Nowhere is that desire to grow greater than in the small city of Hawthorne, a place which in most states would be called a town, but has an active advocacy organization known as the Florida League of Cities. The League has organized towns as small as three hundred in population here in Alachua County, with the corporate status giving them access to a powerful base of support intent on urbanizing every square inch of Florida.
The City of Hawthorne has an energetic mayor who is leading the charge. Matt Surrency is a decent man, a man who I call a friend and one who is always open to discussion. But in the push to grow, fueled by the influence of the few which will impact the many, strains have been significant between city dwellers and those who live in the adjacent unincorporated lands.
As a rural dweller myself, it is hard to find any advantage to my life by forcing long term residents to carry the weight of the changes to their own personal detriment. And, of course, political leaders always like to talk about growth as a godsend, growing the tax base and adding opportunity, yet in the end the promises usually never match up with the outcome. Developers come and developers go and they usually walk away with a pile of cash while those remaining behind are left with the cost. And, of course, it's not just here in North Florida, it's everywhere across America and we are just now seeing what those costs are going to be.
Now I'm not suggesting that we stop development. Of course, there are developments which can be a positive to a community which can add jobs and are good for all in the area, both within and outside the city limits. This is what all of us should seek. But when the developer is really just a landowner, a landowner who by his own submission wants the rezoning to maximize the land value and to this day has no real information to pass on about what will result, the red flag must go up. The people adjacent to the action, in this case people who are not even in the city limits (even including an organic farmer), have great fears for their homesteads and their lives and nothing is being done to abate those fears.
Last night there was a first hearing on the project and a number of citizens in the surrounding area voiced their concerns. Without really addressing those issues, in fact, without even commenting on them, a bare quorum of three on a commission of five, voted unanimously to approve the first reading. Sadly, the Mayor himself was absent. The proposal will now go forward for an additional reading and final vote in early April.
And what about the hopes, dreams and fears of those neighbors who, in the words a city planning commission member must sacrifice for the good of the others? I guess they will have to just wonder what their fate will hold and try to adjust accordingly. There's no reason that this should end this way, but for a landowner and his own selfish desires. Hawthorne could reasonably develop in a way which would make all area residents proud, both within and outside of the city. But the old saying about money and bull excrement lives on. As long as money and power overrule common sense and laws are made by politicians on behalf of well-heeled donors, I guess we should figure it will be no different.