Authorities in Marion County met yesterday July 18, 2017, for the third time to consider AZ Ocala Ranch, a mega-development southwest of Ocala near the Withlacoochee River. This matched perfectly the manufactured “rural community,” paradisical dreams of developers everywhere.
OSFR President Elect Mike Roth Sierra Club President Whitey Markle Alisha Lewis
It was to include over two thousand acres of buildable land, over six thousand homes, room for over ten thousand residents. Said residents were to enjoy two golf courses, watered and fertilized ad infinitum, an emergency station, a water plant, shopping centers, community swimming pools, etc.
Maxine Connor Janet Barrow Kaithleen Hernandez
Concerned citizen after concerned citizen went to the podium to tell the commissioners what a bad idea this development was, and the damage it would do to the aquifer, the wildlife and the rural way of life of the area. Counselor Steve Gray, representing AZ Ocala Ranch, had a quick and flippant answer for every concern, sometimes covering the entire issue in one fell swoop by assuring the concerned citizen that AZ Ocala Ranch would comply with all county codes, so there was nothing to worry about.
Pete Ackerman Jim Carrell Judy Smith with algae garland
AZ’s water consultant, Mr. Jeff Eller, also assured everyone that the water permits required would provide abundant protection and that the water table would hardly be affected at all. They knew this because they had done exhaustive studies.
Beginning a 2 o’clock, the meeting journeyed onward with the commissioners patiently allowing each person to speak, only gently reminding them when they over-stayed their time allotment at the podium.
Finally, around 6:30 pm, the final scenario began to play out. This is that time at the end of the discussion when each commissioner gives comments before the vote. It began like most of these meetings, which is that, after careful, thorough and deliberate mind and soul searching, the commissioner says how much she or he loves the springs and environment, but……..
But… reason says they must support the water withdrawal, development, new amusement park or whatever because it will be good for business. And make some rich businessman richer. And surely we can suck out a bit more water for that important enterprise.
No, it didn’t happen.
Our heroine Commissioner Kathy Bryant began by saying she had a problem with all the bad things that this mega-development would bring. Our hero Commissioner Carl Zalak III immediately added his similar thoughts, and within seconds a vote was taken, and unanimously the board (sans Commissioner Michele Stone, District 5, who was absent) voted to reject this environmental nightmare.
And that was the Marion County Surprise.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-