Tuesday, April 24, 2018
News Roundup

Little not to like about the move to pave more lime rock roads

It's impossible to keep a car clean. Pressure washing and replacing air conditioning filters are regular chores, like mowing the lawn. The school bus arrives trailing a Pig Pen-like dust cloud, one reason kids in the neighborhood always seem to be coughing.

I heard these common complaints about living on lime rock roads during a visit last week to the regional mecca of lime rock roads, Royal Highlands.

I also heard a couple of uncommon ones.

Rob Pritchard, 45, said he had to wait until his son was 9 years old and then bundled him up in padding — "full battle gear" — before teaching him how to ride a bike on the washboard surface of the road in front of his house.

Clive Blake, 75, said he and his wife moved to Royal Highlands from the east coast of Florida to be near family members whom they now see only in church.

"Family doesn't visit family because of this road," said Blake, 75, who lives near Pritchard on Labrador Duck Road.

Lime rock, in other words, is even more of a drag than I realized.

Which is why it's a big drag on property values.

That's definitely true for individual homes in the Royal Highlands subdivision.

It's probably also true for the county as a whole.

That Hernando has more than 400 miles of unpaved roads, that nearly half of them are in and around its second-largest subdivision, and that this subdivision contains by far the largest number of available lots, about 7,500, is a selling point right up there with the county's high incidence of sinkholes.

For years, it looked as if there was no way out, that Hernando was stuck with Royal Highlands' unpaved roads — a relic of the worst sort of 1970s-era planning.

And then, earlier this year, came a simple rule change. The county previously had required the approval of 60 percent of property owners before it would pave an unpaved road.

In March, it lowered that threshold to 51 percent, and the trickle of paving projects became a flood.

From the beginning of 2009 until the end of 2012, residents agreed to a total of less than 8 miles of paving. Since March, the county has received plans to pave more than 50 miles of roads, more than half of which have already been approved by a majority of residents and the County Commission.

This is real progress on a lingering problem. I can't see anything not to like.

Because the roads with the most occupied homes are the most likely to request paving, the county will spend its money where it does the most good.

Remember the old argument, that residents knew what they were getting into when they bought in Royal Highlands and should pay to get their own roads paved?

Well, they will. The paving program calls for residents to pick up two-thirds of the cost of the projects. For the projects submitted to the county since March, that share would come to $8 million, and in Royal Highlands the cost to each lot has come to about $3,300.

For the reasons I've explained and others — including the never-ending cost of regrading lime rock — it's in the public's interest that these roads are paved. So, it's also fair that the county pays one-third.

Not everybody agrees. At a commission meeting two weeks ago, owners of vacant property in Royal Highlands complained about paying more for road paving than their properties are worth.

So, why are these lots worth so little?

At least partly because they're on lime rock, of course. And I can't help but think that all Royal Highlands property owners who pay for paving will more than get their money back in the long run.

The people who don't agree — including Commissioner Jim Adkins, who last week made the misguided suggestion that the county return to the 60 percent approval rate — should keep a few things in mind.

Paving roads is good for public health, for quality of life, for property values.

It's good for just about everybody except maybe the people who sell air conditioning filters.

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