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Hernando prepares for final public input on comprehensive plan

By Barbara Behrendt

BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners on Tuesday will gather what was to be the last round of public comment on what the future of Hernando County will look like between now and 2040, before sending the county’s comprehensive plan to the state for review.

For more than a year, county planners and members of the public interested in helping have worked to form the blueprint for future growth. The draft has gone through several incarnations, with the first based largely on the planning staff’s updates and modernizing. This is the first major plan rewrite in 27 years.

On Tuesday, commissioners decided to prolong the process a bit longer. They still will hold their public hearing next week, but they want to continue that hearing until January to allow discussion of the future land-use map, which is related to the plan. Then, they will send the comprehensive plan to Tallahassee for review by the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Business leaders have been pushing for map updates to be considered as soon as possible, but several commissioners said they had not yet seen specific proposals, which could change land use designations in parts of the county. Several commissioners said setting the January deadline might prompt those who want changes to release them in detail.

The plan already has been divisive.

Once the draft plan was made public, residents and the County Commission urged changes that would make requirements that were previously mandated instead suggested. They also would cut some sections regarding wildlife corridors and other environmental protections, including previous wording about environmentally sensitive lands, would push for more protection of property rights and expand the economic development element of the plan.

Those suggestions brought strong push back from others who wanted protections for the environment, smart-growth initiatives, green building, drinking water and energy conservation, among other issues. They also sought bans on fracking for oil exploration and the expansion of mining land.

The two sides grappled over whether the revisions made for a better plan or a weaker plan.

Commissioners have stuck with the argument that the plan is a compromise and that no one is happy with everything proposed within it. When the county Planning and Zoning Commission held its public hearing on transmission of the plan last month, it voted to recommend the version previously approved by the County Commission.

One significant change in the current draft includes increasing allowed residential densities from the current 16 units per acre to 22 units per acre county wide. The county’s population is projected to increase from the April estimate of 181,878 to 236,200 by 2040.

After the state review, the County Commission will take up the plan one more time for final approval. The original target date was March, but that likely will be extended.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.