BROOKSVILLE — Should those responsible for county planning and development recommendations be allowed to consider whether the county needs another residential development, commercial strip mall or big-box store before voting on such a development?
That philosophical question was raised by Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission member Lisa Hammond on Monday, and it generated a good bit of discussion by her fellow members during the commission's meeting.
The timing seemed right because, earlier in the meeting, the commission had approved a two-month delay requested by a representative of the developer of one of the largest communities ever proposed for Hernando County.
The Quarry Preserve was set for the first of what could be many public discussions Monday, this one seeking a recommendation for the County Commission to move forward with changes to the county's blueprint for growth that would be necessary to accommodate the 4,282-acre, multiuse development north of Brooksville.
Jake Varn, representing developer Brooksville Quarry LLC, asked for a delay until December so his client would have time to address numerous questions about the development raised in the county staff's report, which was released late last month.
Among those questions, the staff noted that the developer will have to show that the plans are not "premature'' and will not lead to urban sprawl or another "unwanted development pattern.''
The "need'' for new development has been a hot topic around Florida since the governor and Cabinet last month turned down a developer's bid to build 800 homes on 400 acres in the rural horse country northwest of Ocala.
After Hammond asked county staffers Monday whether "capacity'' could be a consideration as planning commissioners say yes or no to project recommendations, planning director Ron Pianta pointed out that the state's top growth managers are looking at that very issue.
He said that the state's Department of Community Affairs is considering writing rules addressing the question of need for all kinds of land uses — "more than they have done in the past,'' he said.
A community's blueprint for growth, its comprehensive plan, is supposed to be based on the needs within a given "planning horizon,'' Pianta explained.
"There is discretion there,'' he said. "Some of this is based on local choice and local control.''
While the state oversees that process, Pianta said, "there is a general requirement that your plan be based on what you anticipate and desire your future plans to be.''
Planning commissioners noted that there has been recent discussion in the news media about the need for certain kinds of developments.
"I'm happy to hear that the DCA is trying to put some formalized rules to the process,'' said planning commission Chairman Robert Widmar. He called the choices that the commission must make on such projects "a balance that has to be achieved.''
Planning commission member Thomas Comunale asked, with different opinions in the community about various needs, what are commissioners free to consider?
Planning commission action must be based on formal evidence and sworn testimony that commissioners are presented during their hearings, said assistant county attorney Jeff Kirk.
Widmar said that, if a planning commissioner comes across other information that should be talked about as part of the approval process, it should be brought to a full discussion before the commission.
Pianta agreed. If an issue is relevant, a public discussion allows both the planning and zoning commissioners and an applicant to discuss the issue.
"I would say that we do need to look at what the market is,'' Hammond said, noting that the community isn't served, for example, by having empty commercial strip centers all over the county.
"You have to look at vested commercial property rights first,'' Widmar said. Capacity, he said, can come as a later discussion.
Kirk told commission members that generalities do not work. He said their job is to look at the merits of each case as it comes forward with all of its specific details.
The debate could foreshadow several points likely to come up as the proposed Quarry Preserve winds its way through the complex county approval process.
With Monday's decision, the project is now slated for a comprehensive plan amendment discussion at 9 a.m. Dec. 14.
Reach Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.