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County Government Opinion

Beverly Hills gets bum wrap

Jimmie T. Smith

Recently, there was a news article in the Orlando Sentinel about the 50 worst places in America to live and they placed Beverly Hills as number 50.

Let me be clear that I don’t agree with someone writing an article based off a website to rate our community.

The article talked about low income in Beverly Hills, yet this is a location with a lot of retired residents and income is obviously not high for many because of retirement.

Yet there are some issues that they bring up, such as lack of higher paying jobs and the less than apparent quality of life issues available to those living in the Beverly Hills area.

Since being elected, I’ve been working with business leaders, civic leaders, and the average citizens to lay groundwork for how to improve the situation in Beverly Hills.

The three areas of focus have been supporting policies that help clear the pathway for business development, protect our history and improve the quality of life issues. With the issues being an effort to end split zoning, do a CLG (certified local government) and art in the park.

While these items don’t guarantee success, the intention is to drive the issue to focus on improving the situation, for Beverly Hills and all of Citrus County

Beverly Hills is different than many areas in Citrus County. Its only history is that it was developed to provide affordable retirement homes in a time when the nation was seeing people retire from the post-WW2 years of growth in our national economy. This group and the baby boomers who followed filled in the area, so business growth basically had a service-minded focus and youth and job growth for them was not a high priority.

Currently, we see young families renting the homes from those who purchased them from the people who passed, which means we’ve had a growth of youth in the community, things like the Boys and Girls club were started to help families cope in an area that had little in the way of quality of life for young families.

Quality of Life

Between the 1990’s and now there was a change and even though there’s a  playground, a skate park and the library that the county worked on, there wasn’t really a well-rounded quality of life improvement.

There was the Beverly Hills recreation association, they are the reason we have the pool and other things in the Central Ridge park. But as they got older and others didn’t step in. they basically began loosing members and were unable to maintain many of the quality of life things they helped create.

At one point they turned the park, which included the now defunct Central Ridge pool, over to the county.

While all this was happening, the leaders of the past saw that the Central Ridge area was also the best area to grow our economy, having the least impact on our county’s historical east side or the environmentally sensitive west side.

The effort was the right intention to grow our economy, but as usual government got in the way. Our leaders’ development of the comprehensive plan in the 1980’s was something that was county led as a plan to dealing with the challenges with our economy.

By 1985, the comprehensive plan was finished and submitted, with no objection by the then Department of Community Affairs (DCA). But by 1987, the state changed legislation, and DCA created new rules, causing the county to once again review and modify the comprehensive plan.

Because of this for over a year the county had more than 40 public hearing meetings, as well as an incredible amount of staff hours to facilitate the changes as required by the new law and the rules made by the DCA.

But the DCA rejected our county’s efforts, finding them to be in non-compliance. The county then basically negotiated with DCA, creating the strip mall look we have now, with split zoning and commercial nodes.

As part of my efforts over the last two years, since being elected to the County Commission, I’ve been working to find out the history of why Beverly Hills has such challenges and between the state-mandated rules on zoning and the lack of focus by the county officials on quality of life. You can see where the pieces have come together to create a community that could even be on the radar to be rated (albeit wrongly) as 50th worse place to live.

Business investment sectors

So I’ve worked to find out how we can improve our business sectors ability to draw in different investment opportunities, I’ve had current business leaders call me and talk to me about their interest in starting manufacturing business, but because of our zoning and the philosophy that “the businesses can just go through the additional permitting process to get what they want done”, we see no true business development.

Yet in very frank conversations with these business leaders, they made it clear. Why start that process when I can just go across the county line and do it in Marion county, without the additional effort.

This directly affects the ability to grow wages especially in Beverly Hills.

So, I’ve been talking to our county administrator and our economic development director about getting these antiquated rules changed, so we can grow real jobs and not just jobs at Wawa.

At the same time, I’ve engaged the Beverly Hills Civic association, local business leaders and community activist about quality of life improvements. One result is a plan to create the friends of the park that can generate the organizational effort to improve the Central Ridge park.

This effort is called art in the park, but even though it’s been dismissed by some of my peers, it’s slowly growing into a real and viable option for Beverly Hills.

It’s about passion

As the elected official who ran for the job of representing district 3, I’ve been impressed with the passion of people to improve things in the district, while also encouraged by new leaders wanting to step in to help change things and now it’s the county’s turn.

Do you want to simply agree with the article that claimed that Beverly Hills is the 50th worst place to live in the U.S., or do you see this as an opportunity to launch into an effort to right a wrong that has been building for over a generation, a wrong that will only get worse if we don’t get in front of it.

Beverly Hills doesn’t really have an image, it can’t be said “small town done right,” we can’t claim to be “the gem of the nature coast”. Yet this leaves us with the ability to truly shape the image of Beverly Hills as a place in the future to live, work and play.

By focusing on zoning changes, as well as quality of life, we basically start the long slow process to build a picture that will help provide a positive image for the rest of the nation to see.

To do this, we need the residents throughout the county to support these efforts. Because when the image of Beverly Hills improves, so does the image of the county as a whole. Or we can continue to see no effort for things like the pool and who knows what else closing and someday we could even see us being rated number 45 on some future list.

I’m not willing to accept that, and hopefully neither are you.

As always, these conversations are my thoughts, but are done in an effort to challenge more people to get involved in improving things in Citrus County. So please feel free to email me at jimmie.smith@citrusbocc.com with your thoughts on how to make the much-needed changes.

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