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Neighbors in Hernando County line up to oppose latest plan for sewage treatment facility

BROOKSVILLE — In June, the Hernando County Commission rejected a plan to place a sewage treatment operation near Sunshine Grove Road after residents joined together in that oft-heard refrain: Not in our back yard.

Now that Anthony R. Crescenzo wants to put the treatment facility into the back yard of his own business west of Brooksville, neighbors are lining up to oppose that move, too.

But as Crescenzo, owner of Johns by John II, seeks approval for an unpopular plan, he faces another — possibly more formidable — problem: The Florida Department of Health wants to revoke his septic tank contractor's license.

• • •

Crescenzo wants to build the treatment facility on 2 acres of commercial property at 15407 Cortez Blvd., just east of Winter Street, that he bought earlier this year.

He is seeking a public service overlay designation to build a so-called lime stabilization facility directly behind the building that formerly housed a Suzuki motorcycle dealership and now serves as the Johns by John headquarters.

The application calls for three 10,000-gallon, above-ground tanks, a lime storage building and a large container bin. Waste would be trucked in, pumped into the tanks, aerated and mixed with lime, which increases the pH level to kill bacteria. Solid materials would be separated, dumped into the bin and trucked to the landfill.

The treated waste would be hauled away and sprayed onto a portion of a 12-acre tract that Crescenzo owns on Sweet Gum Road, near Sunshine Grove Road.

The plant's hours of operation would be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Crescenzo told county staffers he estimates that three to five trucks per day would use the facility.

County planning staffers are recommending approval of the plan. Among the requirements set by the county is an opaque fence around the perimeter of the operation.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will consider the request at 9 a.m. Monday at the government center in Brooksville. The County Commission has the final say.

Crescenzo must also obtain a state permit for the plant, said Al Gray, environmental health manager of the Hernando County Health Department.

In May, the planning commission recommended that the County Commission approve Crescenzo's request to build the stabilization plant on the Sweet Gum Road property, despite the protests of neighbors who worried about health effects and plummeting property values. The County Commission spiked the plan.

Property owners near the Cortez Boulevard property are voicing the same concerns.

"Our property values have already gone down," said Ruth Grim, who lives off Winter Street, northwest of the Crescenzo property. "We don't need it to go down any further."

Grim said residents in the quiet, rural neighborhood are mobilizing and plan to be at Monday's meeting.

So does Leroy Gonzalez of Seff-ner, who owns a commercially zoned parcel directly to the east of Crescenzo's property.

"That's a terrible place to put something like that. My God," Gonzalez said. "I'm absolutely against it."

Gary Schraut, a real estate broker who represents Gonzalez and some other nearby property owners, said the plant should be in an area zoned for industry, not a commercial corridor near a residential neighborhood.

"I'm pro development. I'm pro business. But we've got to make sure we have compatible uses," Schraut said. "Once you put that in, everything we envision in good planning goes out the window."

Just north of Crescenzo's property is a 10-acre plot zoned for residential development, formerly owned by the late William Whitehead Jr. The property is now part of a family trust, and the Whiteheads hope to sell the parcel when the market improves, said Bill Whitehead III, a Brooksville attorney. The family opposes Crescenzo's plan.

Also among the opponents is the Times Publishing Co., which owns the St. Petersburg Times. The company built its 29,000-square-foot Hernando County bureau in 2003 on a 7-acre tract directly west of Crescenzo's property. Times Publishing built a distribution center on the site in 2007.

The plan "undercuts our investment in the place we consider home in Hernando County," said Ben Hayes, the company's director of operations. "The smell will be off-putting at minimum and possibly harmful to the hundred-plus people that work and conduct business out of this office."

Crescenzo insisted the facility will not produce a strong odor.

"To assure you that it is not a constant odor nor an overwhelming smell, please keep in mind there will be 15-20 employees inside the building conducting their everyday jobs within a few feet of the tanks," Crescenzo wrote in an e-mail response to questions from a Times reporter.

The solid waste bin will not stink because the materials will be bagged and sealed, he said.

The treatment process should not produce a strong stench, Gray said.

"It's pretty much a closed operation," he said. "I'm not going to say there won't be any odor, but there's more odor from the land spreading."

There are currently four lime treatment facilities in the county. All are in relatively remote areas, and there has been only one odor complaint from neighbors deemed valid by the department, Gray said.

Still, neighbors said they have a hard time believing there will not be a noticeable smell. Among them is Landis Legg, wastewater plants supervisor for the county's utilities department.

Legg, who lives a little less than a mile away, said he doubts he would smell the facility from that far away, but motorists and close neighbors probably would.

"There's no way you wouldn't smell it," Legg said.

• • •

According to an administrative complaint filed by the state Department of Health on July 6, the company's history of questionable business practices since 2006 warrants the most severe action against Crescenzo's septic tank contractor's license — revocation.

The complaint cites incidents with three separate customers in November of last year and January of this year that could be considered "evidence of gross negligence, incompetence and misconduct." In all three cases, Johns by John failed to completely empty customers' septic tanks. In one case, the company failed to replace a damaged tank lid.

The company previously had been cited for violations, paying fines totaling $1,000 and providing five written apologies.

In 2006, Crescenzo misrepresented himself as a registered septic tank contractor, according to the complaint. Earlier that same year, the company installed a drain field smaller than the contracted size without notifying the customer of the change. While on a repair job a month later, a worker ran a backhoe into a home, causing significant damage, but the company failed to arrange for repairs.

In his pending case with the state, in addition to the revocation of his license, Crescenzo's "disdain for his professional standards of conduct" warrants a $3,000 fine, the complaint states.

"I strongly feel these administrative complaints hold no merit, and I plan to fight them to whatever measure is necessary to prove my innocence," Crescenzo responded to the Times.

Though he worked for Johns by John at the time, Crescenzo said, five past offenses listed in the complaint occurred before he got his septic contractor's license and took over operation of the company in the fall of 2006.

Crescenzo's case will be heard by an administrative law judge, who will issue a recommendation for state health officials to consider before taking action on his license.

Crescenzo's company also has a spotty history with the county.

On five different days in June 2010, a video camera at the county's septic receiving station near the Hernando County Airport captured Johns by John truck drivers emptying tanks directly into a storm drain.

The Hernando Sheriff's Office investigated, and Crescenzo ultimately paid the county's utilities department $875 for the 17,500 gallons that flowed into the drain instead of the pump station that charges 5 cents per gallon.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Neighbors in Hernando County line up to oppose latest plan for sewage treatment facility 08/06/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 6, 2011 12:16pm]
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