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Genuine neighborhood store in Aripeka already has neighbors

I visited Norfleet Fish Camp this week to help clear up the County Commission's apparent confusion about the true nature of a neighborhood store.

That's what it is now, a store, the name being a vestige of the original business started in the 1930s by the father of the current owner, Carl Norfleet, 67.

If you are lucky enough to be one of the 350 or so residents of the coastal community of Aripeka, Norfleet's market is where you pick up your beer, milk or cold cuts.

Handymen who want to advertise their services are free to tack a flier on its bulletin board. Anglers can pick up a sinker or lure — the place is so packed with them it can feel like the inside of a tackle box — or one of the fishing poles on sale for the bargain price of $19.95.

"Cheaper than Wally World. Guaranteed!!'' says the sign above the display.

So, to review: A neighborhood store has a history with the people who live around it.

It must welcome these people, as Norfleet's welcomed the mourners who showed up after a fire destroyed the nearby home and studio of painter Jim Rosenquist in April, or the coffee drinkers who gather every morning, Norfleet said, to "make the world's decisions.''

And it must reflect the community's spirit, as Norfleet's does with its touting of nautical-based recreation over toil. "Gone sailing,'' says a sign posted on the front of the store. "I'll work tomorrow.''

Now let's compare Norfleet's to the so-called neighborhood store proposed at Tuesday's commission meeting by Brooksville real estate agent Buddy Selph, who represented the business' developers, including Brooksville lawyer Tom Hogan and former road builder Gary Grubbs.

It will be a bait-and-tackle emporium like Bass Pro Shops, a local produce market, an upscale wine and cheese store and, finally, Selph told the commission, a community gathering place.

Thank you, county Planning Department, for raising the obvious question: What community?

The store is planned for the corner of Osowaw and Shoal Line boulevards, on a 1.66-acre plot surrounded by pine trees and palmettos, and roughly a mile from the north side of Aripeka, the southern tip of Hernando Beach, and the strip of big-box stores on U.S. 19, including Walmart and Sports Authority.

The land is zoned residential, though it is also in a coastal flood zone and designated for conservation by the county's comprehensive plan.

Yes, the county allows the approval of "neighborhood commercial'' development on land zoned for residential use, which is what the commission voted to do Tuesday.

But the idea of that rule is to serve neighborhoods that are already there, or at least planned.

The planning report, meanwhile, describes the store site as "isolated and not proximate to the communities it is proposed to serve.''

Of course, this is only a store, and not a huge one — 10,500 square feet of floor space — and no gas pumps, thanks to a compromise proposed by Commissioner Jeff Stabins.

But this decision might mean something more, because it showed that all of the commissioners other than Rose Rocco were willing to ignore a thoughtful recommendation from the planning staff.

Let's hope this isn't a preview of next month, when the commission will face the monumental decision of whether to support the massive Quarry Preserve. The planners aren't crazy about that project, either.

Also, the commission's vote Tuesday could lead to renewal of the request to build a park for recreational vehicles on the 24 acres across the street from the store site — a plan the same developers withdrew last year in the face of fierce community opposition.

No, sorry. The developers just wanted a chance to sell the property for conservation purposes to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Selph said.

That didn't work out, he said, because the district couldn't offer as much as the property was potentially worth if developed as a park.

He said he may ask for approval to build the RV park just for that reason: to increase the price. Hopefully, the commissioners won't go for that — granting an undesirable land use for the sake of wringing more money out of taxpayers.

It's also possible — though there are no immediate plans for this, Selph said — that the developers would actually build the park.

After all, they have a neighborhood store that could sure use a neighborhood.

Genuine neighborhood store in Aripeka already has neighbors 12/10/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 10, 2009 8:16pm]
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