May 14th, 2003

Planning and Zoning

There is an empty four-acre lot across the street from my house. When I bought the house, a dozen years ago, the lot contained a native hammock. That isn't something you lie around in during the summer, swinging yourself with one foot and reading trashy novels while drinking lemonade, it is a stand of flora native to the region. To be specific, there were saw palmettos, mahogany, rose apples, sea grapes, wild hibiscus, wild oaks, shrimp plants, pines, a resident owl, and lots of lush underbrush.

Two years later, the asshole who owned the property and wanted to sell it, decided it would have more "curb appeal" if he cut everything down to show the size of the lot. I woke one morning to the sound of bulldozers. Then I called DERM (Department of Resource Management) and reported the razing of specimen size native plants. They fined the guy, and he planted two feeble little oaks which he never watered, and which promptly died.

Then the native grasses started to grow and I had a whole new list of grassland birds to add to my lifelist. If you ignored the fact that there was now highway noise and dust, it wasn't so bad. A plant nursery-man bought the property and filed for a land use variance to put a commercial palm farm/nursery on the four acres. I grew up on the Treasure Coast of Florida in the days when the primary industry was flower farming, so this struck me as a magnificent deal for the neighborhood. Green stuff! Plants! Free oxygen! Cooler temperatures to counteract the urban heat phenomenon.

Boy, was I wrong. My neighbors told me so in no uncertain terms. That would be commerce in a residential area. The next thing you know, "THEY" will put in a gas station and a 7-11. "THEY" will take over our neighborhood. Bad Lynne. Bad, bad Lynne. I went down to the county commission meeting to stand up for the nursery anyway. My own county commissioner told me that if I wanted to live in an agricultural area, there were places in Dade County where that could still happen. They are called the Redlands, and she invited me to get the hell out of her district and move there.
(This may have been because I put my name and face on the campaign material of the person she unseated, but I'm sure that political payback/retribution was the last thing on this fine public servant's mind.) As you may guess, the petition to change the zoning was denied.

The owner planted trees on his four acres, and didn't sell from the lot, and so I was happy and my neighbors were less whiny. Then, since he wasn't making money on the deal, that owner decided to sell.

Next up, a zoning request to change from E-1 (one acre estate homes, and p.s., most of the houses in the 'hood are only on half acres) to who knows what, with the intention of putting up a three-story, 800-student, K-8 charter school. This time, I sided with the neighbors. We immediately organized a homeowners' association and I was made president, I suspect if only because I knew about Robert's Rules of Order and had once, when I was young, been president of the local Young Democrats. I suspect further, that it was because I was the only person who could be conned into taking the job. We put together a grass-roots campaign against, with lawyers and traffic studies and the like, and through the grace of the School Board, which didn't grant the charter, dodged that particular bullet. Still had the palms.

This year, we have a new property owner and a new proposal: townhouses. Twenty units, sized two- to three-thousand square feet and selling at about $200 a square foot. The size and cost of these units is way above what is average for the neighborhood. The builder has promised to bring in the city sewer lines (most of us are still on septic tanks). He has promised to replace our above-ground utilities with underground cables. He is landscaping and writing covenants with the existing home owners.

Do my neighbors want this? Of course not. These Luddites want to keep their septic tanks. (Hey! I got an idea, let's dig a big pit in the back yard and pour our raw sewage into it!) Do they want city water? No, they want to keep using their wells (free water), you know, the ones that are dug in the back yards. Look, water has been filtered for eternity by the dirt and rock that make up the Earth's crust, and if that water was good enough for the Neanderthals, it's good enough for us.

I had to step aside as president of the homeowners' because I didn't think it politic to call my constituents blithering idiots who can't tell which way the wind is blowing even when it's blowing across a freaking stock yard with a wind sock. The county is not going to let land lie fallow when they can get a juicy tax roll out of it, and half-mill townhouses are to tax rolls what fat, sweaty tourists are to mosquitoes. Stay tuned for more as we follow the adventures of "Suburban Development Follies."