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Housing glut isn't stopping developers of Hernando's Quarry Preserve

The Quarry Preserve, despite its name, won't do enough to preserve wildlife, archaeological sites or the aquifer, according to this week's report from the state Department of Community Affairs.

This planned new city is miles from sewer lines, the DCA said, and its planned schools aren't big enough to hold all the children who could someday live in its 5,800 houses and apartments.

The DCA didn't completely buy the Quarry's claim that so many residents will work right there — and be so satisfied with the vibrant urban life that develops in a mined-out lime rock pit — that they will put limited stress on outside roads. The department called this part of the Quarry's transportation study "flawed.''

And then there's this objection, which is not surprising considering the mine's owners want to build the project (or, more likely, sell the land to someone else who wants to build on it) nearly 6 miles north of Brooksville: It could contribute to urban sprawl and, as a matter of fact, probably sets an unwanted country record by potentially causing sprawl in 10 different ways.

So who would go for this seemingly crazy idea to build offices, factories, stores, golf courses and thousands of houses in the middle of one of the most sparsely populated sections of the entire county?

Well, probably, Hernando County commissioners, who will decide whether to approve the Quarry as early as July. Also, probably the DCA.

Because if you read the section in the department's report below all of the ways the Quarry might cause sprawl, you come to the paragraph where the DCA advises the developer how to overcome its objections — advice that boils down to this: Prove the Quarry really is a new city, and, presto, everything we said about sprawl goes away.

See, the state's growth management rules aren't nearly as tough as they seem. Historically, Community Affairs hasn't been, either.

It's enough to make you a cynic, especially when you notice that the DCA's cover letter was signed by Charlie Gauthier, director of local planning. A few years ago, after a previous stint at the DCA, Gauthier went directly to the other side of the table, guiding the developers of Hickory Hill in eastern Hernando County through a similarly long list of objections.

Then there's this line in his letter:

"The Department recognizes the need for economic development opportunities and the disturbed nature of the site and is prepared to work with the County to determine if the concerns can be resolved.''

Sure it's disturbed. The people who turned the land into a moonscape and cashed in for several decades selling its lime rock now complain because they have a moonscape on their hands. Too bad.

And if the DCA wants to know what kind of economic development opportunity the Quarry represents, it should look at this line from a recent story about home prices in the Tampa Bay area plunging 7.4 percent between January 2009 and January 2010, the second-steepest decline in the country: "S&P economist David Blitzer … blamed housing boom overconstruction. Too few buyers continue to chase too many houses.''

We've been hearing this from economists for years: New housing developments are the last thing we need.

If there's one thing to change a cynic's mind about the DCA, it seems that the department recognizes this. Most notably, it reversed its stance on an 800-home project planned outside Ocala, a decision that led the Florida Cabinet to reject the development's approval last year. Marion County didn't need to convert more land for residential use, the Cabinet found, because it already had enough to take care of its future population needs — about five times as much as it needed, in fact.

In its recent report, the DCA took issue with the way the Quarry's developers had counted space available for housing in Hernando.

The department pointed to numbers that show there already is enough for about 305,000 additional residents, which is about four times as many as are expected to live here in 15 years.

This number will probably change over the next few months as developers negotiate with planners. But this won't. Whether we have twice as much land as we need for new houses, or three times or four times, it's plenty.

Housing glut isn't stopping developers of Hernando's Quarry Preserve 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 8:56pm]

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