BROOKSVILLE — Responding to concerns from staff and planners that a store proposed for Hernando Beach could damage environmentally sensitive lands, the County Commission on Tuesday found a compromise.
They approved a proposed eco-friendly general store but said it could not sell gasoline.
The county Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended denying the project on the northeast corner of Shoal Line and Osowaw boulevards, saying it was inconsistent with the surrounding conservation lands. The planning commission also noted that development in a coastal high-hazard zone is discouraged because of the danger of storm damage.
Nearby residents also objected, saying the store wasn't needed, that it would harm the adjacent land and that it would make an already-dangerous intersection even more risky.
They also worried about having gasoline tanks in a flood zone and an area prone to brush fires.
Leslie Neumann of the Gulf Coast Conservancy said it was ironic that the developer was marketing the general store as a mecca for ecotourists while the business itself would be incompatible with the surrounding conservation lands.
Hernando Beach resident Linda Prescott complimented the detailed presentation put on by developer's representative Buddy Selph, but noted that his effort to show points of interest didn't include the five roadside memorials to people who had died in accidents on the narrow roads in the area in recent years.
"This is not compatible with the coastal high hazard zone putting the people of Hernando Beach at risk,'' Prescott said.
"I'd like to see the Nature Coast remain natural,'' said area resident Elizabeth Bodine. "That's why I moved here from New York.''
The 1.66-acre property is owned by Dial One LC, and the applicant is Gary Grubbs, a longtime Hernando County resident, developer and former road builder. Last year, Grubbs pitched a recreational campground on another parcel across the street, but never followed through with that project.
Selph told commissioners that residents he surveyed were overwhelmingly in support of the gas station and general store, which he described as a cross between a Cracker Barrel, a Bass Pro Shop and an upscale wine and cheese shop.
He spoke about how the store would be built using environmentally friendly techniques. The hope would be to provide fresh local produce and seafood, as well as a gathering place for locals. It would also act as a clearing house of information for tourists wanting to meet with fishing guides or other local businesses.
With existing zoning, the land could be used as a mobile home community. Selph argued the store with gas pumps would be a much better fit to serve the residents of Hernando Beach and Aripeka.
The project also got a vote of support from former county Commissioner John Richardson, who lives in the area. "This is a project, in my opinion, which is sorely needed right now,'' he said, noting it would create jobs.
Commissioners questioned county planning director Ron Pianta about the staff objections to the plan. Pianta detailed existing county policies that would steer development away from areas not identified as commercial parcels and away from the threat of storm damage so close to the coast.
Surrounding public lands are considered conservation lands and the project also wasn't compatible on that basis, he said.
Commissioners were divided on the issue.
Rose Rocco made a motion to follow staff recommendations and turn the project down, but it didn't get a second and died.
Commissioner John Druzbick made a motion to approve the project with special lighting at night to not impact wildlife or neighbors. That motion also died for the lack of a second.
"It's got to be one way or the other,'' cautioned Chairman Dave Russell.
Then Commissioner Jeff Stabins made a motion to approve the project without the gas pumps. The vote on that motion was 4-1, with Rocco voting no.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.