Changes needed to Land Development Code to shape future

Internet shopping, drone delivery, self-driving cars, Segways and hover boards, telemedicine, more people working from home -- and so much more -- are changes happening to our world, and whether you like it or not, the millennials and following generations are going to drive these changes inour community.

Changes in policy are needed to address these new realities, and a major part of that change will be how the government either supports the free market or tries to force its will on the business and citizens of Citrus County.

In the upcoming months, we will deal with things like the budget and other issues that have an effect on the running of our county on a day-to-day basis. These are normal, annual discussions, and we will have some very spirited conversation. I hope many people will be involved in these conversation as we work to deal with millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

However, this article is about something that less people are likely to be thinking about, and yet in the long run, with our changing world, will have a much larger impact on what our community will look like, how we help deal with the challenges to business and how we plan for the changes in our society as it's being driven by millennials.

I want to address the Land Development Code.

This code is the guide book for the community and our growth, helping guide what our community will look like, how business is to be integrated in the community and how our infrastructure will be constructed. Our Commission chair has rightfully commented recently on the need to address the Land Development Code, and I fully support this. I hope that we can start thinking about this now, in such a way that provides foresight, thinking about the new normal that is being driven by technology and millennials.

You see our Land Development Code was written by what people saw as the needs of the community at the time, rightly focusing on protecting our sense of community, our history and working to support growth in such a way that it guided it away from negatively impacting our environment by guiding it towards the Central Ridge region. The majority of this should not be changed, we need a strong sense of protection for our history and the environment and yet I would suggest there's steps we must take that could advance those goals, while at the same time look to the future.

So let's start the discussion with something's that are on my mind.

First, we need to look at the impact of technology. In our new changing world, we are seeing more people working administrative jobs from home, millennials who want the suburban life will drive less, more people of all ages are buying on line and the amount of people eating out instead of cooking at homes has increased, all because of the ability to find online what is available in the community to eat. Much of this is because of the
changes in technology and will have a societal change that we need to be ready for, because as I just discussed, we will have less pollution and need for cars but our restaurants should see an uptick in business.

Yet here are some examples on how the Land Development Code currently requires things that aren't needed, such as any new mobile home park being developed still having to have a separate laundry facility, even though most mobile homes come with washer and dryers. Town centers can have apartments on the second floor, with buildings being a minimum of two floors but no more than three and this means that if you do build a town center, a person can live on the second floor but not on the third floor.

These are some examples of yesterday's way of thinking that will need to be changed because they are rules about yesterday's world.

None of this addresses the new way the millennials are starting to live. It does not address the issues of tiny homes, the fact that walkable communities will also include people wanting to living in the actual walkable communities, drone delivery and self-driving cars.

We should not only think about these challenges, but also how we can guide the older locations that are empty storefronts (plazas, strip malls and other businesses) into a more usable community. Just imagine that the empty strip malls become residential, medical, retail and restaurants or that assisted-living facilities are constructed there to allow a truly livable area for seniors to enjoy.

There is so much promise for change to our community and we should take advantage of what we have, as well as guide the future of new building. We need to allow for certain things like communities that allow for retail and others on the ground floor as well as residential on the floors above, and to do that we would need to allow a total of five floors for areas like that.

In the Guardian newspaper, a recent article about retail shops closing up in larger cities struck me. “Brick-and-mortar stores will exist in the future but there will be fewer of them,” the report predicted. “A new model of delivering not only products, but also genuine brand experiences is emerging. People are social by nature and will be drawn to gathering places to share ideas and be entertained. It’s not just about making money. It’s about building trust. Retailers who tap into this trend will be rewarded.”

That means, for instance, that stores and banks could end up offering more than just retail or banking services and come to add some aspect of community cohesion. Perhaps, crucially, the report found that brands will have to more clearly enunciate their reason for being. “Shoppers are reaching a tipping point around American consumption,” it read. “Feelings of angst about acquiring too much ‘stuff’ is driving a shift toward purchasing experiences rather than things,” the article states.

We should understand these changes in our communities and work to have multi-use for smaller areas, walkable communities, reduce the required parking for some of the larger lots because of the lack of retail shopping and even authorize super compact parking for the self-driving cars to park because of the lack of the need for storm water runoff.

There are so many things that we need to think about and this article is specifically to say that we need to start the discussion now, and we need to have true foresight.

We talk about the young being the future. It's time we shape our community to fulfill their needs, as well as address the potential issues of the future while facing the changes driven by technology.

As always this is simply my view and I bring this subject up to start the discussion, because whether you agree or don't, if you're not a part of the conversation, you shouldn't be surprised when the future isn't what you thought it would be.

Jimmie T. Smith,
Citrus County Commissioner, District 3