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Hernando commissioners dropped the ball on development

A year ago Friday, county commissioners Chris Kingsley and Rose Rocco proved they couldn't stand up to developers when the stakes were highest.

That's how it looked to me, anyway.

Both Rocco and Kingsley had said they were against changing the county's comprehensive plan to allow the Hickory Hill subdivision in eastern Hernando County. They had assured opponents they were on their side.

Their justifications for flipping and voting for Hickory Hill during last year's marathon meeting seemed awfully thin.

"They really are working to get something positive there,'' Rocco said of Hickory Hill's developer, Sierra Properties.

The pressures the two of them faced were immense, including Sierra's ongoing public relations campaign and its all-star cast of former public officials willing to put their reputations behind such arguments as:

• Carving up a 2,800-acre ranch, Spring Lake's largest agricultural property, would create a "transition zone'' to protect nearby farmland.

• The fertilizer and pesticide applied to three golf courses and 1,750 yards would never contaminate the aquifer.

• Hernando County, which has enough residential land set aside for roughly 125,000 new souls, needed Hickory Hill's additional lots to accommodate growth.

I watched the commissioners (other than, thank you, Diane Rowden) swallow all this — and meanwhile ignore the added expense and environmental costs that come with sprawling development. I came away more convinced than ever that developers run the show.

Old news, right? But worth revisiting now because of a looming project that I think is even more destructive than Hickory Hill.

Florida Rock Industries wants to build a city — with offices, stores, about 6,000 residential and resort units, and three golf courses — on the site of its old mine north of Brooksville. And it wants to do it without widening the two-lane road leading to this property, U.S. 98.

Which is starting to make Florida Hometown Democracy's idea — give voters the right to change the comprehensive plan — look pretty good.

This got a boost last week when a judge in Tallahassee restored some of the petition signatures required to place the proposal on the ballot, which supporters hope will happen in 2010.

Yes, there are good arguments against Hometown, but one of the main ones doesn't move me at all.

Hometown's opponents say the proposal will take planning decisions away from experts — state and county planners, consultants and county commissioners — and into the hands of amateurs, meaning us.

Well, remember that vote on Hickory Hill. Then look around and see what else these experts have brought us.

They had their chance. I'd say they blew it.

Hernando commissioners dropped the ball on development 04/27/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 10:38am]
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