It has long been commonplace in Marion County for development decisions, such as land use changes, be decided absent standards and void of appropriate and relevant data and any meaningful analysis. In a word, the decisions are often arbitrary and in violation of Florida Statutes Chapter 163, the Marion County Comprehensive Plan and the Marion County Land Development Code.
The Planning Department and the county engineer are charged with the responsibility of ensuring a land use change application be complete, including all relevant and appropriate data and analyses related to, among other things, market demand, necessity for the change, availability of public facilities, and compatibility with adjacent neighbors so that a determination can be made if it is in the public interest, consistent with the comp plan, the Land Development Code, and Chapter 163 FS, and compatible with neighboring land uses.
These departments are not ensuring that these applications meet state and local requirements. This corruption of the decision-making process always starts at the top, in this case, with the County Commission.
For years they have signaled they don’t care about the requirements by accepting incomplete applications and ignoring staff recommendations. They prefer to make decisions that are arbitrary, based upon their likes or dislikes, not upon facts and sound analyses.
Two land use changes wending their way through the approval process are illustrative of really bad amendment applications:
• 2018-L05 involves a 20-acre school district parcel on Northwest 80th Avenue adjacent to the World Equestrian Center (GO/WEC). This is the only parcel at this location that has not yet been purchased by GO/WEC. The application states this should be considered a WEC outparcel. It is for 872,071 square feet of commercial, a 166 percent increase over the commercial approved for GO/WEC. The amendment is for B-4 commercial, a regional business land use for regional shopping centers. The commercial/hotel/RV park for WEC was pitched as on-site neighborhood support uses for WEC event participants and GO/WEC residents. The outparcel can potentially produce 32,918 daily trips, 3,322 PM peak hour trips in addition to the 23,165 daily trips and 2,674 PM peak hour trips to be generated by GO/WEC commercial, hotel, and RV park.
Other than a suggestion that the parcel could be a site for a future convention center, there is no data or analysis showing market demand, necessity for the change, impact upon Northwest 80th and compatibility with surrounding uses.
• 2018 D06 involves an adjacent 64-acre parcel, which is a part of GO/WEC, allowing several hundred residential units. The amendment wants to change this to 2.7 million square feet of commercial, more than 5 times the total approved for GO/WEC. No daily trips or PM peak hour trips are provided. Supposedly the amendment is only looking to replace commercial uses from elsewhere in GO/WEC for the residential currently approved. This limitation could still allow a shift of 525,000 square feet of commercial space, generating 19,959 daily trips from elsewhere in GO/WEC to this parcel. No data is supplied as to what use the eliminated WEC commercial acreage will be put.
One does not have to be a traffic engineer or a professional planner to realize that these amendments would overwhelm Northwest 80th Avenue, a two-lane country road, be incompatible with the original rationale of the GO/WEC land uses, as providing support services for WEC, and inconsistent with the data and analysis requirements of the comp plan.
The planning staff has supported the application. The Planning and Zoning Commission has put its rubber stamp on the amendment, stating at the hearing that it is not its responsibility to consider traffic impacts. It clearly doesn’t know the requirements of the comp plan. One can expect the County Commission to do the same because this is the way development planning is done in Marion County.
Peter Bowers is a businessman and former educator with a 30-plus-year business career. He lives in northwest Marion County.