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Third time's the charm for rezoning

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Vote marred by developer's comments about commissioners

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

It took three tries, but despite the opposition of his neighbors, developer Darryl Diamond won a 3-2 vote of the Levy County Commission to rezone four acres of property along U.S. Highway 19 near Inglis to allow the building of offices and a mini storage facility.

The vote in which Commissioners Danny Stevens of Williston (R-District 5) and Mike Joyner of Morrison (R-District 3) dissented, did not come without some controversy, something his other two applications also encountered. Voting in favor were Commissioners John Meeks (R-District 1), who made the motion to approve the change, Chad Johnson (R-District 2) who seconded the motion and Ryan Bell (R-District 4) and the commission chair. 

Stevens said before the vote, “I don't believe I've seen a subject property that has had the controversy that this has had.”

In 2008, opponents brought photographs to show that part of the land could be deemed environmentally sensitive as it held water. Diamond said on Tuesday he met with former Commissioner Tony Parker after that vote to work out how to achieve the rezoning. In 2009 Diamond also told the commission that  former Commissioner Sammy Yearty’s and Parker’s votes against his proposed development were “tainted” because of their subsequent indictment on federal bribery charges. 

Almost a year ago to the day, April 3, 2012, the County Commission refused the rezoning by a 2-3 vote with Bell and Johnson voting in favor and Stevens, Joyner and then-Commissioner Marsha Drew (R-District 3) voting against after questions were raised about the completeness of the application. 

One objection raised by residents in the two public hearings is that the rezoning would allow construction of a bar on land next to a residential area. 

The issue was raised again on Tuesday but Diamond said, “There won't be a bar,” because he has  inserted deed restrictions prohibiting such developments.

While residents could protest allowing a special exception to the zoning for a privately owned bar, a non-profit organization like the Moose or a veterans group is exempt from the special exception requirements and could operate serving alcohol on the property.

The latest controversy on this third application centered on comments Diamond made at the March 4 county Planning Commission meeting. 

Claudia Keiser, a neighbor and opponent of the development, said “ Diamond was asked, 'What makes you think this Board of County Commissioners will vote differently than the last board, seeing as nothing has changed with your application,' to which Mr. Diamond replied that he knew some of you even before you were elected and he feels you will vote in his favor.”

Keiser, reading from a prepared statement, said, “We were astonished at this response by Mr. Diamond. I was so astonished that my jaw dropped! To indicate such a relationship at a pubic meeting is appalling.” Keiser said she went to the county development office the week after the March 4 meeting to listen to the tape of the meeting to make sure she correctly heard Diamond.

“Well, I did hear it right, that's exactly what he said, that he knew some of you before you were even a commissioner and he thought you would probably vote in his favor.”

Stevens said he was disturbed by the “comments made before that board that we were corrupt.”

Joyner, a twice-retired sheriff's deputy, said, “There's a lot of things people may say about me, but I am not corrupt.”

Johnson said, “I am concerned about the comment that was made and I recommend you be cautious with your statements.” Johnson went on to say while he supports property rights “the drinking issue” will have to come before the commissioners for approval. 

Meeks said, “I'm offended by these comments. That people would even believe that I would go along with that.” He said his vote “does not have to do with any prior meetings.”

Diamond, who addressed the commissioners twice, did not make any reference to his planning commission statements.  

 

The planning commission, with two members absent, voted 3-0 to not recommend the zoning change. 

One reason for the vote against the property is that Diamond did not present documentation assuring the project would not have a detrimental effect on neighboring property values. During Tuesday's public hearing, Rick Younger, a real estate broker, said he did a study of the effect that construction of a Dollar General in Inglis has on surrounding property and he found the residential values only went down by 2 percent. 

Bell also mentioned, after questions were raised about the size of the proposed mini-storage operation, that no site plan accompanied the rezoning request.