The Ocala Star Banner has published a wonderful article today.
Those of us who were present at the denial a few months ago were simply stunned. It was moment to remember, a moment when we looked at each other in disbelief during the commissioners’ comments. Then we said, this company has all that money, and years invested, so they will not give up. We are still walking around as if in a dream world, hard to believe, incredible. Can this hold up? Can this really be happening?
Well, they have not given up, but it appears that neither has the county at this point. I suggest strongly that everyone who cares, email those commissioners and tell them what heroes they are, and how important their opposition is. Those commissioners are: chair, Kathy Bryant, Jeff, Gold, David Moore, Michelle Stone, and Carl Zalak III. So often we see boards go one way or another, and many times the lead of the first member to speak is followed by the rest. If we remember correctly, in this case it was Commissioner Bryant who started listing the problems with the land developer’s huge money-making plan, soon followed by then-Chair Zalak, and the others. Flabbergasted that we were, probably even more was the developer’s attorney, who had had a very smooth ride up to that point.
Marion County has made it very easy to contact all the commissioners at once. Simply go to this link and you will see how easy it is to write to all. Please do this for the sake of keeping Florida as Florida. County boards who stand in opposition to huge money are in a difficult position. Big money puts tremendous pressure on officials, so they can rule the world. And much too often it works.Simply tell them you are happy with their courage to do the right thing, and thank them for it.For far too long, huge corporations have had their way in developing Florida, changing it forever, killing the planet so they can get a little richer, a little more powerful. Let us help those who are trying to stop this.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
County holds firm on Ocala Ranch opposition
By Jim Ross
Posted Dec 25, 2017 at 6:26 PM Updated Dec 25, 2017 at 6:26 PM
Strongly worded response to developer’s lawsuit
The County Commission is not backing down from its opposition to a proposed residential/commercial development off State Road 200 near the Citrus County line.
AZ Ocala Ranch is suing county government, alleging that the commission erred earlier this year when it denied the comprehensive plan amendment and rezoning that the company needs to build the project, which would be called Ocala Ranch.
In response, the county has filed a strongly worded legal document maintaining that the commission was well within its rights to deny the requests.
“The board appropriately recognized that the proposed amendment was contrary to the provisions of the Urban Growth Boundary and urban sprawl contained in the comprehensive plan,” County Attorney Guy Minter wrote in his response to the lawsuit.
Also, “the board appropriately observed that it is apparent that the proposed (Future Land Use Map) would authorize development incompatible with the immediately surrounding properties and nearby areas,” Minter wrote.
The county attorney notes that comprehensive plan amendments are legislative in nature and “subject to the ‘fairly debatable’ standard of review.”
He added: “Where reasonable persons could differ as to the propriety of the planning action of the Board of County Commissioners, it should be affirmed.”
Of course, “reasonable” is in the eye of the beholder. In its lawsuit, AZ Ocala Ranch says that the commission was “arbitrary and capricious” and that its decision was not “fairly debatable.”
AZ Ocala Ranch wants to build up to 5,400 single-family detached homes in the development, which would be sited on a sprawling, 3,470-acre web of land parcels just east of SR 200, west of Marion Oaks, south of the Florida Highlands and north of Drake Ranch.
The project also would include commercial property, recreational amenities and perhaps two golf courses.
The western portion of the site, about 60 percent of the land, currently serves as pasture and agriculture. It has access from SR 200 and would be developed. The eastern portion, about 40 percent of the land, is forested and holds various water bodies. It would be left as permanent open space.
The company notes that county staff recommended approval of the project. So did a unanimous Planning and Zoning Commission. State agencies registered no concerns. The company further notes that it has fulfilled all of the comprehensive plan’s requirements.
But in July, a unanimous County Commission decided that the project would “adversely affect the public interest” and that the requests were not compatible with surrounding land uses.
The county and AZ Ocala Ranch tried mediation but it did not work. The lawsuit is now making its way through the 5th Judicial Circuit Court in Ocala. Commissioners Carl Zalak and Kathy Bryant, who were commission chair and vice chair at the time of the vote, are scheduled to sit for depositions on Jan. 22.