BROOKSVILLE — In a 4-1 vote, the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday agreed to spend $1 million for a 4-acre tract that was appraised for a lower amount, but that is needed for a future road project, though one that likely is decades away.
The vote came after a strong pitch by Commissioner Diane Rowden to spend the money instead on improvements needed north of the intersection of Cortez Boulevard and Mariner Boulevard, an area she referred to as a "death trap.''
With multiple shopping centers at the intersection, and others planned nearby, the improvements there should be near the top of the commission's priority list for spending impact fee money, she argued. "I think, guys, we need to have a workshop,'' said Rowden, the only commissioner who voted against the purchase.
Rowden balked at the price, but also was upset with the process. She said a reprioritizing of road projects was never mentioned or publicly discussed before the property purchase was pitched to commissioners last week by Brian Malmberg, assistant county administrator for operations.
Yet Malmberg acknowledged that months ago he was brought a $1.5 million contract on the property by Realtor Gary Schraut, so he sought appraisals. They came in at $825,000 and $865,000. The county property appraiser has the parcel's market value set at $559,800. At that point, a second offer was made by Schraut, this time for $1 million.
Malmberg explained that the property, which is on the north side of Cortez, directly across from the terminus of California Street, is needed to extend California to Citrus Way and west to Star Road.
County transportation officials say there is no funding for that project scheduled between now and 2035.
Malmberg said that only a piece of the property will be necessary for the California extension and the rest could be sold to pay the county back for what it spent. He also noted that the cost was not out of line. He said the state often pays 20 percent more for a parcel than the appraisal to avoid the costs of condemning property for road projects.
The future road, he said, would create needed corridors as the county grows.
Anthony Palmieri, a former county planning commissioner, urged the commission to consider the possible perception of an approval as a vote to help out Schraut, an influential Realtor who will receive a $30,000 commission on the sale. "That's something you should avoid,'' Palmieri said, adding that the price was "way out of line.''
"Maybe you didn't learn anything from the Elgin Boulevard experience, but we did,'' commission Chairman Dave Russell countered.
The county was blistered with criticism because it paid premium prices for homes that had to be leveled to widen Elgin several years ago.
After the vote, at Rowden's urging, the other commissioners agreed to have Malmberg bring to a future meeting a report on how to move up improvements at Mariner and Cortez.