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Code violation questions stall Hernando County fairgrounds deal

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville City Council last week delivered news that Hernando County Fair Association president Sandra Nicholson didn't want to hear: It needs more time to decide whether to approve her organization's proposed long-term deal with an amusement ride company that winters at the fairgrounds.

Nicholson says she's tired of playing the waiting game.

"I honestly don't know what else we can do," Nicholson said. "Everything the city's asked us to do out here, we've done. They're out here all the time."

At issue is whether the association's winter tenant, North American Midway Entertainment, is violating city codes by storing heavy trucks and equipment on the 40-acre fairground site while its crews stay in RVs at the site.

The fair association's attorney maintains that a state statute governing fair boards allows for such use. The city's attorney disagrees, and has asked Attorney General Bill McCollum to render an opinion on the matter.

While all of that is fine with Nicholson, she noted that the city didn't request the legal opinion until March 1. So far, there has been no response from McCollum's office.

Nicholson said she has no choice but to accept the council's offer to extend her one-year agreement with North American by 90 days.

That, Nicholson said, creates a problem, because she had hoped to offer the company a long-term contract by now.

"We're stuck in the middle," Nicholson said.

If the company chooses to look elsewhere for a winter site, it could mean the loss of up to $50,000 in revenue for the financially-struggling association, she said.

And it could mean that Nicholson would have to find another midway company to operate the 2011 Hernando County Fair.

Mayor Lara Bradburn said that while she is sympathetic to the fair association's needs, it was important that the city not set a precedent by altering its land use laws.

"There are some outstanding questions that need to be addressed," Bradburn said. "It needs the attention it deserves."

The fair association acquired the property from the county in 2006. Since then, Nicholson said, a number of improvements have been to the facility, many of which were financed using money from its deal with North American.

However, the association has been cited by the city several times for various code violations. The latest came in March 2009 when city inspectors cracked down on the association for allowing RVs owned by North American employees to be parked longer than allowed. The association also was cited for building a drainage culvert without a permit.

Last June, the council granted allowed the association a one-year grace period to continue renting the facility to North American while its attorneys researched whether state statutes could override existing city zoning codes.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

Code violation questions stall Hernando County fairgrounds deal 06/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 9:53pm]
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