BROOKSVILLE — Unswayed by concerns that future economic development could be jeopardized, the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved a church on 16 acres of industrially zoned property.
The pastor, representatives and members of Crosspoint Church argued that their plans for a 1,600-seat church adjacent to Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and Technology Center would do more good for the community than harm.
The county's planning staff, the Office of Business Development and the airport staff had argued that granting a special exception use permit to allow the congregation to build on the site would be incompatible with neighbors, inconsistent with the county's comprehensive plan and harmful to the county's future economic development activities.
The location, at the northeast corner of Anderson Snow Road and Corporate Boulevard, puts it within the Airport Planned Development District. That zone is intended to "maximize the use of the Hernando County airport and surrounding lands for aviation, aviation-related activities, industrial uses and other land uses compatible with the airport,'' according to the staff report.
County staff members also noted that they needed industrial sites in their inventory when potential businesses came looking for property.
Attorney Darryl Johnston, representing the church, argued that the staff's assertions were overstated and inaccurate. He noted that churches are permitted in any zoning category with the proper permit.
Since the planning board had approved a similar request for the nearby Veterans of Foreign Wars post just a few years ago, he questioned whether the county was specifically targeting a religious institution for discriminatory treatment.
The site, Johnston said, had sat vacant as industrial property for more than 30 years. Church Pastor Paul Castelli noted there were "tons" of other industrially zoned properties in the area.
Ron Pianta, assistant county administrator for planning and development, said the staff was not trying to block a church — that, in his opinion, use of the site for a church was inconsistent with existing land-use rules.
Planning commission members said they valued their staff's work, but ultimately decided to approve the permit.