Make us your home page
Instagram

Developer wants to farm on his land near downtown Brooksville

“I want to farm,” said Tom Malouf, 65, who owns 147 acres on U.S. 98 and Yontz Road. He is taking the unusual step of asking that his land be rezoned for agricultural use.

DAN DeWITT | Times

“I want to farm,” said Tom Malouf, 65, who owns 147 acres on U.S. 98 and Yontz Road. He is taking the unusual step of asking that his land be rezoned for agricultural use.

Draw up plans to build 530 townhouses and homes on farmland a couple of miles from downtown Brooksville. Set aside a few acres for shopping. Give it a phony, upper-class name — Covington Hill — and, presto, you've got a can't-miss business proposition.

At least a group of investors from Naples thought so. In 2006, they paid $4.5 million for 147 acres of land with those generous development approvals at the northwest corner of U.S. 98 and Yontz Road.

As evidence — if we really need it — that things have since slowed down a bit, a bank sold this property in May for $550,000.

The buyer, Tom Malouf of Tampa, is convinced we're in for a lot more than an economic slowdown. He sees a long period of housing doldrums, high unemployment and wages low enough that native-born Americans might actually be willing to do old-fashioned agricultural labor.

"We're going backwards," Malouf said.

And if you want to see this for yourself, if you want to actually witness our recent economic history rolling in reverse, check out the rezoning application he recently submitted to county planners.

I've never seen such a request. Neither has Ron Pianta, Hernando County's land services director. The only thing close in Pasco County, said Lee Mallard, assistant zoning director, came from a property owner north of Dade City who had permission to sell large residential lots and asked for permission to sell larger ones.

See, Malouf is not only asking for his land to be rezoned from residential to agricultural; he actually wants to farm the land.

To understand the huge trend he's bucking, consider that in recent decades landowners have received permission to build 57,702 lots in Hernando County that are still empty, many of them on formerly agricultural land. Farmland wasn't really farmland; it was fallow ground for a future crop of stucco.

Malouf has already fenced off a pasture for a high-grade variety of horse hay called Tifton 44. His main cash crop will be blueberries or, maybe, one of the newly developed breeds of peaches that thrive in Florida's warm climate. He will plant row crops such as okra, tomatoes and melon — not for the mass market, but to feed himself and maybe sell at produce stands.

To do all of this, he needs to clear the woods that cover large areas of the undulating property. And that's the main reason — freedom from bureaucratic obstacles to working his land — that he's asking for the zoning change. If he just wanted to lower his property tax bill, he said, he would buy more cows and claim a greenbelt exemption, just like the owners of a lot of other big, stalled developments.

"I want to farm," said Malouf, 65. "I don't want to build."

This attitude is especially strange — some people have even called him "crazy," he said — because Malouf is also a developer.

A former co-owner of Abraham Chevrolet in Tampa, he owns three Beef 'O' Brady's franchises, including the one in Brooksville, and built Horse Lake Plaza, where the restaurant is located. Spend any time with him and he'll tell you he's got one more site available that would be perfect for a steakhouse. He'll probably ask if you know anybody who might be interested.

People like this, with a lot of money invested, don't generally like the idea of prolonged reversals in our economy. But as Malouf describes it, this could have some upsides:

Maybe landowners would stop dreaming about big, easy payoffs and think about the smaller, regular ones that come with hard work. Our community might become known for its blueberries or peaches rather than foreclosures. Prices of land could stay low enough that farming actually makes economic sense.

And, hopefully, people who want to take on the honorable job of raising healthy food won't be called crazy.

Developer wants to farm on his land near downtown Brooksville 08/30/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 7:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus

    Retail

    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.
[SCOTT KEELER  |  TIMES]

  3. Boho Hunter will target fashions in Hyde Park

    Business

    Boho Hunter, a boutique based in Miami's Wynwood District, will expand into Tampa with its very first franchise.

    Palma Canaria bags will be among the featured items at Boho Hunter when it opens in October. Photo courtesy of Boho Hunter.
  4. Gallery now bringing useful art to Hyde Park customers

    Business

    HYDE PARK — In 1998, Mike and Sue Shapiro opened a gallery in St. Petersburg along Central Ave., with a majority of the space dedicated to Sue's clay studio.

     As Sue Shapiro continued to work on her pottery in St. Petersburg, her retail space grew and her studio shrunk. Now Shapiro's is bringing wares like these to Hyde Park Village. Photo courtesy of Shapiro's.
  5. Appointments at Raymond James Bank and Saint Leo University highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers

    Business

    Banking

    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. Jackson will oversee all of Raymond James Bank's operational business elements, risk management and strategic planning functions. Kackson joins Raymond James Bank after senior …

    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. [Company handout]