BROOKSVILLE — Concerned that a developer's plan to draw more tourists to Hernando Beach would damage the rustic coastal community, residents came in droves Monday to protest the proposal before the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission.
They left disappointed, however, after commissioners voted to recommend approval to the Hernando County Commission, which is slated to take up the rezoning application May 13.
Planning commissioners did urge the owner of Blue Pelican Marina, the developer planning a new lodge and environmental education plaza, to meet with residents before the May meeting.
A previous public input meeting that the county had asked developers to conduct was attended by just five people, none of whom opposed the plan.
Gordon Wolf, the owner of Blue Pelican Marina, told planning commissioners that his proposal grew out of several years of discussions about how to solve some basic problems in Hernando Beach, including traffic pattern and congestion issues at the public boat ramps.
He said his goal is to improve the community.
"We're not the out-of-town developer," Wolf said. "We live in Hernando Beach, and we see the potential of Hernando Beach."
Wolf's engineer, Jeremy Couch, explained that the two main additions to the site that need the rezoning — a "small, small" scale tourist residential development with 42 cabins and a meeting area for the community — would be "very noninvasive."
While Blue Pelican would develop the lodge, money from the state and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement is being counted on to cover the cost of the educational plaza.
Diane Overbeek of Hernando Beach South and Judith Simpson of Hernando Beach, presidents of the community's two property owners associations, came to the microphone together. Both said their members are divided.
Overbeek expressed concern about the 55-foot-tall amphitheater mentioned in the application. While Blue Pelican Marina representatives have been good neighbors, she said, the scope of the proposed project "is absolutely, totally objectionable."
Simpson said she thinks people need more information. While she said she supports ecotourism, "we just have to make sure we're protecting the resource."
Ron Pianta, the assistant county administrator for development, said county staffers did not recommend the 55-foot height. The developer could go higher than the 45 feet allowed by county regulations only if he set the building back farther from the property line.
The developers' representatives said it wasn't the outdoor amphitheater, but an indoor theater, that would be 55 feet high.
Other residents said they are worried about such things as the effects on wildlife, loud music from the visitors and education center outdoor stage, increased traffic along Shoal Line Boulevard and more traffic in general in their peaceful neighborhood.
"This is not what I moved here for," said Larry Scott, who came to Hernando Beach 34 years ago to escape crime and noise in St. Petersburg. "This is not something I can accept."