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Hernando commission will look at new sites for tourism center

Hernando Beach residents pack the County Commission chambers in Brooksville on June 24 protesting a rezoning proposal to build the Nature Coast education and tourism center next to the Blue Pelican Marina along Shoal Line Boulevard in Hernando Beach. Another suggested location, in Weekiwachee Preserve, has also been roundly criticized by residents.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Hernando Beach residents pack the County Commission chambers in Brooksville on June 24 protesting a rezoning proposal to build the Nature Coast education and tourism center next to the Blue Pelican Marina along Shoal Line Boulevard in Hernando Beach. Another suggested location, in Weekiwachee Preserve, has also been roundly criticized by residents.

HERNANDO BEACH — After staunch opposition from residents and environmentalists, Hernando County appears to be backing away from a plan to locate the Nature Coast Education and Tourism Center on a previously mined area of the Weekiwachee Preserve.

At today's commission meeting, county officials will present alternative locations and conceptual design options for the board's consideration. They are also looking for direction as to how to proceed with the center.

County staff acknowledged the site encountered strong opposition to the proposed location in a series of public workshops aimed to present gathering input from stakeholders. They said they received valuable insight and suggestions of other possible locations.

Alternatives include locating the center at the site of the county water tower on Shoal Line Boulevard, at the Lake House in Spring Hill and partnering with Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

Commissioner Diane Rowden said she is pleased the county is willing to look at alternative locations.

She said she thinks Weeki Wachee Springs already has a good design in place, and she is adamantly opposed locating the center off Shoal Line.

"All you need to do is look at our roadways out there," she said. "There is no way to improve them. If you bring that kind of intensity of traffic, it's going to have a tremendous impact on quality of life."

Forrest Bennett, a Hernando Beach resident who has been vocal about the proposed location of the center, said locating it at the water tower site would be unacceptable.

"Our infrastructure is already stressed and can never be significantly enlarged due to environmental and cost issues," he wrote in an email. "Adding … traffic, beyond what is already planned, to this environmentally sensitive and finite corridor is extremely unwise and makes the Hernando Beach water tower site the worst possible location."

The county began looking at the site in the Weekiwachee Preserve, roughly a mile north of Osowaw Boulevard, after original plans to locate it in Hernando Beach next to the Blue Pelican Marina encountered fierce opposition.

Moving the site to the preserve avoided one controversy, but created another. Many worried about the damage that would be caused by placing a busy recreational area in the midst of a natural preserve.

Contact Danny Valentine at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. Follow @HernandoTimes.

Hernando commission will look at new sites for tourism center 07/03/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2014 9:09pm]
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