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Hernando officials visit residents to discern privacy needs near Elgin widening project

BROOKSVILLE — Earlier this week, Sal and Kathy Calabrese could only imagine what it would feel like when the house behind them was demolished and they had to stare directly at busy Elgin Boulevard from their back yard.

They don't have to imagine anymore. The house came down Wednesday.

"I hate to see the house gone, but the timing couldn't have been better,'' Kathy Calabrese said Thursday afternoon.

That's because over the last two days, two county commissioners have visited the Calabrese home and others along Corrine Avenue to see just how close residents will be when two new lanes of Elgin Boulevard are built where the houses that fronted it once stood.

After those visits, the residents are feeling cautiously optimistic that the county will find a solution to their concerns.

Calabrese and her next-door neighbors, mother and daughter Connie and Debra Smith, asked the Hernando County Commission for help during a recent meeting. They voiced concerns about safety, privacy and drainage issues once the widened road is completed. They asked for a concrete-block wall that they said county officials had promised them as a buffer.

They invited commissioners to see for themselves.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Jeff Stabins took them up on their invitation and, along with county staffers, met with the residents.

"The two families I met with have a very unfortunate situation,'' Stabins said afterward.

He noted that the homes already have a drainage issue and one actually had water in the garage during the heavy rains several weeks ago.

After listening to the neighbors talk about how motorists stopped at the traffic light at Mariner and Elgin boulevards could look right into their yards and homes — and their fears about cars that could run into homes and how strangers would be walking on sidewalks just behind their homes — Stabins said he supported finding some type of solution.

"I'm hoping we can figure out a way to give them more than just some shrubbery,'' Stabins said.

Commissioner Rose Rocco visited Thursday morning and agreed that, with the houses gone, "it really does leave them wide open there.''

Rocco, who also brought county staffers along, said she could see why the residents were upset now that the project was beginning in earnest.

"The road is fairly close to the back of their homes,'' Rocco said.

The Calabrese property line is 64 feet from what will be the edge of the road. In between, the county's plans include a sidewalk along Elgin and a 36-foot-wide drainage ditch.

After her visit, Rocco said she was leaning toward supporting putting up a white vinyl fence along the project's route.

The wall originally suggested would be cost-prohibitive and a maintenance problem, officials have said. The vinyl fence would require a lot less maintenance and could simply be washed off.

"In looking at the situation, I think this would probably be the best way to go. It would look nice for the whole length of the project,'' she said. "It will be aesthetically pleasing, and it will give them the privacy that they want.''

Rocco was glad she visited the site.

"I understand their situation,'' she said. "What you see on a map is not necessarily what you see when you go there.''

Interim public works director Susan Goebel also visited the neighborhood with Rocco.

She and her staff are gathering information about the costs of various methods of shielding residents from the widened road, and those will be presented to the County Commission in April for a decision.

"We'll bring all the options to the board,'' she said.

Calabrese said that Rocco visited at the perfect time. Not only was the neighboring house gone, but while the group was talking, an ambulance and fire truck zipped by with their sirens blaring, and bulldozers were working on the lot where the house was removed.

"It's right in our face,'' she said. "Both Rose Rocco and Susan Goebel could see that we were being reasonable in light of what we're facing here.''

After listening to the options and the concerns about maintaining a wall, she, her husband and her neighbors all agreed that they could live with a fence built along the entire length of the road project.

However, whatever solution is decided upon will not be installed until after the project is finished — forcing the families whose homes back up to the work to live with the road-building project for months to come.

But Calabrese was happy to hear that the county appears to want to do the right thing for residents in the long run.

"As long as they're willing to do something for us," she said, "I'll be happy."

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

Hernando officials visit residents to discern privacy needs near Elgin widening project 03/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 25, 2010 8:26pm]
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