This letter is in response to Mr. Jimmie T. Smith as guest columnist in the Commentary section of the Sunday, June 9, edition of the Citrus County Chronicle. I would like to comment on his article twofold: In general and then specific to the topic of the proposed Holder Industrial Park.
Generally speaking, I agree with his commentary about jobs, high-paying jobs being the necessity for continuing growth of Citrus County. In fact, his acknowledgement of the types of businesses locating in Citrus County at present only goes to illuminate our current dilemma. Where are the high-paying jobs?
I welcome all those businesses he mentioned and I am pleased that they chose Citrus County as a place to do business. However, I feel a certain ambiguity has been created to propel his narrative to his ultimate “raison d’être,” to cast aspersions on certain employees of the Land Development Division. So I must differ and even take offense with his characterization of the leadership of the Land Development Division. As a current advisory board member, I am someone who has the privilege of working with engineering and other staff of this division, and I can tell you that their assessments, recommendations and concerns are greatly appreciated by this lay member of the Planning and Development Commission.
All of those businesses mentioned in his article — gas stations and food service — also went through the same vetting process as the aforementioned proposed industrial park. They did not just drive into Citrus County and set up a business on some vacant lot they happened to come across. The same leadership being castigated later in his article also spent countless hours helping to guide them through the processes necessary to ensure compliance with not only the Land Development Codes but our Comprehensive Plan for Citrus County as well. Every one of those businesses found common ground with staff and was able to move forward. When variances were required — ingress/egress locations, setbacks, zoning changes and yes, buffers — then these matters where brought to the attention of our board. When matters need to come before our board prior to or in lieu of being presented to the Board of County Commissioners, we use a series of criteria to arrive at our decisions: Testimony from applicants and concerned citizens, arguments from representative attorneys, and always, staff comments and recommendations. Speaking for myself, I am very grateful for information and recommendations given to the board by the staff, who are experts in their field.
Concerning the recent application for the proposed Holder Industrial Park, I do not know if Mr. Smith was in attendance for that meeting, but if he had been, he would have heard a great deal about the issues involved in creating this type of business — types of manufacturing and their placement on the subject property, commercial uses and placement, suggested housing for employees and placement on-site, roadways and, yes, buffers. All of the information shared at this meeting is public and may be reviewed by anyone, if desired. As he chose to utilize only one issue to castigate, I will use only that issue to mitigate.
What is a “buffer”? It may be a certain distance between two points. It may be a wall. It may be vegetation. What is its purpose? It could be a barrier to keep people from accessing someone else’s property. It may be designed to keep people from harm. And, just as importantly, it may be an aid to assist in noise abatement, which was a matter of substance in this particular case. It was addressed, discussed, debated and voted upon in that manner.
What Mr. Smith did not choose to mention is that after the staff report, after the applicant’s testimony, and after the board’s debate, this application was voted upon favorably by all members present. I believe that all involved have a positive attitude for this project. And that is the only attitude extant. I can only hope that the plans presented to us will go forward to fruition. But there is no guarantee that will even happen at this stage.
While we can’t please everybody, compromises are necessary, and the citizens of this county should know that we care about their quality of life and they have a right to expect us to balance that with future growth opportunities.
But there is a guarantee that this board member will look after the county and its citizens’ interests to the best of his ability, as I believe all of the staff do at the Land Development Division.
Joel Brender is the 2019-2020 chairman of the Citrus County Planning & Development Commission.