HERNANDO BEACH — In his role as economic development director, Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon has pushed for a tourist destination in Hernando.
He recently announced efforts to obtain a $3 million legislative allocation to develop an environmental education center in Hernando Beach.
But the plans along the coast are much more elaborate than that.
On Monday, the county's Planning and Zoning Commission will consider rezoning 31 acres between Calienta Street and Shoal Line Boulevard that could eventually include a lodge with a gift shop and a restaurant, as many as 42 rental cottages and a cultural center.
The cultural center is projected to be the home of a nature center, a museum, a theater, office space and meeting rooms, and an outdoor amphitheater. Since the structures would need to be built up because of the threat of flooding, the applicant is seeking a waiver to allow a maximum height of 55 feet for the theater portion of the structure.
The applicant is 5000 Calienta Street LLC. The company's principal owner is Gordon Wolf, who also owns Blue Pelican Marina at that address.
According to the application, the company wants to expand tourism in the area and has shown its interest by revitalizing the marina. Wolf and his brother, Ron Wolf, the marina manager, also have been involved in the effort to develop the triangle park at the entrance to Hernando Beach at Osowaw and Shoal Line boulevards.
The application indicates that the company wants "to develop in an environmentally friendly manner.''
That's not enough for at least one Hernando Beach resident.
Forrest Bennett, a former member of the county's Environmentally Sensitive Lands Committee, has delivered to the county planning department a five-page, single-spaced list of the reasons why the project should not be approved on the proposed site.
The project, he writes, "is the largest and most intrusive commercial project proposed in Hernando Beach since (the Southwest Florida Water Management District) purchased the Weekiwachee Preserve which prevented Oak Sound (a proposed housing and commercial development).''
Bennett raises concerns that his neighbors have no idea what is about to descend on them. Although the developer did hold a public input session at the marina in February, only five people attended. Bennett said he didn't know about the project until a week and a half ago when he saw the rezoning notices posted on the site.
"This project has flown completely under the radar, and virtually no one that calls Hernando Beach their home has any idea of this project's massive scope and impact,'' wrote Bennett, whose family has lived in the area for 26 years. He noted that not a single person he has talked to has been in favor of the proposal.
His specific objections are wide ranging. They include concerns about vehicle traffic and boat traffic, the effects on local wildlife, negative impacts on property values, over-stressed infrastructure and conflicts with the county's land development rules.
Bennett suggests an alternative site in a letter to Sossamon. He said he could support the development at a location on Osowaw that the county owns, where a sewage treatment plant soon will be decommissioned.
Bennett has urged the county to delay the planning and zoning hearing for a couple of months so area residents have time to get up to speed on the project and its impacts.
The plan, he wrote, "ultimately may pass or fail, for better or worse, but it should live or die on its own merits and completely in the open with an educated, informed public.''
County planners have recommended that the Planning and Zoning Commission recommend approval to the County Commission, with numerous conditions.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.