats will show you that through progress we are decreasing poverty rates, increasing quality of life, and we are getting better.

But Bobby! How does a glamping ground improve a quiet coastal neighborhood? Commercial interests destroy residential quality of life! There are businesses on Ozello. That’s the wall after me argument again. Commercial interests improve residential quality of life financially period full stop. They pay far more in taxes than the services they receive, which residents cost the county money - we don’t collect enough from residents to offset the services they get - and that doesn’t even begin to scratch the employment benefits to some individuals and the services offered to the masses. Business is good.

Going off the Chronicle quotes, it appears that yesterday was a huge step forward for the board. Don’t get me wrong, I still have no idea how to predict what they are going to do, but I said even just yesterday that the board needs to improve its relationship with the business community and this did it as well as, despite increasing some degree of uncertainty because I thought this was dead in the Ozello backwater, but this did as well start to rebuild trust. Whoa, whoa, how did I get there? Let’s go through the commissioners one-by-one and then end on what it meant for the full board.

Starting with Commissioner Jeff Kinnard since the project is in his district. He was stringent on environmental demands, he was compassionate in his quotes, and he was open-minded to voting for it even though of all of the five, he would have the most leeway to vote against it since it was his district and his direct constituents made up the most vocal opposition.

Commissioner Rebecca Bays said it was a tough decision but that she had a list of environmental and traffic concerns and the proposed application checked all the boxes, that’s basically the same thing I said yesterday.

Commissioner Holly Davis added an additional level of environmental protection asking for quarterly septic tank inspections.

Commissioner Diana Finegan, who is familiar with the coast representing the district adjacent south to Ozello, had flooding concerns but not enough to kill the project.

And Chair Ruthie Schlabach said that she was letting the people’s voice weigh heavily in her opinion, but there were 11 for and 11 against who spoke and the room seemed about evenly divided from those who didn’t speak.

But there is something missing from this that I’m glad the board didn’t mention, but that needs to be addressed. The biggest critics of this decision who will levy this criticism into accusations of the full board is that they aren’t conservatives for making this decision. It’s change. It’s changing the zoning, it’s changing the environment, it’s changing the way the neighbors live.

But what it means to be a conservative is to conserve the rule of law. The law allows for zoning changes if the application passes certain benchmarks. Just like Commissioner Bays said, this checked the boxes. It removed potentially harmful elements like the tiki hut. It submitted to invasive but necessary regulations like the quarterly septic inspections. Check. Check. Check. If an application like this didn’t pass the board, that would be playing politics rather than honoring the law and that, THAT is not conservative. Think of it from a judicial perspective. We don’t want judges making activist decisions. Conservative judges follow the letter of the law. Progressive judges legislate from the bench.

So too do conservative commissioners follow the law. Progressive commissioners would have legislated growth policy through votes like this that go against what the law allows, and we don’t want our commissioners to do that. We want them to be lawful and mindful, and that’s exactly what we got. That’s why this built trust. With three commissioners facing reelection less than a year from now in races that will undoubtedly be decided in the primaries, this was the most a-political, non-progressive but rather responsible and conservative decision they could have made and they got there after nearly 10 hours of meeting. That’s impressive. I know people will feel like they lost yesterday, but we need to recognize what a win this was for the rule of law and for Citrus County.


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