Friday, April 20, 2018
Opinion

Dan DeWitt: Hernando Oaks homeowners face a slew of real estate woes

Think of every way homeowners have suffered during the real estate crash.

Really. Grab a pencil and write a list of all the bust-related ills imaginable.

Then cross-reference this with all the troubles of the folks in Hernando Oaks.

A bankruptcy protection filing by the developer, in this case Hernando Oaks LLC? Check.

Vacant homes, a largely vacant subdivision, lagging collections in homeowners association fees and, of course, a stunning decline in property values? Cross those off, too.

Incomplete or never-begun features including a community center, golf course clubhouse, tennis courts and village center? Check, check, check and check.

Now add this, which I doubt made your list because, really, who could imagine it?

Hernando Oaks is moving ahead with a plan to convert 65 acres of the subdivision's property, on Powell Road near U.S. 41, into a 100-lot RV park.

The developers prefer the term "upscale motor home park," said Don Lacey, vice president of Coastal Engineering Associates, which will present the plan to homeowners Tuesday evening.

The lots will include all of the expected amenities, plus, he said, the option to build small, freestanding structures for recreational vehicle fans who "want to have a big television room, a big refrigerator and a place to settle down and spread out."

To me, you either get an RV or a cabin, not both. But Lacey assured me it's a popular concept in other parts of the country.

It has a chance to make money that Hernando Oaks needs, and it would replace a plan with no chance — a village center dreamed up 12 years ago when such walkable, mixed-use enclaves were all the rage, he said.

Let's put aside that Lacey was the one who originally pitched the center idea to the county and acknowledge that the developer is in a bind and that there's nothing wrong with exploring ways to bring in visitors, property buyers, money.

But if there really is a sustained market for these parks, you'd think it would be somewhere scenic, not in an urban-hub-in-the-making, which is how Brooksville real estate agent Buddy Selph made this area sound in 2010 when he sought approval to build an apartment complex on the property just to the west.

He said there's commercial land at Powell and U.S. 41 just to the east, land zoned for industry across the street, south of Powell, and the potentially massive Hernando Oaks subdivision right next door, of course.

The county approved Selph's still-unbuilt complex. It went with his vision. It shouldn't go with a clashing one.

That's especially true if it further reduces property values in Hernando Oaks, as homeowners such as Nelson LeDuc say it will.

For all of Hernando Oaks' troubles, a lot of money has gone into it, both private and public. And judging from its golf course and impressive entrance, it still has potential.

The efficient way to develop is to fill these existing subdivisions, and that's not going to happen if retiring here is just a series of troubles. And listening to LeDuc, who built his house here in 2005, you forget that retirement is supposed to be fun.

When prospective buyers "do their due diligence," he said, "they realize they're walking into a buzz saw."

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