BROOKSVILLE — After nearly four hours of testimony, Chairman Robert Widmar asked the question on everyone's mind.
"Is what's good for Cemex good for Hernando County?"
The Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission decided it wasn't. Members voted 4-1 on Monday to recommend denial of an expansion of lime rock mining west of Brooksville.
Cemex Construction Materials Florida LLC is seeking a change in the county's future land use map and comprehensive plan that would switch a 730-acre parcel on the north side of Cortez Boulevard from its current designation as residential and commercial overlay to mining and commercial overlay. The largest share of that change, 573 acres, would draw Cemex's current mining operations north of Fort Dade Avenue farther south onto acreage owned by a number of prominent Hernando County business leaders.
The site would be mined for about two decades and then converted to residential use, officials told the planning commission. Those representing the mining company talked about the economic value of the Cemex operation to the community and tried to squash residents' worries about property values, environmental effects and health issues.
Two experts spoke of what they considered the minimal effects of blasting. Jeff Straw, a seismology consultant, said there would be about 1.4 minutes of blasts per year, spread out in three-second increments. Each sound would have less impact than a door slamming. Engineer Dave Teasdale said Cemex would have to follow strict guidelines enforced by multiple agencies to ensure that the blasts would not damage any nearby property.
Real estate expert Michael McElveen denied that there would be any decline in property values, citing a study he'd conducted using figures from 2006 to 2013 on homes that surround Cemex's already-existing mine and cement plant.
Cemex also said it is confident that the mine could be reclaimed as a residential area, using a development in Michigan as an example of a successful mine that was turned into a condo and golf course community.
"The unique features of the mining operation attract buyers," said Tony Bauer, a reclamation expert.
But the opposition came prepared. Dozens of residents lined up behind the lectern. And what they lacked in expertise, they made up for in heart.
"It's beautiful. That's why we moved here," Rikki Sanders said as she cradled her 2-month-old, Simon.
Sanders, 29, moved a few months ago from Tampa into a home off Fort Dade Avenue with her four children for the nature, the animals, the hiking. The mine would diminish those things, she said.
It would decrease property values, as well, said retired real estate agent Jill Graddy. She noted that McElveen's study used data from a mine that has been around for decades and didn't project how the new mine would affect surrounding homes.
Alyce Walker, caretaker at the neighboring Spring Hill Cemetery, said Cemex officials had reached out to her to rebuild the cemetery's fence and update the roads in exchange for her support, but the thought of the blasts happening close by didn't sit right with her.
"This may not mean anything to you," she said, her voice thick with tears, "but it does mean everything to the black people."
A handful of retired nurses and environmentalists spoke about potential air and water pollution, as well as the site's rich resources, which make it a home to at-risk species such as gopher tortoises and wood storks.
Cemex's local attorney, Darryl Johnston, rebutted many of the arguments and brought up more expert testimony. Still, the commission determined that the mine wouldn't be compatible with the land use plan.
Next month, the County Commission will hear a similar presentation and make its own decision.
During the comment time for citizens, Cemex employee Ronnie Harvey told commissioners about the generations of miners in his family. He pointed to the county seal, which has a mining illustration on it.
"This is our county," he said. "This is what we do."
But longtime Hernando resident James Barrett addressed the board with a different perspective.
"I urge you to consider this proposal in terms of what you really want Hernando County to move forward and be."
Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.