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A Spat Over Sprawl

Commissioner Joe McClash

BRADENTON -- What seemed like a gratuitous remark about past Manatee County Commissions sparked a sharp exchange between District 1 Commissioner Larry Bustle and At Large Commissioner Joe McClash at the end of the regular meeting of the Manatee County Board of Commissioners Tuesday morning.

During commissioner comments - an unofficial exchange of thoughts, reports and observations after the regular agenda is completed and the commission is waiting to adjourn - Bustle suddenly said that "past county commissions" were responsible for uncontrolled growth.

The topic was sprawl, loosely defined as the insertion of housing and other developments in areas generally lacking in municipal services and beyond the established limits of an urban or suburban area. For a long time, sprawl was undefined by either county planning officials or the state; the last session did see a definition enacted into law.

The issue arose after McClash took his opportunity to question Rep. Jim Boyd during the regular meeting after the local insurance agent gave a one-hour legislative update on his activities during the past session of the legislature, where Boyd served his first term in the Florida House of Representatives.

McClash told Boyd that the state's growth management regime had provided "guiding principles" to the state's 67 counties, and that they were needed in the future to harmonize the development process all across Florida. The alternative is fragmented planning that varies from county to county, he said.

He urged Boyd to reconsider the marginalization of the Dept. of Community Services, the state agency that acted as the final backstop for local growth and compliance throughout the state. That responsibility was handed to county commissioners at the end of the session with strong backing from Boyd and from Bradenton's Sen. Mike Bennett in the State Senate..

Commissioner Bustle

Manatee County, McClash said, has some 30,000 to 31,000 lots that "have some form of approval" to start building, and that those would be enough inventory "for the next 10 years." That sort of observation is guaranteed to draw the ire of growth-minded politicians who seem to want an endless number of homes built here.

When the Commission resumed after Boyd's talk and segued into commissioner comments, Bustle, a conservative Republican and former Mayor of Palmetto, seemed angry as he charged that "past commissions" were responsible for sprawl.

McClash, a Republican who generally votes with the commission's smaller moderate bloc, quickly responded that he had voted on several occasions recently against projects remote from the county's historic core that were called sprawl, and that on those occasions, Bustle voted for those projects.

As for the past commissions - McClash is the county's longest-serving member, with 20 years of service behind him - McClash asked Bustle to produce "some facts" instead of engaging in "mudslinging."

The ex-New Yorker, who came to Florida in the 8th grade and was a middle-school classmate of Bradenton Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey told Bustle he was tired of hearing and watching undocumented assertions in political campaigns that are later proven false. McClash has frequently said it is the beauty of the county that has often enthralled and captivated him as a resident, and thatnhe has been a strong proponent of focused growth and environmental preservation.

Bustle, for his part, trotted out an oft-quoted observation that "People are entitled to their own opinions, but no one is entitled to their own facts," and ended his comment.

"Just show me some facts," McClash responded, getting the last word of the exchange.

Commission chair Carol Whitmore had turned over the gavel to Commissioner John Chappie during the exchange and left the chambers briefly.

Chappie noted that at times he has been testy, too, and called on commissioners to "respect" one another. In fact, they are ordinarily very civil, even when differences become public, and no one crossed the line Tuesday.

The spat over sprawl was over by the time Whitmore returned to adjourn the meeting.

"I guess I missed the fireworks," she told The Bradenton Times later.


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