At some point a decision will be made concerning Jackson Labs. Unbeknownst to most of us, over the past couple of years many decisions have already been made in the back rooms of local government and no doubt more are now being considered while out of the public review.
Every new discovery, new piece of correspondence uncovered or unscheduled discussion added to an agenda at the last minute concerning this matter, which involves hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars, understandably raises the suspicions of the public. If what has happened to date was not enough to raise concerns, a new issue came to light last week that portrays the boldness of some of those involved in this entire fiasco and just how far they will go to exercise control.
The Board of County Commissioners will have a new commissioner for District 2 after November. Her name is Georgia Hiller and unlike her predecessor, she can think for herself.
Zoning is a big issue which our elected officials must deal with. Changes in zoning can have a tremendous impact on not only individual neighborhoods, but the entire county. Zoning standards establish the quality of life that many move here for. Because it is so important, any changes to zoning require a special vote by the commissioners.
There are two types of majority vote, a simple majority which is when 3 out of the 5 vote affirmatively for something and then there is a super majority, which requires 4 out of 5 to vote affirmatively. Due to the extreme importance of zoning matters, all changes involving zoning issues are required to have a super majority (4/5ths) vote.
It has been that way since 1967 and is established as a requirement for Collier County in a Florida statute which has been updated from time to time. In addition, the county’s own laws and ordinances require the 4/5ths vote for all zoning changes. There are no exceptions. Zoning is very high on the list of concerns for the general public and high standards have been set in order to assure adequate protection.
Without an affirmative 4/5ths vote on matters involving the zoning where Jackson Labs is proposed to be built within Ave Maria, the current plans for the facility could be in jeopardy. Without the zoning, there may be no reason to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars that are being allocated to the project.
Last week the property owners who hold most of the 195,000 acres of the county’s rural lands, called the Rural Lands Stewardship Area (RLSA), wrote a letter to the county commissioners advising them that they have decided, after eight years, that they never intended that a 4/5ths vote for zoning apply in the RLSA for the various zoning of towns, villages and other similar areas. They claim that because there are no references implying a super majority vote, such a vote was never intended.
The requirement for super majority vote is already law; there is no reason to restate the obvious. Within the RLSA regulations, there is one clarification to the 4/5ths vote, purposely added where existing zoning was accepted on lands already in use, called Stewardship Sending Areas (SSA’s). Since the zoning in these areas was not changing, but being restricted, the 4/5ths vote was not determined to be necessary. The same implication was not added to the Stewardship Receiving Areas (SRA’s) where all the new zoning takes place for towns such as Ave Maria and the proposed Big Cypress.
Adding the exception to the SSA’s was specifically singled out and evolved in the RLSA standards over a series of discussions. Such a change in voting was never considered for the SRA’s since they can create new towns and villages needing the full protection of our zoning process.
The eastern property owners are asking the current commissioners to ratify that the commission’s intent back in 2002 was not for a 4/5ths vote, even though to do so is against Florida statute and our code of laws. This is being done now to protect them in case future Commissioner Georgia Hiller, or any other commissioner for that matter, does not agree with their position in any future zoning matter. This will in effect circumvent the will of the voters of District 2 who expected their elected official to retain the authority that has always been in place.
The request to change from the super majority vote is a poke-in-the-eye to the citizens and all landowners of this county who have lived and abided by our regulations. Making such an exception would be absurd and illegal. No doubt our aging Board of County Commissioners have lapses of memory, hopefully they will not be manipulated into believing this request is valid.