Here's the point. Of the last 37 requests for zoning change, 14 have been approved. And all of these requests are property owners moving into less restrictive zoning from the more restrictive. In other words, 100 percent went from conservation or preservation areas to agricultural areas, or from agriculture areas to urban growth, town growth or urban village zoning.
It's easy to understand why. Landowners want out of the property prison the county has put them in. They know it is to their advantage to be in the growth areas. So far, nobody is asking to be placed in the conservation or preservation areas. What does this tell you?
Here is how big zoning plans like this work. Land is devalued when placed in conservation or preservation areas. Then people with connections to public officials obtain key parcels of land adjoining the "growth" areas at a discount. Using their political leverage, they manage to get exemptions or rezoning and suddenly a new section of land can be developed. The development was not a bad thing in itself. It was inevitable. But insiders with political connections always come out on top in such schemes at the expense of ordinary, but less informed, citizens. It is a huge transfer of wealth. In some respects, it is like insider trading.
The editors of The Herald-Mail have called on the commissioners not to grant these appeals for changes in zoning. Rezoning is pointless if changes are readily granted.
It was obvious at the meeting for the final vote on the 37 appeals that several commissioners were uncomfortable approving the changes. Apparently they felt the appealed cases had merit. But everyone who appeals feels their situation is unique and their case has merit. The power of a handful of political leaders to decide who is "in" and who is "out" is one of the big downsides of this whole operation.
No one, whether on the BOCC or the planning commission, should have been able to vote to approve a plan if they live in the Urban Growth (UGA) or Town Growth areas. The UGA is already experiencing tremendous growth and corresponding gains in land values. This is simple supply and demand.
Demand for land and housing will be great in the UGA. People who own property there stand to make a great deal of money. Lot values are already at incredible and record high prices. Any public official who owns land in the UGA should recuse themselves on future votes because of this conflict of interest.
What is the solution? It is probably too late to scrap the whole thing. Having gone this far, no options are easy. Hopefully, one of the plans, like the one suggested by Commissioner Bill Wivell, will be adapted before the final vote.
Only then is there some hope that not as much damage will be done to land values for those who live in the government-controlled areas. If so, the ongoing pressure to grant so many exemptions will be relieved. Maybe even lawsuits and wholesale political changes can be avoided. Let's hope so.
George Michael is a Big Pool resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.
Schools can't be set on fast-forward
To the editor:
I'm writing this letter as a concerned parent of a student who is in the honors program at one of our local high schools. As I have watched my child this first part of the school year, I notice the tremendous amount of stress being placed on her. Every night, she has bundles of homework and studies for two, perhaps three, exams. By the way, my daughter has been on the honor roll each marking period this year.
What is our educational system teaching our children - comprehension of subject matter or the taking of exams? The honors program crams a full year of material in a half year of time, which I believe our children are not retaining. If this is due to the No Child Left Behind Act that has been established, then they can throw it in the trash with the other past federal programs that failed.