Here in Citrus County, water is one of the main issues we focus on, so many people, regardless of political affiliation truly understand that water is key to how we live our lives here.
Yet one of the challenges is that water also creates a very restrictive way of life amid certain areas within the county and this is because of an outdated way of dealing with the supposed control of nutrients that flow into our waterways.
An example is that on the west side of the county we have regularly had the policy where a home could be placed along the water, but how far it must be set back from the water and the goal to capture water runoff in swells as it runs through the property cause an artificial determination of where you could place the home.
You see historically we went from a very rural community with very little Waterfront residential use to one where it seems like everybody wants to live along the water.
But let’s face it most people do, studies show that 70% of the entire world lives within a mile of some body of water and yet that has caused us to have issues within our waterways here in Citrus County.
During the previous decades of building homes and developing areas along the waterways on the west side of the county, canals were dredged and large areas were cleared and that was not the best for the environment.
Pictures from the 40s 50s and 60s shows a lot of sediment flowing from the land into the waterways and this has caused a lot of issues, because our water in areas like Kings Bay does not flow at a rapid pace, the sediment just simply settled within the bay. The same can be said for the canals that were dug and how they’ve impacted other areas along the coast.
So policies were put in place in the recent past to prevent this and rightfully so, but they also created other policies that prevented nutrients from flowing into the waterways and the truth is it a model that has only been somewhat effective.
As I’ve talked to leaders within swiftmud and DEP, one of the key things they realize now is it’s not just sediment, but septic tanks and fertilizer running into the bay and Rivers, the nutrients that we have flowing into the water.
We now require swells to be built to capture water to prevent that water from running off into the bay and other areas so as to prevent the amount of nutrients that are allowed into the bay, this is the current practice of dealing with nutrients.
But then that begs the question, is it about the nutrients or is it about the water that runs into the bay.
I would ask are setbacks the best tool for how to deal with the nutrient issues and specifically if it does not truly correct the issue of dealing with the nutrients then why is that our technique.
I have asked why we focus on the issue of how to control the water, if instead an engineer can in some way reduce the nutrients, do we really care what way they deal with the water?
Let’s say someone who owns a piece of property on the water and wants to put a house there, is willing to reshape or excavate the land in such a way as to drive the water away from the bay or capture the nutrients. Could that be allowed to give the ability for the homeowner to place the home in a different position as long as it captures the nutrients?
But options like that are not the thought process of our written comprehensive plan or Land Development code, when you look at our rules and regulations about water it lacks the amount of flexibility that is needed to allow you the property owner to do the right thing and yet have the beautiful home you want.
I hope that at this next meeting on the Land Development code workshop we will have the discussion of whether we should focus on restrictive use of the land as a policy or focus on water or being more flexible and understanding that the problem isn’t the water flowing into the bay, it’s the nutrients and that we should be proactive and giving avenues for people who want to live on the water to do the right.
It is my opinion and always has been that if you offer or guide people into better options they will take advantage of that and if you force them to do things as a way of being restrictive they will fight you on it. So if we truly want to work on having people do the right thing in keeping nutrients out of Kings Bay we should ask all sides to come to the table.
Ask questions about what our real priorities are in the land of Development code when it comes to water and lastly we should ask what is a long term benefit or detriment on the waterways with the current policy we have or if we were to change policies, would we see a reduction in nutrients.
Something else I would like to also talk about is that as we work to grow tourism in our County and at the same time protect our rural communities such as Homosassa, Floral City and Hernando. That we could possibly change some areas of our Land Development Code to prevent a certain type of sprawl into communities, one example would be by allowing taller Hotel structures to be built along a few specific locations on Highway 19 which would then create less of an incentive to build these kind of structures in the future in places like Homosassa.
Our current height limit is 5 stories and I have to ask,what would happen if say behind the Publix along halls River Road we were to in a “very” restrictive area, allow for a few more stories higher on a hotel.
Or even along Yulee drive right next to the shopping plaza or sunflower senior living, we could fundamentally carve out small specific areas that would allow the expansion of our hotel industry that support tourism that would prevent the urge for others in the Industries to take up space in areas like Homosassa and yet still Homosassa would get the tourism revenue from those who want to scallop or be on the water in Homosassa.
Again this could be a small specific allocation of change in the land development code that would incentivized focused business growth, instead of more sprawl in our rural regions, all while supporting our Tourism industry.
We would then have areas closer with sewer and water that would have less non-permeable space taken up by going vertical and a benefit to the environment would be that this would allow for more water to recharge into our aquifers as well as properly run into our bay and rivers.
My goal as part of this article is to address the fact that we have a growing population and a growing tourism industry at the same time as we want to protect our environment and make sure that we’re doing all we can to have beautiful clean water.
Again this article, like all others is just a conversation that has started with various citizens and Community leaders who want to both see growth and protect our environment.
I hope you will join the conversation as we work to improve Citrus County and protect what we love the most.
Jimmie T. Smith,
Citrus County Commissioner, District 3