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Hernando County considers easing road-paving rule

Hernando County has nearly 500 miles of unpaved roads, including Fulmar Road in Royal Highlands. Residents who want to have their road paved must get two-thirds of their neighbors to agree. Some say that’s too hard to do.

RON THOMPSON | Times

Hernando County has nearly 500 miles of unpaved roads, including Fulmar Road in Royal Highlands. Residents who want to have their road paved must get two-thirds of their neighbors to agree. Some say that’s too hard to do.

BROOKSVILLE — Even the simple things in life are difficult to enjoy.

On nice spring days, the Hanlons cannot leave their windows open because of the blowing dust.

When the air-conditioning is on, the filters need frequent changes to keep the unit unclogged and running efficiently.

Mike Hanlon doesn't like having to clean all the road debris off his driveway after a rain. His wife, Pam, worries about health problems.

This is life on a lime rock road, and the Hanlons and most of the people on their road, Dotted Wren Avenue north of Weeki Wachee, are ready to bite the bullet and get their street paved.

But that plan recently ran into a glitch.

About half the 20 lots on the street are developed. But gathering the signatures needed from the owners of undeveloped lots, to petition the county for paving, fell short of expectations. The county requires two-thirds of the property owners to sign the petition; residents of Dotted Wren fell one owner shy with just 13 signatures.

On behalf of his dust-disgusted neighbors, Hanlon last week pleaded to the County Commission for a reprieve.

"Homeowners need the road paved," he said.

That plea may now have opened a door for the county to loosen its rules and make it easier for neighborhoods like the Hanlons' to move forward with lime rock road paving.

Putting the issue of Dotted Wren Avenue in abeyance for now, commissioners agreed to hold a workshop during their June 9 meeting to discuss whether to change the two-thirds rule.

Commission Chairman Dave Russell suggested that the county might consider using the same standard the state does for constitutional amendments, settling for 60 percent rather than 67 percent.

Other commissioners agreed that they wanted to talk about the rules and determine whether a change is warranted.

Residents raising lime rock road issues are a staple at County Commission meetings.

Hernando County has nearly 500 miles of unpaved county roads, according to its road inventory, and residents along those roadways regularly complain about the dust, the ruts and what they consider the county's sometimes misguided efforts to maintain the roads.

County officials had placed lime rock road paving on their wish list of projects to submit for federal economic stimulus money, but the roads did not meet the federal criteria for funding, according to County Engineer Charles Mixson.

Every year, the county has paid to treat and improve the surface of a couple of larger collector lime rock roads. But the property owners themselves pay the majority of the cost when they seek to pave roads in strictly residential neighborhoods.

Under the county's rules, residents petition the county to have their road paved, and once the two-thirds requirement is met, the county figures up the cost. Sometimes the total cost is divided by the number of lots to arrive at each property owner's share; sometimes it's based on front footage along the road, according to county budget analyst Elaine Singer.

Residents pay two-thirds of the construction cost, plus administration fees, while the county foots the bill for the remaining one-third.

Once the residents are notified of the cost, the county schedules a public hearing before the County Commission to approve or deny the formation of the municipal services benefit unit for each project.

Residents can choose to pay the total up front, or finance over a seven- or 10-year period on their property tax bill.

Singer said she didn't recall any specific cases when a paving project was as close to meeting the petition standard as on Dotted Wren, but she did know others that were very close.

Commissioner Rose Rocco said during last week's meeting that she remembered a case when, at the public meeting, one property owner pulled out and the project no longer had enough support to meet the two-thirds standard.

The number of paving projects has varied from year to year. Last year, there was one. In 2006, there were two. There were four in 2005 and seven in 2004, the largest number over the last decade.

Hanlon hopes that the commission will still allow the Dotted Wren petition to move forward, even though the deadline has now passed for filing, because "it just doesn't feel like a neighborhood on a dirt road."

Hanlon also favors the county changing the petition rules to make it easier for property owners to upgrade their roads. He said the county should be in favor because "it's one more lime rock road off their inventory."

The problem with getting signatures is that some owners of undeveloped lots live out of state or have inherited property and aren't interested in paying what could be several thousand dollars to have the road paved, he said. Others in Hanlon's neighborhood have been willing to sign the petition because they know the paved road would improve their property values.

While Hanlon said he believes the county should carry more of the financial burden for road paving, he understands that he will have to pay his fair share.

He just hopes commissioners will loosen the rules.

"Don't ask for such a high percentage. It's like being on a jury and all 12 people have to agree," Hanlon said. "It's a hard standard to meet. Let the majority rule."

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

Hernando County considers easing road-paving rule 05/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 16, 2009 1:15pm]

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