County Commissioner David Russell slipped into cheerleader mode to justify his vote for the massive Lake Hideaway subdivision.
"This process epitomizes responsible planning,'' Russell said last month when the commission approved the project in northwestern Hernando that will include 2,400 houses, 1,300 townhouses, stores and office buildings. "The bottom line is that everyone benefits in this process.''
I don't see it that way. What I see is an example of why our highways continually become more crowded, even though every development claims to pay its own way.
A big part of the problem is the "process'' that Russell praised.
If you pay attention to planning in the state of Florida, you may remember the technical-sounding term "concurrency.'' This is supposed to guarantee that adequate services, including roads, will be available for any development. It's one of the founding principles of our growth management laws.
Except it's never that simple, as you can see in the case of Lake Hideaway.
The 6-mile stretch of State Road 50 from U.S. 19 to the Suncoast Parkway is so overburdened with traffic that it has been given an "F'' grade by the state. Yet Lake Hideaway will pour as many as 736 cars per hour into the busiest part of SR 50 and pay nothing for its improvement.
That may not be a problem for the 3.8 miles east of U.S. 19 that the state has definite plans to widen to six lanes — at a cost of $54-million.
It could be a big problem for the stretch that includes the highway's failing intersection with Mariner Boulevard, which will not be fixed for at least five years and, as road-building costs rise, maybe much longer, said the county's transportation planning coordinator, Dennis Dix.
It isn't that Lake Hideaway owner Tommy Bronson isn't paying for road improvements. It just that this money, $23.3-million, does nothing to ensure that SR 50 will be able to handle the traffic from his subdivision, which, with a projected population of 7,770, will be about as big as Brooksville.
Instead, these funds — almost all of which will be reimbursed to Lake Hideaway through impact fee credits — will be mostly dedicated to two roads that lead to the development. Weeping Willow Street, parts of which are already paved, and Star Road, which is lime rock, both will be improved to two-lane collector roads.
Why not SR 50? Because the concurrency law doesn't forbid, as many people think, developments that depend on inadequate roads.
The law instead requires that they pay their "proportionate share'' to fix them. It also allows this share to be shifted to other projects. So the amount Lake Hideaway would contribute to SR 50 goes to Weeping Willow and Star.
Then, last year, the Legislature changed the law to free DRIs from having to fix pre-existing problems such as the overcrowding on SR 50, said county planning director Ron Pianta.
Bronson has no developer lined up to build Lake Hideaway and, considering the current housing market, it may be years before cars from the project join the lines of traffic on SR 50.
Maybe, by then, the highway will be able to handle them. But there are no guarantees. And, despite what Russell says, no indication that the public benefits as much as Bronson.