BROOKSVILLE — The Southwest Florida Water Management District has told the Ridge Manor Community Center that it cannot build a frontage road connecting the center with a nearby church.
Previously, both the county and Swiftmud had cited the community center and ordered construction of the road to be stopped. Inspectors were alerted to the unpermitted work by neighbors and found that tons of fill dirt had been trucked in, dumped and spread over a 2-acre area.
Some trees were taken down, and others were buried by the dirt, putting larger specimen trees at risk.
The fill dirt and tree cutting violated the county's landscape and floodplain ordinances, according to zoning administrator Chris Linsbeck. Notices were sent to the community center and to Ridge Manor Community Methodist Church.
Swiftmud notified the center that the unauthorized work could result in a legal penalty and ordered that the community center representative — John Shoppa, who was acting as the project's leader — meet with Swiftmud representatives.
That's when Swiftmud informed Shoppa that the project could not go forward.
"Mr. Shoppa came to the district for a meeting, and staff explained to him that the entire area is floodplain and the activities could cause flooding to downstream neighbors,'' according to Swiftmud spokeswoman Robyn Felix. "We gave him authorization to begin removing all of the dirt, and he began removing it last week."
After Swiftmud said it would not allow the road, Shoppa stopped the permitting process he had begun with the county, according to Linsbeck.
"I've authorized Mr. Shoppa to remove the stop-work orders and to begin returning the property into compliance,'' Linsbeck said in an email Monday. "I was out there on Friday and noticed some workers beginning the process of removing the dirt.''
Shoppa said he did not think he needed a permit when he agreed to let DAB Constructors store asphalt millings on the site in exchange for loads of fill dirt to build the road.
Shoppa said the frontage road was needed to provide better access between the two buildings should there be another disaster like the two tropical systems that hit Hernando County in 2004. At that time, Shoppa turned the community center into a distribution point for hurricane supplies for more than 500 local residents, causing traffic backups in the vicinity of the center and the church.
For his work, Shoppa was awarded a Point of Light Award by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.
Shoppa said the dirt removal has begun.
"We're just going to do the best we can,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.