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Hernando commission okays huge development north of Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE — With the County Commission's approval Tuesday of the 4,282-acre Quarry Preserve project north of Brooksville, Hernando County will get what developers call a "new town."

On a split vote, commissioners accepted the huge development, which developer Brooksville Quarry LLC sold as a project that will set the standard for future developments in the county.

The project, in a mined-out rock quarry, would include up to 5,800 residential units of mixed types, 200 lodging units, a business park with up to 850,000 square feet of office space and 545,000 square feet of commercial space, a portion of that grouped in a town center.

A school site between 26 and 35 acres, two golf courses and a public-use site are also part of the plan.

That plan now goes back to the Florida Department of Community Affairs for a final review.

The developer has worked with various state, regional and local land planners for nearly five years to fine-tune the proposal.

The formal approval process required commissioners to accept both a change in the county's comprehensive plan, which is its formal blueprint for growth, and the development order establishing the Quarry Preserve as a development of regional impact. The vote on the plan change passed 4-1, with Commissioner David Russell voting no. The vote on the development order was unanimous.

Growth management officials on the state level raised a variety of questions about the project in April, including the project's density, the need for a wildlife corridor and the need for groundwater protection policies. The Florida Department of Community Affairs also questioned whether the project amounted to urban sprawl, whether enough water was available to serve it and whether there was an actual need for additional residential units in Hernando County.

Since then, the developer responded to the questions, including queries regarding plans to construct a well field that would serve not just Quarry Preserve, but also provide additional water for the county, a groundwater protection plan and a plan for a wildlife corridor.

County utilities director Joe Stapf praised the pact that the Utilities Department had reached with the developer saying, "Growth is paying for growth and not resting on the pocketbooks of our ratepayers."

The changes were enough to persuade Commissioner Rose Rocco to reverse her previous opposition to the project.

"I think this will be a very positive thing,'' Rocco said. "This is the type of thing we should be encouraging.''

Rocco did question how the county would be guaranteed that business growth would be tied to the project, and developer representative Jake Varn explained that there were triggers in the agreement that say the developer must bring in a certain amount of business to keep developing the residential portions of the project.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins asked what could be done with the exhausted mining property.

"In my opinion, not very much,'' Varn said, noting that reclamation was not required for most of the site, so it would basically be "a moonscape.''

By developing the project, it would put the land back on the tax rolls at a higher level, he said.

Commissioners also questioned costs to the county if the project were approved. But Varn said that those would be minimal, with the developer paying for many of the infrastructure costs, including more than $62 million to widen U.S. 98 from the Suncoast Parkway to Cobb Road.

Several residents addressed the commission, with some questioning why the county needs more housing when previously approved housing subdivisions are not being built out. Brooksville resident Richard Ross took that a step further, noting that some projects, like the struggling Southern Hills Plantation Club in Brooksville, demonstrate that the county could put taxpayers at risk by approving more housing developments.

After the vote, Ross had one last thought for the commissioners.

"This is a board that operates for the developers, by the developers and the hell with the people," he said.

Reach Barbara Behrendt at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando commission okays huge development north of Brooksville 08/31/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 8:28pm]
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