Chuck Dixon/Special to the Chronicle
The initial Citrus 2020 Vision Plan was done in 1995. The county population was 107,000 back then and today it has increased to 145,000. In the next 20 years the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR) is projecting an additional 33,500 residents using the midrange calculation.
The initial Citrus 2020 participants recognized the need for growth management and the infrastructure and services necessary to serve the growing population. Actionable items were identified to help us achieve the desired results; a well-planned, healthy and viable community.
For the Growth Management Focus Group, the newly adopted comprehensive plan was to be “the cornerstone” which enables us to achieve our vision. Development was to be “well thought out ..., (and) reflected in a comprehensive plan which accommodates the needs for residential neighborhoods, businesses, industry, and parks.
Redevelopment and reuse of our assets was to ensure their place in our future. Density control and in-fill of partially developed areas will have become a realistic part of the county’s comprehensive plan.”
For the Infrastructure and Services Focus Group, the focus was on exercising control of and protecting the countywide water supply, providing central water and sewer systems, and for establishing mandatory recycling and garbage collection.
In addition, transportation planning was identified as a priority for roads, transit services, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
Flash forward 24 years to 2019, and we are making some good progress in the areas of providing for our water and wastewater needs, and in protecting our surface waters. But we continue to struggle in some of the other areas such as encouraging redevelopment, establishing mandatory garbage collection, and in land use and transportation planning.
The new focus group for the 2030 Vision is “Smart Growth.” It combines the elements of the former 2020 Growth Management and Infrastructure and Services focus groups.
It will again focus on the need for investment in infrastructure and we will discuss options for mechanisms to encourage redevelopment.
Citrus County has unique characteristics that offer great potential for providing a high quality of life for residents and an economic engine for tourism, recreational activities, and industry. However, these attributes also present challenges with coastal flooding, impaired waterbodies/ wetland systems, and the basin that forms the spring sheds for the Crystal River/Kings Bay, Homosassa and Chassahowitzka springs groups.
We need to acknowledge our unique resources and work with the characteristics of the land to ensure that buildings and other improvements are sustainable and complement our ecosystems.
The term “Smart Growth” is relatively new but it is an old concept. It is defined as “planned economic and community development that attempts to curb urban sprawl and worsening environmental conditions.”
Smart Growth means investing in neighborhoods and downtowns, providing for a variety of housing opportunities in proximity, and connectivity for residents to have safe opportunities to walk or ride a non-motorized vehicle to a neighbor’s home, a restaurant, or a local shop.
Smart growth leads to resilience over the “long term” which means we will have a healthier more stable environment to live, work, and recreate.
Smart growth supports mixed land uses that promote connectivity. This is efficient and healthy because it minimizes trips in a single vehicle and promotes biking and walking. It lends itself to compact building design which preserves more open space, agricultural land, and environmentally sensitive land. This is also generally a more economical use of land and less expensive to build and maintain the necessary public infrastructure that it takes to support resident needs.
It tends to create a range of housing opportunities for residents and walkable neighborhoods.
It fosters distinctive, attractive communities with a sense of place as opposed to cookie cutter subdivisions. This is important today because small towns are all starting to look the same with advent chain stores and prefabricated buildings. People appreciate individual identity. It gives residents a sense of pride in their hometown.
Smart Growth preserves open space, farmland, natural beauty, and environmentally sensitive areas. It seeks to direct development towards existing communities instead of sprawl. Again, this is more efficient use of resources and more sustainable over the long term.
It provides for a more efficient variety of transportation choices.
Makes development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective.
And, last but not least, Smart Growth encourages community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions through a transparent planning process.
This is important because residents have a stake in their community and ownership in its long-term success.
Chuck Dixon is a Professional Planner who has lived in Citrus County for 30 years. He served as the County Planning Director from 1998 to 2006 and he is currently the Director of Planning for the Citrus County School District.