BROOKSVILLE — Eliminated in 2010 as an unnecessary regulation that took up too much staff time, Hernando County's so-called similarity ordinance could be back on the books soon.
Residents of single-family residential communities such as Royal Highlands packed the County Commission chambers Tuesday to voice support for a new ordinance, which they see as a way to ensure that their neighborhoods remain cohesive and their property values stable.
Commission Chairman Dave Russell tried to dispatch with the issue early, saying commissioners were willing to consider the ordinance again. He asked for a show of hands of people who wanted to see that happen; more than a dozen shot up. But when he explained that there was a process the county had to follow and that it might be a month or two before the ordinance could be re-enacted, several in the room grumbled. Russell ended up moving on to other items on the commission's agenda, and it was a couple of hours later before the issue came back for discussion.
In 2000, the commission enacted an ordinance that required homes in single-family residential neighborhoods to look similar. The ordinance brought to an end a legal dispute with the modular home industry after neighbors in Royal Highlands complained about a modular home that looked like a mobile home.
The ordinance set rules for appearance, foundation, structure size, roof pitch and attached garages, among other things. In some cases, county inspectors had to compare home plans to the appearance of the three nearest structures, a subjective process, Chris Linsbeck, the county's zoning supervisor, told commissioners.
At the recommendation of a citizens committee, the commission agreed to drop the rules in October 2010.
Recently, on Parrot Street in Royal Highlands, Mark and Dana Newcomer built a modular home. Commissioners saw a picture of it projected on the wall Tuesday. While its appearance is similar to a mobile home, county staffers assured commissioners that it was modular and therefore permitted under the zoning category in Royal Highlands.
Residents attending Tuesday's meeting said that when they built their homes, they followed the rules. Royal Highlands resident Laurie Brignola argued that the county had an obligation to "protect our investments.''
"We had a deal," Brignola said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to begin the process of bringing back a new similarity ordinance for consideration — one that Linsbeck assured would be streamlined and more workable for the county staff.
Writing the new measure, running it through the county Planning and Zoning Commission and returning it for a public hearing before the County Commission is expected to take about two months. County staffers pointed out that, in the interim, any permits sought can only be reviewed under the current rules. Also, any modular homes added since the ordinance was repealed will not be required to meet the new rules, if they are approved.
Nine new modular homes and one rebuilt one have been permitted since the ordinance was repealed, officials said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.