BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission has again put its stamp of approval on the massive Quarry Preserve project in a 4-1 vote Tuesday.
Commissioners approved the settlement of issues raised by state growth management regulators several months ago, clearing the way for the project to move forward after one last state review.
The approval came with little public comment.
Former county Commissioner Bobbi Mills spoke out against the project, saying, "In the long run, it's going to cost this county a tremendous amount of money in services that are needed.''
Local resident Richard Ross also urged a no vote. He said if commissioners approved the project, they should hire someone to change the signs calling the county the "Nature Coast" to "Asphalt Jungle.''
But Realtor Gary Schraut said Hernando County someday will need what is being called a "new town" north of Brooksville and that such long-term developments need to be planned well in advance.
"This is for the future,'' Schraut said.
The Quarry Preserve is planned for a 4,282-acre former rock mine. The proposal calls for 5,800 housing units of various types, an 850,000-square-foot business park, 200 lodging units, office space and public use areas. The concept of a town center is the focus of the project's plan by developer Brooksville Quarry LLC.
County Commissioner Dave Russell asked developer representative Jake Varn whether the new plan addressed concerns by Brooksville City Council member Lara Bradburn about how the project would affect traffic congestion on U.S. 98.
Varn said the developer had, through the development agreement, committed to pay more than his fair share, $64 million, toward transportation improvements on the highway.
State objections to the original plan included questions about the need for so many new housing units in Hernando. There was also a question about whether the developer had proven that the project met the definition of a "new town'' and wasn't instead urban sprawl.
Varn assured commissioners that the state's concerns had been answered by adding some details, tweaking some of the wording and convincing the state that the area needs quality housing units in a well-planned community.
The only significant change in the plan was to drop the number of age-restricted housing units from 1,300 to 650. Additional multifamily units were added to keep the total of residential units the same.
Commission Chairman Jim Adkins again asked for an assurance that the Quarry Preserve was not urban sprawl and Varn explained that because the state recognized the project was a new town, urban sprawl was not an issue.
Adkins also wanted to know what the project would end up costing the current taxpayers in the long run. Varn said a study of that question revealed that more tax revenue would be raised from the community than it would cost to provide county services there.
"This community will more than pay for itself,'' Varn said.
Russell cast the lone vote against the revised plan. He said the developer had not done enough to overcome his concerns about sprawl and that the development would discourage building on empty lots in existing subdivisions, two issues he had fought against when he was a state legislator.
Commissioner John Druzbick said there has been growth in the community and yet he didn't fear that Hernando was becoming an asphalt jungle because 44 percent of the county is undeveloped land in the hands of federal, state or local government and therefore preserved. He said that "the bar has been raised'' for well-planned developments with the Quarry Preserve project .
The mine that is winding down on the project site has provided many good jobs for local residents over the years and now might offer another opportunity for new jobs, said Commissioner Jeff Stabins.
"What are you going to do with an old abandoned mine?'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.