Monday, September 29, 2014

Lyons: Still in favor of checks on builders

Reposted from the Herald Tribune:

Published: Saturday, September 27, 2014 at 6:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 27, 2014 at 6:24 p.m.
A local public relations man who used to be a newspaper reporter just set many misguided people straight, he thinks.
I’m among the misguided, and despite Rod Thomson’s best efforts, I remain that way.
Most people on this wrong path with me ought not be blamed, I’m sure. As Thomson explained in a recent Herald-Tribune guest column, people have been grossly misled by “a loud minority that is given an outsized megaphone for ill-formed views” who rail “irrationally against developers, a word often said with the dripping disdain normally reserved for Islamic terrorists beheading humanitarian workers.”
Thomson may or may not realize this is an incredibly grotesque exaggeration. But he is stridently convinced that the populace has been unfairly tricked into believing developers are evil.
“But,” he wrote, “practically everything you think you know about the evil of developers is demonstrably wrong.”
His demonstration fails to wow.
The psychic power he used to read your befuddled mind found nothing thoughtful or rational or nuanced or knowledgeable in there. He saw that you have only the most simple-minded, cartoonish notions about developers and that, as a result, certain important realities have never occurred to you.
Brace yourself for his big revelation: If not for developers, we wouldn’t have all the buildings we use.
“Do you like your house? Thank a developer,” he wrote. He repeated that dramatic admonishment for workplaces and for retail shops.
He didn’t say so, but I must add: Why not hug all the bankers, too, as even the worst and most fraudulent of banks — heck, especially those — played a huge role in financing many of those wonderful buildings.
If this amazing news about developers being the ones who build our buildings has rocked your world, no doubt it also cured your hate-mongering ways. Congratulations! Now you must hate only the real evildoers: Those who believe in green space and concurrence and land preservation and such. Those people, no doubt, want everyone to be unemployed and living in a straw hut, much as you did until you got Thomson’s message.
Now you surely realize that you were shamefully ungrateful to question or object to anything a developer wants in the way of development rights or deregulation or tax breaks or whatever. If so, Thomson has done his job.
But maybe you are still wavering. Are you unclear about how far your new understanding of the benevolence of developers — who so generously provide you with shelter and sustenance — should now take you in the direction of approving every proposal they make to local government?
That might be because Thomson slipped up a bit, aside from the part where he assumed you were totally clueless.
“There’s more,” he wrote. “Most roads to your homes were originally built by developers, as were the stormwater drainage systems, water and sewer utilities and sidewalks.”
Well, yes. And why is that? In many cases — as Thomson certainly did not say — it was because regulations that many developers adamantly groused about forced them to do that stuff. They were required to build homes that resist hurricane winds, don’t flood every year or so, don’t dump sewage straight into the nearest estuary or wetland, and aren’t creating traffic logjams because of inadequate roads serving massive numbers of residential or commercial drivers.
Some still gripe about it, and some manage to escape some of the rules. Many try. But some have figured out that most of the rules make things better.
Of course it is a simpleton’s view to assume anything a developer wants must be bad, or that anytime one gets something he asks for, it is the result of buying off local politicians. But it is equally simple-minded, and more dangerously naive, to imagine that enforcing carefully crafted regulations is destructive or that without the rules, developers can all be trusted to do right.
Even a 10-minute study of Florida’s real estate development history makes it clear why most rational Floridians — not the morons Thomson imagines — are wary of developers who gripe about being handcuffed. I can barely imagine what Florida would look like if we took the cuffs off.
As is, there are still a few unspoiled areas and intact wetlands and some wildlife corridors in between the massive and growing developments that have transformed Florida in the past half century or so.
Developers get paid in cash. It is the environmentalists who work so hard to curb them who deserve our gratitude. I just wish they would win more often.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Lyons ends his incisive piece with the familiar opposition between developers who "get paid in cash" and "environmentalists." I would suggest a broader, deeper opposition at work: On one side not just developers, but builders, subcontractors, building materials vendors, Realtors, commercial interests (including franchisees of transnational corporations), advertising media and news media that depends for its livelihood on advertising. On the other side, not just environmentalists, but folks who have a high regard for the intrinsic quality of life that Sarasotans have worked to nurture for generations. Sarasota County has been nourished by artists, writers, architects, musicians, scientists and citizens who value real values, nature, health, good sense, and all things good and beautiful.

    There is a long tradition of government here making real efforts to work with neighborhoods, to use foresight and intelligence to plan land use. There is an equally long tradition of business interests pressuring government to abandon those values and principles. The 2050 compromise was a success story of public-private cooperation. If amendments are necessary, they should be worked on and evolve through the same process with the same stakeholders. To do otherwise is to have government abdicate its responsibility to its people in favor of private interests. Does this not raise questions about potential governmental malfeasance?