When the Brooksville City Council voted in the fall of 2006 to annex 900 acres without knowing what the land would be used for, or what effects it might have on nearby residents and infrastructure, it was a bad idea. And now, according to the 5th District Court of Appeal, it still is.
That legal affirmation, coupled with dramatic changes in the economy and reduced government revenue, should be reasons enough for Brooksville to accept the previous council's mistake and not seek a more favorable court ruling.
A majority of the council, three of whom were lame ducks because of term limits, rammed through this annexation request before their replacements took office. They did so knowing that it likely would require amending the comprehensive growth management plan, and that the County Commission objected because it could not afford to improve the roads that a residential or retail development would require.
The County Commission asked the council to delay its decision until both sides could work out an agreement. The council, however, was inexplicably determined to move forward, maintaining that there was nothing to discuss until the annexation was approved. That one-dimensional approach was contested by the County Commission, which asked the Circuit Court to hear its argument. Retired senior Judge Victor Musleh ruled in the city's favor, and the county appealed. Now the appeals court has unanimously agreed that Musleh "departed from the essential requirements of the law," and cited case law to back up that judgment.
The property, parts of which are owned by Bell Fruit Co. and Blue Stone Development Corp. owner James DeMaria, is south of downtown Brooksville. Especially if the zoning was changed from rural to residential or commercial, it also could be a strategic link to the LandMar Group's upscale golf course development, Southern Hills.
The housing market was booming when the council expedited this decision, and LandMar had expressed interest in developing the parcel if it could buy it. Now that the economic picture is much different, however, not even the most optimistic investor could put a happy face on such a proposal.
But even if the market was lucrative, this annexation proposal lacked foresight. It would have put a strain on the transportation network, emergency services and to a lesser degree schools. It was a rushed decision and the City Council did not respond with sincerity to the County Commission's repeated requests to wait for a thorough, collaborative assessment of the long-term consequences.
The end result of that wrong-headed decision is that the public's money and manpower were wasted on attorneys and judges to reach a decision that was fairly obvious, or at least negotiable, from the outset.
With the appeals court's ruling, and a more amenable City Council, administrator and legal adviser now in place, perhaps this experience will become an instructive point of reference on future proposals.