BROOKSVILLE — A state appeals court has rejected the city of Brooksville's plan to annex nearly 900 acres east of the Southern Hills Plantation, siding with Hernando County in the case.
The unanimous decision released on Friday reversed a lower court's Oct. 31 ruling, which permitted the city's annexation despite the county's legal objections. The county argued the move was illegal because it created a "pocket" of unincorporated land within the municipalities' boundaries.
In the two-sentence opinion, the three-judge 5th District Court of Appeal panel agreed, concluding that Senior Circuit Judge Victor Musleh "departed from the essential requirements of the law."
"Obviously, this is a big for us," Assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben said Monday.
City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha did not returns calls seeking comment.
The city's attorney, Derrill McAteer with Hogan Law Firm, refused to comment, saying the city could still ask for a rehearing on the issue. McAteer, who also once represented the property's owners, gave no indication whether the city would appeal.
The land in question is south of downtown, roughly between Hope Hill Road on the west and County Road 581 on the east.
The City Council voted to annex the property — 225 acres owned by Bell Fruit Co. and 658 acres owned by James DeMaria, owner of Blue Stone Development Corp. — in November 2006.
By doing so, it left a narrow peninsula of county-controlled land in between the annexed portion and the current Southern Hills development.
The city has argued that it does not qualify as a illegal pocket because it connects to county property to the north along Hope Hill Road.
Even with the ruling, the future of this 900-acre parcel remains unknown. LandMar Group LLC, the developer of Southern Hills, previously disclosed its plans to develop the land if DeMaria would sell.
Neither party could be reached for comment Monday, but DeMaria has said in the past that he bought it as a weekend retreat and hunting ground.
At this point, the court's ruling potentially could block LandMar's growth plans for this area.
Another possibility could be the rebirth of joint conversations between the city and the county about a planning agreement for this area. The initial meetings dating back to 2006 went nowhere.
County Commissioner Diane Rowden welcomes a new start and noted that many of the players have changed.
"I think what's important is this gives us the opportunity to have managed growth and not the anything-goes growth that were seen in some cases," she said.
"… We have to figure it out because we all do live in this same county."
John Frank can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6114.