In reading and reviewing the Draft 2040 Comprehensive Plan for Hernando County, we would recommend major changes in language, format and content.
In comparison to neighboring counties, as well as communities across this country, this plan presents itself as a legislative document, which tends to inhibit business and economic growth, one of the areas it claims to encourage.
This plan relies heavily on the Planned Development District format, which does not treat all residents fairly and uniformly across the county. The very nature of a comprehensive plan should be structured such that all of its language is relevant to each and every citizen. Then finally, the content, which is steeped in questionable extreme environmentalism, and failed so-called “smart growth” strategies, legislates how and where we will live on our own properties, stripping us of our personal property rights.
Beginning with language, it is clear to see the change in motive with the 2040 Plan. Where the current plan uses GOP, that is Goals, Objectives and Policies, the new plan deals with Goals, Objectives and Strategies. By shifting to strategies, the document then requires Commissioners and their constituents to obey the new mandates in the Comprehensive Plan. There are close to five hundred “SHALLS”, “WILLS” and “MUSTS” in the first chapter alone. Each one of those words has legal authority, and if passed in its current form, must be obeyed. As currently written, this plan will unnecessarily restrict actions of current and future Hernando County Commissioners and their ability to act on behalf of their constituents in a timely manner.
Other communities, using the GOP format, use language such as “SHOULD”, “MAY”, ‘PROMOTE”, “ENCOURAGE”, “PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES”, or “SUGGEST”. This provides direction and future planning without requiring major amendments and legislative sessions with recourse to the state every time even a small change is needed.
From very liberal communities (like Portland, Oregon), to more conservative ones (like La Plata, Colorado), the latter is the format of choice, making for a flexible, uniform and fair document, able to stand the test of time. Legislation is for the Commissioners, not the County Planning Department. The Foreward from The Carroll County Maryland Comprehensive Plan sums up our thoughts on the matter precisely:
“Land Use Plans are not inherently regulatory instruments. The most important portion of most Plans are the goals, recommendations and implementation efforts. The legislative or regulatory enactments necessary to implement the Plans will come about as a result of the language within the Plan AFTER the Adoption of the Plan. The need for “regulatory-style” language within the Plan is, therefore, eliminated. It is important, therefore, to promote a greater understanding and awareness of the public’s impressions and expectations with regard to this process. Adoption of a Plan is arguably the first step in the comprehensive planning process - not the last step. The Plan implementation processes will continue over the next several years as the 2014 Carroll County Master Plan recommendations are brought to fruition.”
We then recommend first and foremost, the changing of all language that is legislative in nature, to be replaced by language that will instead, suggest and encourage. The “shall”, “will“, “must” and “requires” need to be replaced with “should“ ,“may,” “suggest”, and similar language.
As an example, please note on page 39, under goal 1.04 D 6 (k) concerning the Hickory Hills Planned Development District:
“(k) REQUIRE annual homeowner education regarding protection of water resources through the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods and others. Green Industry certification for landscaping companies SHALL be REQUIRED.”
Contrast this with the language found in a similar paragraph from the 2016 Portland, Oregon Comprehensive Plan:
“Policy 2.6 Land Use Literacy
PROVIDE training and educational opportunities to build the public’s understanding of land uses, transportation, housing, and related topics, and increase capacity for meaningful participation in planning and investment processes.”
Comparing and contrasting the two, one is an ordinance, leaving no choice in the matter, while the other is an invitation to take advantage of an educational opportunity. One is demanding and disrespectful of its citizens, practically punitive, ordering them to participate, while the other is a respectful invitation, leaving the matter open to choice. There is a huge gap between authoritarian government and the natural rights of citizens. The format of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan of Hernando County continually exudes the authoritarian structure. This is not only not necessary, it is offensive and disrespectful to its citizens.
Including the PDD ( Planned Development Districts) in the Comprehensive Plan is a major problem. Each one is unique to its own neighborhood. These agreements are best left as Home Owner Association Agreements, which as long as they follow the laws of the land, should be able to be changed by the agreement of those who live there. The Sumter County Plan states as much, trusting those who live in the communities to manage them to their own satisfaction. These PDDs are fraught with very restrictive environmental regulations and some strange requirements. As noted above, in Hickory Hills, the residents are required to have annual education regarding protection of water resources. But in World Woods, 1.04 C, ”Florida Yards and Neighborhoods education shall be provided for individual lot owners.” This is different as it is not a mandate as in Hickory Hills. The Quarry Preserve PDD under 1.04 F(34) states “Water Conservation. The Quarry Preserve PDD shall develop an educational program to institute water conservation programs.” which is different than the requirements for the other communities. Why not the entire county? Then even more strange, in The Quarry, 1.04F(19)f. page 54, “A Pet Management Plan (PMP) that will become part of the deed restriction and association document for the development and that will require education regarding responsible pet care and ownership responsibilities.” Then on page 56, 1.04F(27), “Education Program. The Developer of the Quarry Preserve PDD shall establish a program to educate builders and homeowners on the benefits of “green” development.” Here is yet another mandate, that the other communities do not have and no one in the rest of the county is required to fulfill. Another subject where each community is treated differently is in nighttime outdoor lighting restrictions. This is micro-managing to an extreme! This is not a respectful and appropriate way to treat adults. These requirements have no place in our County Comprehensive Plan and should only be agreed upon by the people who decide to live in that community.
Then as regards to content, we find that the entire plan is laced with extreme environmentalism overruling personal property rights (Chapters 1 and 10) and Smart Growth, anti-urban sprawl (In Chapter 1), traffic calming, complete streets, bike, pedestrian and mass transit (Chapter 5) .These goals are at best controversial and at worst are proven failures in communities since the 1970’s such as Portland, Oregon. In Maryland, these smart growth strategies have in fact been replaced due to their complete and utter failure.
In the environmental goals, an ecological linkages map slashes across public and private lands from Ridge Manor, through the Quarry, the Annutteliga Hammock and neighborhoods in the Chassahowitzka area. Although property owners who live in these designated areas are promised that they may still live there, they will live under different restrictions. In the areas of lighting, fencing and placement of buildings on their property, they will be treated differently than other property owners outside of the ecological linkages area. This is not acceptable. This is a transgression of private property rights. Chapters 1 and 10 contain details of the attempt to eventually run this wildlife corridor completely across Hernando County, in coordination with the Florida Ecological Greenways Network. The final goal of such environmentalists, is no human habitation in these corridors. These steps in the 2040 Draft Comprehensive Plan, are in our opinion, the beginning of many techniques to push people out of the corridor area and into the urban islands of habitation, described in these plans.
“The Smart Growth Fraud” by Dr. Michael Coffman, Ph.D. (in environmental studies and forestry) is an excellent start to understanding the failure of these policies. Hernando County is a late-comer to these plans, and could benefit from studying the failures of other communities. We could avoid the devastating trip down an empty road. To quote Dr. Coffman:
“For decades urban planners have adhered to the mantra that urban sprawl increases pollution and housing costs, more driving time to work and shopping, stress, and the escalating consumption of scarce farmland and open space. Urban planning to implement what Al Gore calls “smart growth” supposedly corrects these problems and creates more livable, inexpensive homes for all. Irrefutable evidence, however, shows that urban planning creates the very nightmares it is supposed to eliminate. In the process, it strips urbanites of one of their most fundamental civil liberties - property rights.”
Another eye-opening source is an article by Randal O’Toole, a senior economist with the Thoreau Institute, “The Folly of ‘Smart Growth’”. He opens with:
“Throughout the United States, city and state governments are turning to smart growth urban planning strategies to slow suburban “sprawl”. Spurred by concerns over traffic congestion, air pollution, and loss of open space, the plans are intended to improve urban livability. The strategies include purposeful efforts to increase urban population densities, boost mass transit ridership and decrease auto driving. In order to achieve those goals, “smart growth” governments nationwide are implementing a degree of land-use regulation that is unprecedented in the United States prior to 1990. Unfortunately, as we will see from the experiences of the Portland, Oregon area, such regulation can produce an even worse quality of life for residents. The policies’ real effects appear to be increases in traffic congestion, air pollution, consumer costs, taxes, and just about every other impediment to urban livability.”
We highly recommend the reading of these sources to give an idea as to our objections to the inclusion of such strategies in the 2040 Draft Comprehensive Plan.
This is just an overview of our critique as more details will be added. All other things being equal, who would want to move to Hernando County or start a business here with hundreds of new obstacles with which to contend, not found in neighboring counties? The same questions were asked by citizens in the County of La Plata, Colorado, when faced with a similarly flawed and destructive Draft Comprehensive Plan. They started a petition drive, filled County Commission Chambers, met and shared concerns with individual Commissioners. The Commissioners educated themselves, understood the threat to private property rights and individual natural rights and freedoms, dropping the new plan entirely. They did the right thing for themselves and the future of their children. We hope the same will happen in Hernando County.