The recently approved Sunrise proposal split much of this county, just like any other major residential development in recent years.
Of course, the Sunrise debate was the first real county residential conflict in a new economic era. The credit collapse punctured the housing bubble, which had become the mother’s milk of our economy due to the desertion of manufacturing.
Without home building, our nation is now like the sleeper who wakes disoriented in an unfamiliar room. How will the housing market regain its feet? How will the credit market flow again in a more responsible way? More importantly, how will we regain lost jobs? How will we move forward to brighter days?
The owner of Madison County’s lone golf course approached county commissioners recently with this economic darkness shadowing our lives. His proposal was the same one commissioners shot down twice before: a tightly clustered senior residential community of more than 200 houses on a drastically modified course, one that will be reduced from a par 72 to a par 57 setup, with a length of 2,605 yards from the back tees, which is less than half the length of a typical 6,000-7,000-yard traditional setup.
This debate linked two, very separate issues: the survival of a long-time business and the acceptance of a unique residential development in the county.
The Sunrise proposal was framed as a way to save the golf course. But commissioners didn’t stipulate that the golf course remain open. How could they, anyway? Can a county government mandate that a business owner stay in business against his will, lest they block the door armed with a hammer and sickle?
Perhaps the rezoning improves the likelihood that the course will remain open, but given the shaky ground that so many businesses find themselves on — particularly golf courses — the Sunrise residential development should really have been considered on its own merits, quite separately from the golf course.
But the two were linked. And honestly, I just can’t make this development work in my head, just can’t shake a core level of pessimism about the proposal. As a former obsessed golfer, I can’t imagine many folks getting excited about leaving the driver in the bag to play a 2,600-yard course amid a tightly clustered retirement community. I can’t really imagine people buying into the senior village without more shopping and medical options in the immediate area.
Like others, I wondered why the board would vote “No” twice, then change their minds. Of course, one new BOC member voted in favor of the development, but the proposal would have passed even without that vote.
One thing to consider is that a loud chorus of “No” in such a negative climate is a tough thing for many to take right now. There is a deep yearning to be positive in the face of this economic collapse. No one is taking risks now. No one is lending money. No one is building much of anything. We are drowning in oppressive negativity. We hate it in others. We hate it in ourselves. I don’t even want to be around myself much of the time these days. I am constantly at battle with that ugly inner voice. I’m sure a lot of you are, too.
So a person appears before county leaders and offers a plan basically to add a small city to the county. The plan flies in the face of all of today’s news. For some, it sounds like a promise of a brighter county housing future, of a recovered local market, of a way to keep more jobs from leaving the county.
While commissioners surely weighed the details of the Sunrise request, there is no ignoring the large, ever-looming negativity of the economic climate. This was surely on their shoulders, too, just like everyone else. In fact, who doesn’t recognize that the pervasive negativity in our environment is an accelerant in our downward economic spiral?
Say what you will about the Sunrise proposal. You may be for it. You may be against it. But the BOC’s “Yes” vote was, at least on a purely emotional level, a defiant act of optimism amid a gloom-and-doom economy. To vote “No,” the commissioners would have taken the negative road on the only major housing proposal in this county in quite some time.
Perhaps their vote was foolhardy, perhaps prescient. Only time will tell if the light breaks through today’s darkness for a new Sunrise, and if the defiant “Yes” is a long-term positive or negative.
But beyond Sunrise, I think any Madison County development battles in the near future will be viewed with that deep need for economic optimism churning in the gut of many. This may or may not affect BOC votes, but in troubled times, you can’t deny that an optimistic “Yes” has the emotional edge over the pessimistic “No.”
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.