Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

Such a land deal? Not when you look at the facts

Gary Schraut is a Realtor — a salesman essentially — and his pitch to the county was an old standard.

Limited-time offer. Grab your opportunity now or regret it forever.

Buy 4 acres on State Road 50 across from Brooksville Regional Hospital and instead of a local collector, California Street can become part of a straight shot from Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport "all the way to Citrus County," Schraut said.

You can get this land from its Hillsborough County owners for just $1 million — a bargain. Especially because all you need is half of it to anchor the new route of California. You can sell the other half for as much as you paid for the entire thing. Not quite a money-back guarantee, but just about.

And if the county doesn't act? If it waits until development gathers steam and it really needs this road? Then you pay big bucks for the land, plus, maybe, monster legal fees to pry it from an unwilling seller.

Convinced? Apparently Brian Malmberg was. The assistant county administrator for operations used this pitch on county commissioners Tuesday. I guess it sounded good to them, too, because, other than Diane Rowden, they all voted "yes."

But like most sales pitches, it played up what sounds good.

And what doesn't sound so good? As Times staffer Barbara Behrendt wrote, two independent appraisals show the county's approved purchase price was not a bargain. They put the parcel's value at well under $900,000.

Also, the California extension is not even scheduled to be funded by 2035 — and for good reason. Judging from traffic volume on the northern section of the Suncoast Parkway, I don't think a lot of drivers are interested in straight shots to Citrus.

Plus, the current shot is nearly straight, requiring just a 1,000-foot jog west on SR 50 to go from the north end of California to the south end of Fort Dade Avenue.

What could change all this? What could justify moving this project way up on the county's priority list? The kind of commercial development — medical offices, stores, restaurants — that would create demand for a faster north-south route.

Just about anything but blasting, rock trucks and denuded landscapes. Even if it is hidden by berms or woods, mining is not exactly a way to spur other forms of economic development.

And that's what's really backward about Schraut's deal. It will help bring about the kind of land use that will render it unnecessary for decades.

Three years ago, Brooksville heavyweights Joe Mason, Jim Kimbrough, Robert Buckner and Tommy Bronson announced plans to lease several hundred acres north of SR 50 to Cemex.

One problem: An old county road right of way created a wide, unminable swath through the middle of the property. Now these owners can swap that right of way for land needed for California Street, on the edge of their property.

So their property goes up in value. The mine gets more usable land and more rock, and Schraut gets a $30,000 commission.

Put it together and it starts to look less like a good deal and more like gift. The commissioners look less like savvy buyers and more like suckers.

Except that the money is from county impact fees. Which makes us the suckers.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The first name of Brian Malmberg was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.

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