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COLUMN

Council watch

Billy Manes pays attention to city government so you don't have to

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There was a deceptive tenor to this week's glibly executed city smile-a-thon, one that carried a weight that could bore a hole in everything we've come to know and love about glibly smiling. The real issue – beyond the talk of "stud boats" and "dud boats" – came in a presentation about the threat to local prosperity should Amendment 4 pass in the November election. The proposed cap on property-tax revenues the amendment would bring could send local governments into a tax-or-cut-services spiral that would ensure that nobody in power when it happened would ever be reelected again. Uh-oh.
"We built this state entirely on growth," Commissioner Robert Stuart surmised, "but when the growth stops … you can't even go back in the black again."
In other words: Who made who?

Item: The city adopts an ordinance amending and restating the Mills Park planned-development zoning regulations.
Translation: Like the proverbial Godot of Orlando development concerns, Mills Park has been an aspirational flight of fancy for longer than anyone can remember. Rising from the ashes of the old Depression-era Mills-Nebraska lumberyard, the dusty chasm of doubt has been hemmed and hawed over since its first brush with development in 1993, finally reaching its blueprinted apex of "luxury" condo life amid a $350 million sea of retail and medical hotspots in 2005 (and then, even bigger, in 2007). Not if 2008 had anything to do with it! The crash of the condo boom sucked the life out of the property, sending choruses of naysayers and tumbleweeds into perpetually rotating tizzies. "It's never going to happen!" said everyone. Earlier this year, the announcement that a Fresh Market would open in the space signaled a new era of prosperity for the maligned parcel, and a fresh batch of developers (abetted by the old batch) came to the rescue, even managing to kick lone holdout Lust Cash Transactor to the curb for a pittance of $400,000. Super-development rises again! "Not so fast," said someone who owns an adjoining property; though said owner had initially agreed to live in the shadow of the New Miniature Baldwin Park (the new developers have a controlling interest in that success story), he quickly filed a motion to block the city from approving the plans. Legal nonsense followed over the summer (apparently an attorney didn't show up), and eventually a settlement was drafted forcing the developers to install a black-painted wrought-iron fence between the new and the old, because that makes all the difference in the world. Let's see if we're still talking about this Godot in 20 years.

Item: The city approves a third amendment to its agreement with HNTB Corporation to provide architectural and engineering services for the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium renovation.
Translation: Talk about a holding pattern. The recently resuscitated locker-room fantasy of a shiny new Citrus Bowl for nobody to attend continues along its speculative path this week with this three-month stopgap measure – a third amendment, even – intended to buy time for architectural-design firm HNTB to come up with the eventual (very expensive) plans that will comprise the initial agreement's fourth amendment. What that means is that HNTB will spend 45 days doing a market study to determine just how badly the public desires glamorous club, endzone and sideline seating as well as spectacular facade design. Then, for the following 45 days, there will be more meetings, some pens pressing to paper and probably a PowerPoint or two. The city will give HNTB $385,000 over this three-month party, with an additional $15,000 "allowance" allotted for, well, snacks. You can probably guess who's winning at this game.

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