BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners on Wednesday approved a plan to build a four-story assisted living facility on property beside the Springbrook Hospital over the objection of neighbors.
Commissioners voted 4-1 for a "special exception'' to allow the facility on land classified in the county's Comprehensive Plan as rural. Several residents wanted a no vote, with some saying they bought their properties because they believed the rural designation on the land would protect them from the kind of development they fled when they moved here from urban areas.
But Don Lacey of Coastal Engineering, speaking for the owner, Equity Trust Co., argued that an assisted living facility would be a good transition between the commercial corridor to the north along Cortez Boulevard and the rural residential area to the south.
The plan also calls for putting the facility on the northern part of the 19.3-acre site and building a road on the southern part, which would allow traffic on Grove Road a new way to travel west to Barclay Avenue.
Motorists traveling on Grove Road now face a dangerous and soon-to-be-prohibited left turn onto Cortez to travel west or must turn right and head east before finding a turn-around.
The plan for the new facility would connect Grove Road with new access to Lucky Lane. Lacey said that would help residents further south on Grove Road by moving traffic away from them.
Residents in the area didn't see it that way.
Vincent Ambrosino said his mother has owned property next door to the proposed facility for years and he was disturbed at the thought of having a four-story building where people could look down into their yard.
Traffic would increase. Wildlife would disappear, Ambrosino said. "I don't want to see Hernando County get trashed,'' he said.
"There are so many things they're not addressing,'' Ambrosino said. "I'd like to keep it the agricultural-residential that it is for my children and my grandchildren.''
Grove Road resident Dan Miller argued that he bought his property because he thought the zoning would protect his investment. "I moved out of Largo to get away from the development and the high-rises,'' he said. "I'm asking you to protect us by enforcing the codes.''
"We're not ready for this,'' said Angela Budde, whose mother's property on Lucky Lane would front on the connection to the new access road. She pointed out that just a couple of years ago she had goats and chickens on the site and that the noise from the existing commercial development to the north has already taken away the peace in their area.
"We bought it (the land) because of the quietness of the area,'' said Budde's mother, Barbara Harrison. "We knew there would be development but we never thought we'd see a four-story building in our neighborhood.''
Commissioner Diane Rowden spoke against the project, pointing out that the county staff recommended denial because the use did not match the rural designation. She also objected to dumping more traffic onto already-overburdened Barclay Avenue.
"This will be a mess,'' Rowden said. "I think we need to listen to what our staff is saying.'' She cast the sole no vote for the project.
Lacey explained that part of the property already has a special zoning exception that allows for the psychiatric hospital next door. The site would also allow for a more intensive use such as a hospital, which county staff acknowledged would generate more traffic than would an assisted living facility.
Commissioner Rose Rocco said she saw several advantages to approving the special exception. The facility would create jobs, she said, and the plan would help with traffic problems. Facilities of this kind don't generate too much traffic on their own, she said.
"In my opinion, it's compatible with having a hospital next to it,'' she said.
In other business:
In a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved a list of special conditions before the Lions Club at the end of Hallcrest Avenue can be turned into a restaurant. Earlier, commissioners approved rezoning the 5-acre parcel but asked staff for conditions to protect the nearby neighborhood.
Conditions approved include limits on hours and overnight parking, making sure lighting doesn't interfere with the neighborhood, and requiring a traffic study later if speeding becomes a problem.
Rowden voted against the conditions. She also voted against the rezoning, noting that it would have an adverse impact on the neighborhood.
The commission approved on first reading an ordinance beefing up its development requirements for large-scale planned developments topping 65,000 square feet and single-entity projects over 65,000 square feet, so-called "big box'' stores.
New rules affect outdoor lighting, buffering, noise abatement, hours of operation and signs.
Big-box stores would have to front on a major road known as an arterial road or greater, could need a traffic study and would require sidewalks in parking lots distinguished from driving areas.
A second reading and approval on the ordinance is slated for July 22.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.