BROOKSVILLE — Royal Highlands resident Kim Roberts stood before county commissioners last month with a familiar story to tell.
The limerock dust from unpaved Lapwing Road road keeps her and her neighbors trapped indoors and threatens their health. Paving the road would make abandoned homes in the neighborhood more attractive to buyers and might lure in some new home construction, she said.
"It's going to improve that neighborhood,'' Roberts told the commissioners.
She and her neighbors have gathered enough signatures on petitions to press the county to move ahead with paving their roads. But they also want the county to pave the limerock roads that connect their streets to nearby Hexam Road, too.
But so far, they have not been able to get the county-required 60 percent of the property owners on those connecting roads to agree.
The problem isn't with the people who live there and endure the dust when it's dry and the slop when it's wet. Those folks overwhelmingly favor paving.
The hang-up is with absentee property owners, people who live out of state or as far as Puerto Rico and who own vacant lots along the connecting roads of Marvelwood Road and Mirage Avenue.
Those people have not responded to mailed notices from the county explaining the situation and asking for their signature on a petition to go ahead with the paving.
Commissioners say they want to help. They will be considering alternatives on Tuesday after hearing a detailed staff report on the paving options.
County engineers support paving the roads leading to the homes of Roberts and her neighbors. "It really doesn't make sense to pave three limerock roads without paving in,'' said county engineer Brian Malmberg.
Hernando's ordinance requires 60 percent of affected property owners to approve a paving project, and the related assessment to pay their portion of the costs.
Property owners pay two thirds of the cost, while the county pays the remaining third. Costs vary by project, but in several recent cases, the up-front assessment for owners ran between $1,300 and $3,500 depending on a variety of factors including lot size, drainage and frontage (corner lots pay more, for instance.)
Residents along Linnet Road, Picardy Court and Lapwing all have shown enough support to be included in the county's limerock road paving project.
Along the connecting streets of Mirage Avenue, 47 percent of the total property owners are in favor; Pioneer Avenue has 44 percent in favor; and Marvelwood has 48 percent.
However, when just the people who actually live on the roads are considered, the numbers change drastically. Mirage and Marvelwood jump to 100 percent, while Pioneer comes in at 80 percent.
County Commissioner John Druzbick has talked to Roberts and another homeowner in another section of Royal Highlands in the same predicament. He told his fellow commissioners in July that this was an issue that they needed to deal with because it will keep recurring.
With just one or two additional signatures, any of the three roads not yet at 60 percent would achieve that, Malmberg told commissioners.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins said paving all the roads together "looks to me like it would make sense'' since the residents support the idea and are willing to pay. As for those who don't, "they're going to pay more but their property is going to be worth more,'' he said.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes wondered whether doing the pavement in this case might set a bad precedent, but County Attorney Garth Coller offered a solution.
Instead of requiring 60 percent of all of the affected property owners to be in favor, he said the commission could change the ordinance to require approval by 60 percent of the property owners who respond to a certified letter from the county.
That change would make it much like any other election, Stabins said, in which the people who bother to vote get to choose the winning candidate. Those who don't participate forfeit their say in the matter.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com.