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Cohesion, unity are words to plan by

I know it's early, but as a planning nerd, I get excited just to hear this stuff.

You see, when talking about transforming narrow, crumbling County Line Road into a major east-west corridor, County Administrator David Hamilton used the phrases "road improvement'' and "land planning'' in the same sentence.

Linking the two, he said, "is what changes this process from random to planned and orderly,'' he said.

"And planned and orderly can lead to a sense of cohesion and unity.''

Cohesion and unity; that's not what usually comes to mind when you think of growth and highway projects in Hernando County.

The Suncoast Parkway was conceived as a welcome mat for developers, who obliged us by building thousands of houses along its path.

Or, take the example of the 4,800-acre development district near the transportation corridors of Interstate 75 and State Road 50.

The county's comprehensive plan called for staffers to draw up a blueprint for growth in this district, and some community activists saw the chance to bring progressive ideas to life. They suggested an urban center, a mix of stores and apartments, a possible rail line to Tampa.

What they got was a plan created by developers and offering what developers thought would be easiest to market — conventional shopping centers and enough villas and tract housing for 24,000 residents.

It's not going to be that way with County Line, Hamilton said: "The days of building a road and waiting to see what happens are over.''

Extending the road east would link the three main north-south corridors in the county — I-75, the Parkway and U.S. 19 — as well as the population center on the west side, the Hernando County Airport and its industrial park.

He thinks the stretch of the corridor east of U.S. 41 should skirt the agricultural land in Spring Lake rather than plow through it.

Enough undeveloped land remains along the western stretch of the road to invite thoughtful planning, he said. That may include, somewhere, the kind of urban core once envisioned for the development district on the east side.

Of course, county leaders have recognized the need to improve County Line for more than a decade and Hamilton acknowledges he got the idea from former County Commissioner Len Tria.

Work on the first phase — 1.9 miles that stretch from U.S. 19 to Cobblestone Drive — may begin before the end of the year. The price of this section will be $36-million, and extending the road to U.S. 41 is expected to cost at least $100-million more.

Hamilton doesn't have any specific ideas about how to raise more money and speed up this work.

Except, he said, the price of land and construction have fallen lately, making this a good time to commit to a major, long-term road project. Which is, essentially, what he wants to do: identify County Line as a major priority, give it "more attention, more funding and focus."

So far, his only firm plan is to request $250,000 in this year's budget to study the project — and to promise it won't set off a development free-for-all.

Let's remember those great-sounding phrases — "planned and orderly,'' ''cohesion and unity'' — and hold him to it.

Cohesion, unity are words to plan by 09/08/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 8, 2008 6:55pm]
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