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Monday, December 13, 2004

Butler's Money Talks

Count me as not-the-least-bit-surprised that shopping mall magnate Clark Butler was able to wrangle federal money for his planned expansion of Butler Plaza. It's how the system works – you give a lot of money to a candidate, the candidate gets elected, and you call in the favor.

Butler has given a lot of money to our Congressional representatives, at least enough to buy him this substantial favor, despite it being at odds with the County Commission's transportation plans.

Worse, Butler's needs – which boil down to new roads that will allow him to make millions in profit – apparently were more important to our reps in Washington, D.C., than were the priorities of local elected officials, because many of their requested transportation programs did not get funded.

Now it remains to be seen how the County Commission responds. At issue is Southwest 24th Avenue, a dirt road running from Southwest 34th Street west to Southwest 42nd Street, through a mostly undeveloped area. Several years ago, the county worked with citizens to develop a student village plan for this area, meaning student residences and road facilities that favored biking, walking and taking the bus to and from the UF campus.

Southwest 24th Avenue was to be a paved two-lane road. Butler later announced that he wanted to expand Butler Plaza to the north from its current location, into the same basic area planned for the student village.

Because of the size of his plans, he needs 24th Avenue to be a four-lane road, to guarantee to state transportation officials that there is enough road capacity to handle the additional traffic his project would generate.

Butler offered to personally subsidize part of the plan, but it still required the county to pay far more for the road project than planned, and it went against the student village concept for the area. The County Commission narrowly voted the four-land idea down.

The commission's composition has changed – Penny Wheat, who voted to tow-lane the road, retired and was replaced by Paula DeLaney, who, in her first speech as a commissioner, thanked Butler personally. Butler was standing in the back of the room, beaming like the Grinch before he stole the Who's Christmas.

It does not take a genius, does it? DeLaney has never shied away from approving development proposals and has shown little interest in managing growth. I cautioned many people who supported her in her recent campaign for the commission that she was talking a good talk but would quickly abandon their managed growth agenda as soon as it was expedient.

Let's see if she proves me wrong.

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