Far be it from me to come off arrogant, but a Slug does have to pat itself on the back every now and again, especially if no other media outlet is willing to do it. I mean, hell, this is a market where you can write a 3,500-word story on the wrongs of a certain pest-control company, and see the same story pop up on a certain TV station hyped as a "Problem Solvers exclusive investigation."
Readers of this space will recall the Pepperhill Park fiasco, in which commissioner Daisy Lynum's friends and associates sought $3.5 million in land and cash from the city to build 36 townhomes and three commercial spaces. After breaking the story, we then reported that when asked to amend its proposal and take out the government subsidy, Urban Renaissance Development, LLC, headed by Inez Long, flatly refused.
Fortunately, the city's selection committee put this thing away for good April 13. By a unanimous vote, and after 17 minutes of committee members blasting URD for seeking a deal outside the terms of the request for proposals -- which stated that the developer would be responsible for all construction costs -- the committee rejected URD's bid.
Would it have been so without this wildly popular column's light-shedding activities? Perhaps. Even with Lynum's presence at both ends of the deal -- she's a director in Long's nonprofit Black Business Investment Fund of Central Florida, Inc., and she voted to appoint the city's selection committee members -- URD's bid was laughable from top to bottom.
But you never know. And since Slug's in a credit-taking mood, I figure saving taxpayers millions is worth a key to the city. Or at least a beer.
Eberle vs. UCF, round two
If you ever find yourself on the other side of an environmental issue as Sue Eberle, I pity you. Not because she's an amazing public speaker -- she reads nervously from her notes and her voice shakes -- but because she brings intensity and a sheer determination to make herself heard to her battles. She'll do the voluminous research, she'll contact every news organization from here to Washington, D.C., she'll lose sleep fretting about the damage to the ecosystem and at the end of the day she'll do her best to make sure that the environment is protected.
Of course, she doesn't always -- or even usually -- win. And although she sometimes grows cynical, she never quits. Eberle's become a persistent thorn in the side of developers seeking to bulldoze environmentally sensitive portions of east Orange County and, more recently, the University of Central Florida.
This goes back to January, 2003, when UCF's 13 trustees -- all Jeb Bush appointees -- approved a 10-year master plan allowing the school to add 9,000 more students by 2010, bulldoze a gopher-tortoise preserve to accommodate more Greek housing, trash its arboretum in favor of a parking garage (which lends literalism to the Joni Mitchell song) and construct a 218-acre golf course on land that might be in the Econlockhatchee River floodplain.
Eberle, the co-conservation chair of the Sierra Club, Central Florida Group, fought back and complained to the state's Department of Community Affairs that the master plan was not in compliance with state law. In early December, the DCA held informal hearings, after which it ruled heavily in Eberle's favor, recommending that UCF move its proposed Greek housing out of the so-called "northwest quadrant," and make that housing higher density to better accommodate the influx of students. The DCA arbitrators also said UCF should justify its golf course before building it -- good luck -- and make sure neither the possible golf course nor any new buildings on the east side of campus fall into the Econ floodplain.
So for Eberle, it was a rare win in her now decade-long battle to force UCF president John Hitt to grow the school responsibly. But as with everything else, it seems, the battle isn't over yet.
The DCA's recommendations must first be approved by the governor and his cabinet. And this is where Eberle fears she may lose ground. Jeb's not exactly what you'd call a die-hard enviro, and it was his appointees that backed Hitt's master plan in the first place.
But more importantly, the day before her meeting with two cabinet aides on March 29, she says her lawyer was told DCA was going to reverse its own recommendations, presumably at the administration's request. In fact, she called me the afternoon of March 28, nearly in tears and convinced that everything she'd worked for was going to evaporate amidst Tallahassee power politics.
But it hasn't happened yet. On April 21, Eberle and UCF will give their presentations to Jeb's cabinet staff, which will then make a recommendation to the governor and his cabinet, who in turn will decide on April 29 whether to uphold the DCA's environmental recommendations, or allow UCF to bulldoze at will.
Since day one, Hitt has lusted after the perception that his university is a prestigious, first-run institution, and has done damn near anything to make that stick. And if UCF's neighbors, or students (who can't get the classes they need to graduate) or now the campus' green spaces are adversely affected, then so be it.
Someone needs to stand up to this man and his administration, and bring a semblance of accountability and neighborly responsibility into the equation. The DCA did its job. Now it's time for Jeb to do his.
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