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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.