BROOKSVILLE — The county commissioners lost jurisdiction over an upscale recreational vehicle resort proposed for sensitive lands near Aripeka as soon as the developer pulled his application last week.
But that didn't stop Commissioner Diane Rowden from blasting the county's planning department on Wednesday for recommending approval of the controversial development.
"I was totally in shock when I saw this come before us,'' she said. "This is an urban-type community in the middle of almost no development.''
The property is designated by the county as "conservation lands" and some recreational uses are allowed. But Rowden said the proposal was "a long way from resource-oriented recreational use'' with its planned 26,000-square-foot store and gas station.
"What are we doing to protect our county?'' she said.
Located at the northwest corner of Osowaw and Shoal Line boulevards, the 24.4-acre parcel was slated for a rezoning that would have allowed a camping resort and neighborhood market. The applicant was Dial One LLC and Branford Investments LLC.
Dozens of area residents sent e-mails to the county opposing the project. Under the crush of opposition, the applicants withdrew their project and commissioners accepted that withdrawal on Wednesday.
Commissioners are so troubled by the idea of a resort on the site that they have suggested that the owner sell the property to the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which would preserve it.
Representatives for the developer did not attend the Wednesday meeting but a spokeswoman said they will continue to look at alternatives for the property. "We're willing to listen to all public and private offers,'' said Rebecca Bray of Environmental PR Group.
Rowden questioned the quality of the county planning staff's review of the proposal and suggested that a moratorium on development in the area was in order until the county could say what would appropriately fit there.
She said the staff report noted there are no wetlands on the site but even the project's proposal showed areas designated as wetlands. She asked how the county would be able to evacuate the residents already in the area during a storm using the two-lane roads let alone any new residents.
County Planning Director Ron Pianta did not respond to Rowden's criticism, but Commissioner Chris Kingsley pointed out that he knew the planning staff had certain legal obligations to follow and that could explain why they recommended the proposal.
He also agreed with Rowden that the area is environmentally sensitive and, in similar situations in the past, the county has been able to work with land owners to get property placed into preservation.
"This board needs to get proactive on that,'' Rowden said, suggesting a letter be sent to the owner and to Swiftmud, a suggestion which the commission unanimously supported.
"Step one is a willing seller,'' Pianta said, noting that Swiftmud has voiced an interest in the past in buying the site. He also said the county's own committee that works to acquire environmentally sensitive lands would discuss the issue.
Commissioner Rose Rocco said that when the developer of the project spoke with the community, it was clear that the community was opposed to the project and that is why they withdrew it. She was also glad that the proposal was pulled.
"We need to be protecting what we have out there,'' she said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.