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Planning commission to review new ordinance aimed at promoting neighborhood similarity

A modular home on Frigate Bird Avenue neighbors a house built on a slab that is located in the Royal Highlands community in Weeki Wachee. Homeowners in the Royal Highlands community want reinstate the similarity ordinance that requires single family homes in certain residential districts to look similar to one another.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

A modular home on Frigate Bird Avenue neighbors a house built on a slab that is located in the Royal Highlands community in Weeki Wachee. Homeowners in the Royal Highlands community want reinstate the similarity ordinance that requires single family homes in certain residential districts to look similar to one another.

BROOKSVILLE — When a citizens committee assembled several years ago to recommend deletion of unnecessary county rules, an easy target was something known as the similarity ordinance.

Some committee members thought it took too much time for county staffers to visit residential neighborhoods to see if planned houses were going to fit in with the surrounding residences.

Others thought the rules were imposing deed restriction-like requirements on non-deed-restricted communities.

The county commissioner who was liaison to the committee, Jeff Stabins, called the ordinance "too much big government.''

In 2010, the commission repealed the ordinance.

Now, the ordinance is making a comeback. A new version will be reviewed Monday by the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission after residents of Royal Highlands complained that the county wasn't protecting their property values.

The ordinance was first approved in 2000 after a big blowup in that same northwest Hernando neighborhood over a modular home assembled on a lot on Frigate Bird Avenue. Neighbors protested, saying the home looked like a mobile home and that mobile homes were not allowed in areas zoned for single-family residences.

But modular homes are different than mobile homes and must be treated like site-built homes for permitting purposes.

For months, the county sparred with officials from the modular home industry, until they settled on an ordinance that would require certain structural and visual elements on homes in some residential districts.

Those were the rules when Susan Brignola built her home in a remote area of Royal Highlands in 2005, and she relied on those rules as a promise that her property would always be surrounded by homes of a similar nature.

Then, recently, she found on a nearby road a new modular home that appeared like a classic mobile home set on piers. When she learned that the similarity ordinance had been repealed, she urged the county to put it — or something like it — back in place.

Many neighbors agreed and packed a County Commission meeting in April. Commissioners agreed to bring back the concept.

The ordinance the planning commissioners will see removes one of the biggest objections of the old ordinance. In some cases, to ensure compliance, county employees would have to visit a neighborhood where a new home was planned, and it ate up staff time and delayed construction, explained zoning supervisor Chris Linsbeck.

Site inspections would not be a part of the new process. Instead, staffers would review plans for the various architectural features that make a house look like a house and not a rectangular mobile home.

The ordinance sets rules for the roof pitch, the foundation, square footage and an attached garage, although in agricultural/residential areas the attached garage would be optional. Offsets of windows and doors are described, and exteriors can be brick or stone but not aluminum siding.

Linsbeck said that he gathered feedback from a number of people and ran the rules by the Hernando Builders Association and believes most people are comfortable with the end product.

"I think this is something we can all live with,'' Linsbeck said.

Planning commissioners will hear the details, then decide whether to recommend the ordinance to the County Commission for approval.

Brignola made several additional suggestions for the ordinance in a letter to the county last month. She suggested similar landscaping standards in neighborhoods and asked the county to require that homes be of a like value.

She also noted that she, her neighbors and those in other affected communities around the county wish the commission would enact a moratorium on modular homes until the new rules are in place "to prevent the recurrence of the installation of another trailer-like residence only further lessening property values.''

Brignola also offered to continue to help the county put protections back in place.

"The investments that residents have made and that most continue to make in their properties,'' she wrote, "must not be jeopardized.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Planning commission to review new ordinance aimed at promoting neighborhood similarity 06/07/13 [Last modified: Friday, June 7, 2013 8:54pm]
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