Hernando business leaders push to loosen development rules

DeeVon Quirolo
DeeVon Quirolo BARBARA BEHRENDT | Times
Published February 8

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County’s draft of a new comprehensive plan already has been described as either a loosening of restrictions to help growth occur or a gutting of protections for residential communities and the environment. It all depends on one’s political camp of choice.

The next step is for the County Commission to approve the draft and send it on for a state review.

That was delayed several times to allow the Hernando County Business Alliance a shot at incorporating suggested changes. The Alliance represents the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, Hernando Progress, the Hernando County Builders Association and the Hernando County Association of Realtors.

Commissioners were set to transmit the plan to the state last month, but moved the final hearing to early March to allow more discussion about school rules and Alliance suggestions that could be incorporated into the next draft.

For those who represent anti-mining, environmental protection and other less-business-oriented points of view, the new ideas make much worse a previous weakening of the comprehensive plan, the county’s blueprint for growth. That is especially true in the mining elements of the plan.

Brooksville resident DeeVon Quirolo has led opposition over the years to plans for expanding the Cemex lime rock mine across from the Bayfront Health Brooksville hospital on Cortez Boulevard. She brought her latest concerns about comprehensive plan changes to the commission last month.

She was especially upset that the business group recommended allowing small increases in mining lands with only a special-exception use permit from the county’s appointed Planning and Zoning Commission. Currently such increases require a change in the comprehensive plan, which comes with state review and rezoning by the elected County Commission.

The Business Alliance also recommends new wording to weaken other requirements. For example, the current draft states that all development and redeveloping of mining areas "shall provide adequate protection to ensure the functional integrity’’ of corridors used by wildlife; the Business Alliance limits the wording to that development "shall consider’’ the functional integrity.

Likewise, the business group would have the county drop the requirement for "stringent and diligently applied measures" — saying only there should be "measures" — to protect water supplies from contamination by open-pit mines.

The Alliance would drop the requirement to prove the need for a resource to expand mining areas. And it would no longer consider a mining proposal’s impact on nearby property values.

The Alliance would drop completely a section of the plan that prohibits mining in natural water bodies, wetlands and flood plains, or in nesting, resting and feeding habitat of state or federally protected birds. Their proposal also drops the requirement that mining be sufficiently separated from important archaeological, cultural and historic features.

Mining is a unique land use that requires special consideration, said Buddy Selph, a long-time realtor who participated in the comprehensive plan review with other business interests. While other land uses can happen in multiple places, mining can only take place where there are appropriate rock formations.

"By having the special-exception use process’’ instead of the more extensive current reviews for mining expansion, Selph said "it will provide the flexibility to move fairly quickly but to still go through with the public input process.’’

The process for a more extensive review can become costly and time consuming. And sometimes, he said, the exact location of the deposit isn’t easy to pinpoint, thus requiring more flexibility in land-use designations.

The Cemex proposal is slated to come before the Planning and Zoning Commission Monday, Quirolo said. She said she has been told it will be required to follow existing rules in the comprehensive plan.

Other changes suggested by the Alliance would loosen restrictions on aspects of residential and commercial development. Their proposal also formalizes that a simple majority of the commission can change the comprehensive plan. Now, comprehensive plan changes require a super-majority, or four of five affirmative votes.

"It guts the essence of the rules that we live by,’’ Quirolo said. "I’m so shocked that they would be so brazen to do all of this when under Florida Statute, the county is to protect our water and our land.

"This is a blatant violation of their duties.’’

Joe Farrell, director of government affairs for the Hernando County realtors association, said the changes were recommended for several reasons, starting with a focus on personal property rights.

"We want to make sure that throughout, the document recognizes property ownership,’’ he said, adding, "we didn’t want to hamstring future boards (county commissions) by allowing for flexibility depending on future needs."

Future commissions need to use county ordinances and land development regulations rather than the comprehensive plan to make decisions, he said.

Some of the focus is on allowing the growth of business corridors and more development and job creation throughout the county where those things make sense, Farrell said.

"We want to make sure (the plan) stands the test of time," he said. "It is an important document allowing development and growth to move forward.’’

Those who favor cutting requirements are excited about the Business Alliance ideas. Hernando resident Shirley Miketinac told the County Commission she was happy to see that business people suggested taking out more prohibitions. She told commissioners to remember that the old rules for growth management under the state Department of Community Affairs are gone.

They have been replaced with a new focus on job creation under the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, she said.

>>>Previous coverage:> Hernando prepares for final public input on comprehensive plan>>

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.