A court decision last week on the controversial CB Three, LLC mine proposed for rural Martin in northwest Marion may also shed light on the peculiar Sunny Oaks Estates decision by the Marion County Commission on April 25, revealing the Sunny Oaks project to be a “stalking horse” for running over the Farmland Preservation Area like a drunk driver.
A previous post here stated that something didn’t smell right when in late April, 2012 the Marion County Commission approved a truly stupid project called Sunny Oaks Estates, a “science and technology park” in the middle of nowhere – indeed, amid the “Farmland Preservation Area” (click here for a map of the Farmland Preservation Area) in Irvine – at the I-75 exit at County 318. That post outlined a host of reasons why this made no sense from any perspective, although admittedly commissioners have always liked it [head scratch]. This project being total nonsense further suggests that, in some convoluted way, this is all going to make perfect sense in due time. These aren’t stupid people. Just wait for it, citizens.
The first tip may have come last week when CB Three sought permission to withdraw from a lawsuit filed against Marion County for being denied a permit to conduct a limerock mining operation on property zoned for agriculture, like the horse farms around it. While hailed as a victory by preservation advocates, it turns out that the plaintiffs, CB Three, had petitioned the court for this decision. In other words, CB Three got what it wanted. Uh-oh.
It seems unlikely that CB Three’s principals, developer Chris Boyd and paving contractor Steven Counts, have simply given up, walking away with 167 acres of pasture and no return on investment.
Was the lawsuit against the county suddenly a bad idea? No, the lawsuit was a bad idea when it was filed in early 2011. The Ocala Star Banner penned a scathing editorial against the greedy, overbearing plutocrats for failing to accept that putting a mine in Martin was a gamble in the first place, and their bet lost. Their $16 million lawsuit didn’t become less winnable. Something better must have come along.
While the CB Three lawsuit simmered on the docket, several things happened. By May, 2011, Tea Party Republican Gov. Rick Scott had chucked several decades of environmental protections with the help of the Tea Party GOP legislature, beheaded and dismembered the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) which had stood in the way of very few development proposals, and crowed that local officials would now be largely responsible for their own developments and approvals.
This idea of local authority sounds okay until you realize that throughout Florida local officials lost that authority decades ago because of rampant corruption, incompetence, and environmental devastation under their “stewardship.” The prospect for responsible development seems slim to none in 2012, particularly given the Marion County Commissioners.
The development known as “Heart of Florida Campus” in 2008, a massive proposal for the rural exit in Irvine in north Marion, was ripening fast. Renamed in 2010 as “Irvine Regional Activity Center,” it had been slapped down by DCA, so it must have been bad news. The County Commission had liked the proposal, of course. The developer for the Irvine project has been Heath Brook developer Scott Siemens from Boca Raton.
In fact, the discussion about developing mining opportunities in the northwest county region within the new comprehensive plan had been occurring at the same time as the Irvine project. While the commissioners at the time – in August 2010 – didn’t like being surprised by a proposed mining zone in the comp plan at the last minute, they were ready to play ball and blew off the 200 citizens mostly objecting to both ideas.
The Star Banner showed its disappointment with the whole mess, including the “revised” comp plan, in an editorial in October, 2010. It noted that DCA’s 21 page report took issue with the comp plan’s overall poor design, vague to non-existent definitions, and conflicting purposes, citing particularly the idea of mining operations in the Farmland Preservation Area (duh), and the Irvine Regional Activity Center as unnecessary and more sprawl being placed – where else? – in the Farmland Preservation Area (duh, again). However, by that time the eulogy was being written in Tallahassee for DCA.
The re-emergence of the project in Irvine in 2011 should not have come as any surprise. With protective laws gutted, DCA obliterated, and developers given free rein following Scott’s election and the 2011 legislative session, every stupid idea could now be pursued.
The Sunny Oaks project had appeal for testing the ability to willy-nilly skewer the Farmland Preservation Area, possibly without repercussion.
Besides, Sunny Oaks was hailed as bringing good paying jobs, adding to the tax base, seeding the future, sustainable development, blah-blah-blah. It was all nonsense, but most importantly it was not a dirty, noisy, ugly mine. Still it could carve out the ridiculous exception from the Farmland Preservation Area that could enable developers of uglier, more unseemly projects, like mines.
Sunny Oaks may well be what’s known as a “stalking horse” for Boyd, Counts, and other big local players. If Sunny Oaks blew up somehow, it was a stupid loser of an idea anyway – nothing lost. And adjustments could likely be made, if needed. But not to worry.
Sunny Oaks produced only minor questions and issues from state officials in June, any of whom could be flushed by “Scotties” for seriously standing in the way of locals and their developer buddies. Green lights are ahead for Sunny Oaks.
With such smooth sailing for Sunny Oaks, it should be no surprise that CB Three has withdrawn from its whole previous course of action. With big, open doors now beckoning since their initial attempt, CB Three’s next proposal should be a no-fuss, no-muss occasion, except for the annoying little people who live there. That’s speculation, of course, but who expects to see Boyd and Counts tending cows in Martin anytime soon?
The stalking horse was loosed in the Farmland Preservation Area. Its mission complete, we now know the Farmland Preservation Area is all up for grabs.