Hernando County Commission delays decision on Little Rock Cannery

A quart jar of stewed tomatoes with vegetables is capped in 2008 at the Little Rock Cannery. The county on Tuesday delayed a decision about the facility’s future.

MAURICE RIVENBARK | Times (2008)

A quart jar of stewed tomatoes with vegetables is capped in 2008 at the Little Rock Cannery. The county on Tuesday delayed a decision about the facility’s future.

BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners listened Tuesday as more than a dozen supporters of the Little Rock Cannery came forward to beg the county to continue to operate the facility, retain its staff and keep alive a piece of Hernando County history.

They also heard from Spring Hill veterinarian Dr. Keely Smith, who recently stepped forward with a proposal to lease the facility and try to find a way to improve it without the county having to foot the more than $50,000 annual cost.

But after hearing both the passion the cannery's customers have for the facility and the hope that Smith has, commissioners decided to delay any decision on the cannery's future. They said more work is needed on the details of the lease they were considering with Smith.

The commission agreed to send the lease back to the county attorney's office for alterations suggested by the community and commissioners and bring it back for a vote on July 28. They also plan to run the lease draft by the newly formed advisory committee for the cannery.

Some of the members of that committee urged the county to give them time to come up with other ideas on how to raise more money, ranging from fundraising to fee increases.

Commissioner Jim Adkins questioned whether a 30-year lease was a wise idea, a question echoed by some of the cannery advocates who suggested that Smith should have a shorter term to prove her plan can work.

The lease requires Smith to continue to maintain the facility as a cannery continuously. If she ceased operating for 30 days, the building would revert to the county. Commissioner Jeff Stabins asked whether that meant that she could simply open every 30th day, and other commissioners agreed that the provision should be tweaked in the lease.

Other questions arose about the lease mentioning that other activities would be allowed at the cannery as long as they fit the zoning category. County Attorney Garth Coller said that the lease could be rewritten to restrict uses other than canning.

Smith appealed to the cannery advocates and the commission, saying she had no intention of breaking up the "family" aspect of the facility. Instead, she said, "I'm trying to become part of that family.''

Commission Chairman David Russell thanked Smith for her willingness to step forward to help save the facility.

"This is something that is certainly very precious to the community,'' Russell said. "There is room in this world for people like you, for altruism — philanthropy.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Fast facts

In other business

The Hernando County Commission took the following actions Tuesday:

• Unanimously approved a series of land use items related to switching a dozen agricultural and industrial parcels totaling more than 600 acres surrounding the property of Cemex Construction Materials to mining use. The properties, slated for a variety of mining-related activities, had already been designated as mining lands in the comprehensive plan, and the zoning changes were needed to finalize the land use change.

• Granted unanimous approval for rezoning 28 acres on the north side of Cortez Boulevard near the entrance of High Point for applicant Gary Blackwell. The parcel will include commercial uses along Cortez and an area of age-restricted housing and an adult congregate care facility between the highway and a portion of the High Point community.

• Approved a lease agreement between the Hernando County Housing Authority and the county's Development Services Department that allows the Housing Authority to relocate to the Development Services facility off the State Road 50 bypass in Brooksville. County officials described the move as a win for both agencies because the Housing Authority will pay lower rent than it did for its storefront location in downtown Brooksville, and Development Services will gain some income by filling available space in its office.

Hernando County Commission delays decision on Little Rock Cannery 07/14/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 20, 2009 7:44pm]

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