It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.
Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:
Angel Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower
Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower fought hard for us this week.
For what its worth, I was proud of his effort – and his passion reminded me of who, and what, I voted for.
During one of those predestined land use hearings, an annoying formality for developers who come before the dais of power and tell our elected dullards what they are going to do in their next environmental insult – a “public hearing” where the outcome always appears to be a foregone conclusion – Chairman Brower did the important job he was elected to do, spoke truth to power, asked the difficult questions, held firm to his promises, and represented the interests of We, The Little People with great courage.
Of course, none of that mattered.
In the end, he was mocked for it by that Confederacy of Dunces he shares the dais with.
On Tuesday, engineer/landscape architect/developer Parker Mynchenberg used the old carrot and stick routine to ‘urge’ the Volusia County Council to approve a land use amendment and rezoning for two adjacent parcels along the threatened Ormond Scenic Loop to accommodate increased density for a housing development known as Dixie Ridge.
With our eagerly acquiescent Volusia County Growth Facilitator Clay Ervin sitting behind him – his head bobbing up and down in enthusiastic agreement like a velvet dog in a rear window – Mr. Mynchenberg clearly had the upper hand when seeking concessions which will allow 144 single-family units to be shoehorned onto the property – up significantly from the sixty-four homes that were previously permitted.
You read that right.
The carrot? In exchange for the increased density, the property owners agreed to deed some 13.21-acres to Volusia County for a public park with a promise that all traffic generated by the new subdivision will transit Halifax Plantation with no access from Old Dixie Highway.
The stick? If Volusia County denied the density increase, the developer will simply take the public park off the table and clear the sensitive land adjacent to the Ormond Scenic Loop to accommodate twenty houses, effectively destroying what remains of this incredible environmental and aesthetic asset.
Rather than simply rollover and consent to Mr. Mynchenberg’s “request” – Chairman Brower described the hue and cry from citizens demanding change to the manner and means by which malignant growth and increased density is being forced down our throats – and he sought compromise to protect sensitive wetlands and preserve more natural space in the face of another zero lot line phalanx of cracker boxes clustered around a retention pond.
Mr. Brower also warned of Florida’s great natural population limiter – water.
As usual, his entreaties on our behalf were condescendingly ignored.
The threat was reinforced by Councilman Ben Johnson, who described it as more of a “promise” – then argued that the very concept of compromise and concession would make developers “not want to work with us in the future” – quibbling that even Ormond Beach environmental activist Suzanne Scheiber had spoken favorably of the project (she didn’t).
To his credit, Mr. Mynchenberg was quick to clarify that Ms. Scheiber was only in favor of the park donation – not the increased density. Knowing Ms. Sheiber’s passion for preserving the character and ecology of the Ormond Scenic Loop – I’ll just bet Mr. Johnson and his “colleagues” have not heard the last from her. . .
When Chairman Brower attempted to explain the importance of protecting the quality of life for existing residents – Councilman Johnson barked, “Don’t lecture me!” – using the Gang of Four’s typical obstructionism and bluster to effectively defend the status quo.
In turn, Councilman Danny Robins – in his own bootlicking way – took Brower to task for not genuflecting to Mr. Mynchenberg, kissing his ass, and expressing gratitude and respect for doing us all a favor when he puled, “I think what we need to do is not look a gift horse in the mouth here. And also what we need to do is learn how to compromise a little bit better.”
In my view, this wasn’t a “compromise” – it was do this or else coercion.
Then, Councilman Robins launched on one of his nonsensical soliloquies, stringing together gibberish and bureaucratic bafflegab that only he understands – arms flailing about, theatrically gesticulating – somehow equating his desire for cookie cutter legislative uniformity to the “Me Too” movement (?).
(I guess because lockstep conformity takes the thinking out of it?)
Associate Editor Jarleene Almenas of the Ormond Beach Observer aptly captured Robins’ weird analogy:
“At the end of the day, we may not like it, but this can be a hell of a lot worse,” said Robins, who added that government lacks consistency when considering development proposals, and that the council should have considered that before they bought the 36 acres of land in the Loop for preservation, comparing it to the #MeToo movement on sexual abuse and rape culture. “… We have to pick a direction and not keep flip-flopping on issues.”
What in the hell is he jabbering about?
In my view, what Mr. Robins choses to ignore is that the singular constant in Volusia County government is that those with a chip in the game get exactly what they demand from these stalwarts of the status quo – every damn time – while the real fears of those who pay the bills are arrogantly disregarded.
To tidy things up, that obstinate stonewaller The Very Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry, cemented what everyone knew was coming when he quit picking his teeth long enough to thank “staff” (for what?) then mumbled (without making one inquiry of staff or Mynchenberg) “Looks like a good, ah, matter to me,” then equated Chairman Brower’s attempts to address the concerns of his worried constituents to “micromanagement” before moving approval.
In turn, Ben Johnson quickly seconded Lowry’s motion.
For the uninitiated, “Dr.” Fred Lowry is the same do-nothing political retread that now wants to bring his patented stall tactics and disinterested timewasting to the Volusia County School Board. . .
Then came the obligatory mewling and cooing of Councilmembers Barb Girtman and Billie Wheeler – who always find a way to support overdevelopment while couching their consistent “Yes” votes with a suitable amount of “hesitancy” in their voice for effect.
According to Ms. Girtman’s skewed rationale, “I think this project, although it is challenging because it is more, I think there have been concessions made, and I too feel better that there’s not a crowded room standing against it.”
Ms. Girtman failed to grasp that apathy is what happens when your so-called “public meeting” is held at a time when most members of the “public” are at work – and Volusia County residents have learned the futility wasting their breath before these stone-faced gargoyles – who, by public policy, refuse to answer the public’s questions and concerns.
As a result, most taxpayers I have spoken with say they are planning to make their voices heard at the ballot box instead. . .
Interestingly, during the hearing a retired landscape architect stood before the puppet box and asked our elected marionettes to consider the developments ultimate impact on North Beach Street traffic – before explaining the true purpose of wetlands and the importance of maintaining harmony with natural processes.
At the end of the day, only Chairman Brower gave two-shits about us – as demonstrated by his lone “No” vote when the moment of truth came – and, like clockwork, the developer got everything they demanded on a 5-1 rubber stamp (with Councilwoman Heather Post absent. Again.)
Don’t take my word for it.
Go for a drive along Old Dixie Highway and look just beyond the thin veneer of remaining “natural buffer” at what lies to the west of this once pristine ecological treasure – then watch Tuesday’s travesty here: https://tinyurl.com/fwt8z92c
Once you have seen it with your own eyes – ask yourself, “Who do these compromised sock puppets work for?”
Interesting questions this election year, don’t you think?
Angel Informed Voters of Ormond Beach
Anyone else remember the Grand Plans an Ormond Beach developer told us all to expect when he churned an old growth greenbelt on Granada Boulevard into a moonscape to make way for a convenience store, a car wash, a drive-through restaurant, bank, and a specialty grocer with obligatory retail strip center known collectively as Granada Pointe?
So, what happened? Where are all the “public benefits” we were promised?
Now, the only established businesses are the Wawa and an automated car wash – separated by a stark vacant field that has become an unimproved parking lot for commercial vehicles – accessed by an unsightly dirt road that drains muddy water onto the paved access street – while the remaining cleared parcels on both sides of Granada Boulevard remain vacant. . .
Many remain appalled by the nightmare of that shocking environmental abattoir – the clear-cutting that destroyed some 2,061 trees – and the roar of heavy equipment as it mechanically chewed historic hardwoods into splinters.
There is still a visceral component to what residents witnessed that remains raw four-years on – a mental picture that recalls the wholesale destruction, displaced wildlife dashing about, and the ghastly odor of black muck and decaying vegetation that permeated the area for weeks.
That horrific scene confirmed to many long-suffering citizens how little our compromised elected officials care about our quality of life – or the fragile urban wildlife habitat and natural buffers that are being sacrificed to feed the insatiable greed of a few.
Now, two perennial Ormond Beach City Commissioners with a proven history of accommodating the profit motives of speculative developers are champing at the bit to facilitate the whims of their political benefactors on a larger stage as they seek to bring their “growth at all costs” strategy to the district 4 Volusia County Council seat.
These “Developers Darlings” are Commissioner Rob Littleton – with a current war chest of $40,886.92 – and the perennial Commissioner Troy Kent, who was first elected in 2003 and has hung on with his fingernails for the past 19-years, who has a whopping $44,001.59 in his campaign account.
(I encourage you to check out their long and distinguished list of political benefactors here: https://tinyurl.com/3khvk4wt )
The race also includes former Seminole County Commissioner Michael McLean (?) – who is apparently running to keep the prospect of a half-cent sales tax alive – a cheap money grab that failed miserably due to a lack of public trust in our compromised elected officials.
In a February interview with the Ormond Beach Observer, Mr. McLean said:
“His decision to run for the Volusia County Council began with the failure of the half-cent sales tax. In 2001, Seminole County passed a one-cent sales tax referendum with 72% approval, and Volusia’s failed referendum surprised him.
But what surprised him most, he said, was that it failed due to a lack of trust.
“I really think we need to re-install a sense of trust in Volusia County local government, where the voters feel that the people they’re putting up there are best to look out for their interests,” McLean said. “They may not necessarily agree with every decision that’s made, but it concerns me when folks are talking about lack of trust in their elected officials, and I like to think that maybe I can do a little bit there.”
Because everyone knows Seminole County politics are as clean as a hound’s tooth – the epitome of trustworthiness – right?
Right. . .
I also found it disturbing when Mr. McLean explained, “Dealing with the developers, their goal is to make money and there’s nothing wrong with that,” McLean sad. “You just have to be sure that the development is smart, planned and appropriate.”
In my view, we’ve had all the smart, planned, and appropriate development we can stand.
According to campaign finance reports, Mr. McLean has accumulated a healthy $15,431.00 – to include a $1,000 donation from Minto Communities – the Canadian developer who brought us thousands of new neighbors at that faux-beach community over at Latitude Margaritaville. . .
My suggestion (at this hour) is to consider District 4 candidate Ken Smith – a homegrown grassroots guy and long-time local business owner who lives in Ormond Beach.
According to Mr. Smith’s campaign, his priorities include no property tax increases so long as Volusia County has a surplus, no new sales tax, stop building on wetlands and reinstate protection rules, improve fire and emergency medical services, and taking back control of our county from developers, under the slogan – “Make Volusia Green, Lean, and Clean.”
He is also a proponent of Chairman Jeff Brower’s initiatives and campaign promises which have been stymied at every turn by Volusia’s stodgy Old Guard.
Frankly, I like what Mr. Smith represents – and I respect the fact that he has publicly vowed not to accept campaign donations from special interests seeking to “overdevelop” Volusia County – in my view, the seminal issue of our time.
Many residents feel these massive cash infusions to hand-select candidates result in undue influence for those who purchase a chip in the game each election cycle – a process that gives the very real perception of the “pay to play” politics that has destroyed the public’s trust in their government.
With just $4,737 in his campaign account – most of it from area residents and small businesses – Mr. Smith has an uphill battle ahead.
For his commitment to preserving what remains of our quality of life, Mr. Smith has received the glowing endorsement of both Chairman Brower and Councilwoman Heather Post.
I’m taking a hard look at Ken Smith – as an informed voter, I hope you will too.
Votes beat money.
For more information, please go to www.4kensmith.com
Quote of the Week
“Today the Dixie Ridge density was increased from 64 to 144 homes. I voted no but was not able to change a single vote. Heather Post was not present.
The article correctly quotes me as saying the public doesn’t want this. The council took refuge in the fact only one person came to speak against the change. Perhaps that’s because Council meetings are held during working hours.
What the article does not quote me on is the larger issue we must begin dealing with. We don’t have the water. We need to change the way we are growing to protect our future. But when will we start? This was already zoned much lower density and with enough votes a compromise could have been reached to reduce a significant density increase. That’s how it works. But the developer knew he had the votes in his pocket and didn’t need to compromise.
If you want to preserve more natural land, reduce flooding, and use less water, vote in a new council in the August primary. Four Council members are not coming back. That’s the majority. The other two are running for reelection.
Give me a new council and on January 5, 2023, the first day of the 2023 Council, I will have a vote to restore the land use designations in all large-scale comprehensive plan changes that increased density or intensity of development over the last 10 years to their previous status for all changes approved but not yet built out.
That was not even needed here. The zoning gave the landowner the right to build 64 homes. I asked to stay with the existing development rights and suggested taking nothing away from the development rights that came with the land when it was purchased. Yet the council insisted I was changing the deal on the property owner. That was never suggested.
But the deal was changed on every resident of Volusia County who have learned future land use plans, comprehensive land use plans, and established zoning means nothing when it comes to large scale development. The density was increased by a factor of 2.25 times.
The future is in your hands. Help me deliver the votes you want.”
–County Council Chair Jeff Brower commenting on the Ormond Beach Observer’s informative article, “Volusia County Council approves Dixie Ridge rezoning, future land use amendment,” on social media, Tuesday, June 7, 2022
And Another Thing!
Perhaps I’m getting sensitive in my old age.
Or just intolerant of the over-the-top pandering and panhandling of politicians. . .
Last week, I had a mini meltdown when I saw the umpteenth candidate across a variety of races wrapping themselves in various veteran and first responder organizations – then publishing the accompanying photographs of their smiling visage standing arm-in-arm with real heroes on their campaign’s social media site.
On Memorial Day. . .
Unfortunately, I saw the same thing during Police Week when a few brazen politicos saw fit to exploit a time set aside to honor and remember law enforcement officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice – conveniently “reminding” us ungrateful sluggards what the day means.
Frankly, it turned my stomach.
Is nothing sacred?
Look, I’m a washed-up old has-been – and my military and law enforcement service were nothing special – but I have an honorable discharge, a police pension, and a tax bill that, in my jaded view, earned me the right to bitch and bemoan the sorry state of governance where I call home.
Besides, dissent and political accountability are the highest form of patriotism.
Am I off base here?
In the shit trench of modern political campaigns, is nothing off-limits?
All I know for certain is the politics of “personal destruction” is alive and well here on the Fun Coast, where candidates gain an advantage by cavalierly flinging baseless allegations with phony-baloney moral outrage – and the sacred symbols of service and sacrifice are hijacked and used on campaign sites in some weird “See vets, cops, and firefighters like me. You should too!”
In my view, that’s not patriotism – it’s pandering.
I get it. The strategy is known as “targeting” – an effective means of getting the candidate’s face and message in front of that demographic most likely to support them – which stirs up the base and helps the all-important fundraising component of any campaign.
And these exploitative theatrics are far easier than addressing uncomfortable truths and discussing solutions to the issues important to Volusia County taxpayers – or, for incumbents seeking another bite at the apple, defending their often-abysmal record. . .
I’m not talking about goofy politicians adopting the subliminal connotation of wearing cowboy boots because Ron DeSantis wears cowboy boots – or the political art and science of slapping backs and kissing babies – and if a candidate honorably served, they have every right to that pride and association.
But where is the low-water mark?
Let’s cogitate on that for a while before the glossy mailers hit our mailboxes. . .
In the meantime, I hope you look at this carefully crafted imagery we are all being inundated with through an objective lens.
Ask yourself how any of this barefaced virtue signaling informs us of the candidate’s thoughts on overdevelopment, affordable housing, the destruction of our environment, water quality and quantity, taxation and fees, beach management and access, government “incentives” and the perpetuation of an artificial economy, transportation and utilities infrastructure, the property insurance debacle, the ongoing atrocity that is the Indian River Lagoon, preserving our history and culture in a place where everything is sacrificed on the altar of greed, etc., etc., etc. . .
Ignore the contrived window-dressing of modern political campaigns, think for yourself, and demand hard answers from those seeking your vote.
If you wear – or have worn – a uniform in service to your country or community, understand the reason these pandering politicians are seeking the imprimatur of your honor, service, and sacrifice.
Regardless, know you cannot hurt these straw-stuffed scarecrow’s feelings – most politicians worth their salt have some hard bark – or lost the human emotions of shame and decency when they accepted their first $1000 campaign contribution. . .
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!