Some dumps cost more than others
Once upon a time there was a lady who lived in a little pink cottage in a kingdom by the sea. The lady’s name was Susette Kelo and you may call the kingdom New London, Conn. The lady’s cottage was not one of the best in the kingdom but neither was it among the worst, and she loved it. Her neighbors lived peacefully in homes of equal worth, loving their neighborhood, and so they were all content — until tragedy struck.
This is a lesson in hubris, and let it be a lesson for us all.
Misfortune befell Ms. Kelo because the rulers of the kingdom knew that happiness could not buy money, and so they schemed. They lured the mighty Pfizer, king of pharmaceuticals, to build a research castle housing some 1,300 serfs in return for taxes so low that even a corporate giant could hardly refuse. It produced little in the way of taxes but that didn’t matter because Pfizer was only bait.
With Pfizer’s employees in town, the kingdom’s rulers summoned a developer to create taxable wonders. Where? Where the little pink cottage of Ms. Kelo stands, they replied, and on the lands of her neighbors.
The homeowners declared that their rulers could not take their neighborhood since it was neither a slum nor was it blighted, but the rulers cried, “Eminent domain!” The owners said eminent domain had never been used to take property and give it to other owners for higher taxes. But after a long and hard battle, the highest judges of the land said Ms. Kelo and her neighbors had to go. They were offered monetary compensation for their losses — surely not enough to compensate for the disruption of their lives — and were threatened with further dire consequences if they fought on. “Yes we can do that,” rulers said, and they could not have been more right.
So Ms. Kelo and her neighbors vanished. The rulers of New London summoned the developer and said they could now develop. They said they could build offices and upscale condos. They could and would even build a hotel where no hotel had ever stood before. Yes they could, they said — and they couldn’t have been more wrong.
The developer soon returned to them with empty hands. He had no money to build with, he said, and there were none who would lend any. And he vanished into the mist.
Oops and double oops! Pfizer discovered that its free ride was about to end. Its tax benefits were about to expire and its taxes would increase four hundredfold. Pfizer and all its payroll vanished into the mist.
It was a long while before new occupants were found for the vacant Pfizer castle. And it was a longer while before the kingdom found any use for the land on which a little pink cottage had once stood. But in the end, it became a municipal dump. Honest! The kingdom had one of the world’s most expensive municipal dumps — covering more than 90 acres of ground at a cost to the public of about 78 million bucks.
And that brings us to Whitney Beach.
After hearing many residents urge caution and restraint, the Longboat commissioners decided the other day to undo what they had recently done. Then they redid what they had recently undone. And when they were done, no one seems to know exactly what they had done. So they kicked the proverbial can down the proverbial road for a few weeks. Ultimately, they will probably restore the special overlay district that no property owner in the putative district has publicly requested or seems to want.
As the meeting was winding down, one commissioner chastised the audience, apparently for disliking some of the board’s wishes. And another commissioner explained that the overlay didn’t really mean anything since the property owners would have to request what the overlay might already appear to have given them. If such is the case, why bother now? I can think of only two possible explanations, neither of which may be correct:
Possible explanation No. 1: The board wants to look as if it had solved the problem, and then kick that old can even farther down the road. So far, in fact, that the commissioners’ terms will have expired and successors will have to deal with any future uproar if overlay district property owners ever return to cash what they might regard as an IOU.
Possible explanation No. 2: Some members of the board actually want a municipal dump on Gulf of Mexico Drive.