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Hernando's plan to save Spring Hill from slum status

As to the complaint that the developers of Spring Hill created no downtown, no hub, no heart — well, they tried.

Take, for example, Kass Circle.

You can run just about any errand — pick up a prescription, visit a doctor or dentist, mail a package, shop for groceries — within walking distance of this loop of road about 2 miles west of U.S. 19 off Spring Hill Drive.

There are restaurants, consignment shops, an ice cream parlor, a used book shop and, all through the neighborhood, lots of mature oaks.

There is also room for residents to live within walking distance of these offices and retail outlets. Duplexes and small apartment complexes line either side of Pinehurst Drive, just to the east of Kass Circle, and Omaha Circle, to the southeast.

All of this made it the natural place for the Hernando County Planning Department to begin the job of retrofitting the county's old subdivisions to appeal to a new market.

"You have a lot to work with there," county planner Pat McNeese said.

It's also the best place for us to picture how a neighborhood's bones — as planners sometimes call infrastructure — can be transformed.

This is not, obviously, a superficial or simple job. But it needs to be done.

Home buyers and renters increasingly are looking for cities or at least cozy, walkable neighborhoods with lots of shopping and dining options.

Hernando was built for an old market, for people fleeing cities. With very few exceptions, it doesn't do cozy. It's a place for drivers, not walkers — which is what separates Kass Circle from traditional towns such as Brooksville.

The Deltona Corp., the developer of Spring Hill, set aside land for churches, parks and, yes, three town centers, including Kass Circle.

But it was built in 1967, when cars were king and neither Deltona nor many other developers worried about people getting around by any other means.

Which brings us to county planners and a $20,000 grant they received from the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

With the help of the University of South Florida School of Architecture and Community Design — and including a meeting with nearby landowners and residents — they will figure out how to bind this neighborhood together with other forms of transportation.

How, exactly? We don't know yet. But we can be pretty sure it will involve sidewalks. There are none on Pinehurst or the north side of Spring Hill Drive, and so no safe way for renters to get from apartments to nearby stores.

Bike lanes would help. So would replacing the bus stop on the shoulder of Spring Hill Drive with a shelter in the parking lot of Spring Hill Plaza, in the middle of Kass Circle. So would more landscaping to slow traffic and make it easier to cross Spring Hill Drive. The neighborhood also needs a public space, something that functions as an old-fashioned town square, McNeese said.

The grant she received won't pay to do this work, just to plan it. And maybe you wonder if there is an alternative to the expense of rebuilding neighborhoods.

There is. We can stand by as private investment and buyers continue to migrate to cities. We can accept Spring Hill's status as a housing destination of last resort.

We can watch as it becomes a suburban slum.

Hernando's plan to save Spring Hill from slum status 01/14/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 5:24pm]
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