BROOKSVILLE — For nearly a dozen years, the Florida Classic Park on Lockhart Road south of Cortez Boulevard has hosted popular dog shows, drawing pooches and people from all over Florida.
This year, two sets of shows known as Florida Classic Clusters are set to run from Jan. 13-17 and Jan. 19-23 at the 50-acre site. They're part of an event that touts itself as "The Largest Dog Show in Florida.''
But not everyone enjoys the canine mania.
On Monday, the county's Planning and Zoning Commission will consider an application by the operators of the park to allow expansion in the number and length of their events. The planning staff is not recommending approval, a position shared by Herbert and Deborah Wells, who live near the site.
In a letter to the commission, the couple state that the park operators have failed to comply with the conditions of the original approval granted them when the park first opened in 1998.
"Florida Classic Park has not adhered to the performance conditions granted,'' the Wells wrote. "Eleven years later, we have everything they said would not happen.''
The couple notes that the original plan was to have up to 60 motor coaches on site; there now are more than 350. Speakers that were supposed to be ground level and pointing inward are instead mounted "on 20-foot poles and can be heard throughout our neighborhood.''
What was supposed to be portable lighting removed after shows is now on 60-foot poles throughout the property making it look like "an abandoned trailer park,'' they said. And the portable toilets remain on the property for as much as two months after shows.
The couple also complained about the traffic on Lockhart Road and the congestion at Cortez Boulevard.
Code enforcement officers have investigated the issues and county planning staff note in their recommendations that the park would need to make changes in lighting and sound equipment and make good on county requirements related to the recreational vehicles that are parked on the site during events.
From 2001 to 2007, the park was approved for 110 recreational vehicle hookups for utilities, but the park's marketing materials show 265 and the plans submitted to the county indicate more than 300. The staff's recommendation is to keep the number at 265 and properly permit those spaces.
The staff recommendation also raises concerns about compatibility with the existing residential neighborhood, issues with adding recreational vehicles in an area without sewer availability and the potential impact to the road system if the existing agreement with the park is expanded.
Engineering staff noted that after reviewing the request, "adequate information has not been provided by the applicant to determine the traffic impact from the requested expansion of events.''
Park officials were responding to the code enforcement questions in bringing their application for a new approval to the county, said Gary Schraut, who is representing the applicant, Florida Classic Park Inc.
The discussion with the planning commissioners and the county commissioners should clear up "any technicalities that we have not met,'' he said. "We want to correct them.''
The proposed expansion — from seven events per year to 14 and from seven days per event to up to 14 days — will generate even more economic benefit to the area, Schraut said.
The weeks of the dog shows are the best ever for area restaurants, hotels and other businesses, he said.
Schraut said he has been questioned about why special events can't be planned for weekends at the park and he has had to explain that there are limits placed on them by the county.
While the Florida Classic Park leadership have always been about dog-related events, Schraut said there might be other kinds of events that would also work at the site, such as a car show.
Planning staff recommends limiting plans to existing uses, which are dog shows with recreational vehicle parking, picnics and passive park activities.
Schraut said he had not yet seen the staff recommendation on the project.
He said he believes that the complaining neighbors have been trying to stop the dog shows from the beginning and that they lack credibility in their arguments because the entire area is designated as an intensive development area. The dog shows, he said, are much less intense than other possible uses of the site.
The operators of the park have tried to work with the neighbors, Schraut said. They are volunteers who are not making a profit off the event for themselves, but are keeping their kennel clubs operating. With that plus the boon to local businesses, he said it made no sense to reject the request.
Mary Stoltz, the cluster coordinator for the event, agreed.
"We are a boon to the county,'' she said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.