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Rex Jensen is president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
East County Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2012 5 years ago

My View: How will we grow: Part One

by: Rex Jensen

Keeping with last column’s economic development theme, let’s talk about development. Not all of it is good, but unlike what the community activists would have you believe, it isn’t all bad, either.

A community is destined to grow at a certain overall pace — whether or not the last guy to arrive wants to close the door. Those who wish to preserve the status quo pursue an ideal that doesn’t exist in nature. The two real choices are some level and form of growth, or some level and form of decay. “Staying the same” only occurs in “Pleasantville” or the “Twilight Zone.”

Some areas, such as the “rust belt,” won’t grow in the aggregate despite their best efforts. And some areas, like ours, will grow despite efforts to stop it.

Unless we wish to share the fate of Flint, Mich., it isn’t a question of whether we grow but rather a question of how. Historically, Manatee and Sarasota counties have viewed their future as one of “low-rise, low-density, wall-to-wall residential” development with differing uses separated by buffers. The entire regulatory system favors small, “single use,” piecemeal projects over larger, mixed-use, master-planned communities.

Frankly, that’s one of the main reasons why we have so many of the first and so few of the second. We should take a look at the viability of our long practiced approach. My view is that our current system isn’t working as well as other choices may.

Another misconception is that the approval of a new project causes growth. That myth is the product of the infantile political mind and is similar to a baby thinking that his cries produce a parent. Neither is true, and both are the product of ignorance of an entire world that exists just beyond the grasp of an unsophisticated mind.

To illustrate with an extreme case, if a county did approve a project with buildings having a height of 100 stories, capable of holding the population of Hong Kong; it wouldn’t change a thing on the property next door. Why? Because the market won’t let it happen. No one will finance it, no one will develop it, and no one will buy it.

The market, the economy, larger demographic trends and the U.S. Constitution, will override almost anything government does, for better or worse. We can channel these forces, but we can’t countermand them.

So, to: 1) the “last-guy-to-arrive-and-buy-a-cheap-condo-who-wants-to-put-up-a wall-behind-him;” 2) the “community activists” who feed on them; and 3) the short-sighted, pseudo-populist politicians who cynically use them all, knock it off, please. Others, like my company, were here first, and others like you and me will follow all of us — like it or not.

We do, however, have some clear choices of where we grow, in what sequence we grow, and in how we grow. So let’s stop talking about “whether” and discuss where, when and how. Let’s further relate those factors to the financial markets, total cost of infrastructure, the wide variety of consumer preferences, economic development, contribution to the tax base, legal requirements (yes, they do matter) and consequences to the taxpayers.

So ask yourself if you want things to continue as they are, adversarial and unsatisfactory to all, or you’d like to try something different, more consensus driven and effective. Thus, I will close by asking someone from Manatee County to co-author the next installment … to see if we can “kick this can down the road a bit.” 

Maybe we can begin a serious dialogue and end up closer to being on the same page.

Rex Jensen is president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.

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