New housing — as opposed to expanded rock mining — received the nod this week from a citizen planning board looking at Hernando County's future. By a 4-1 vote, the Planning and Zoning Commission wisely chose smart growth over quick bucks by rejecting plans to open more than 500 acres of desirable real estate to explosive blasts and the rumble of heavy equipment plucking boulders from the ground.
Instead, the group recommends the land, currently zoned for agriculture, will remain earmarked for future residential development. It's now up to the County Commission to honor the astute recommendation from its advisory panel when it hears the requested land-use change next month.
The planning board, to its credit, wasn't overwhelmed by a distracting economic pitch. Mining, a legacy industry in Hernando that dates to the 1920s, provides a $60 million annual economic output in direct and indirect spending, an economist told planning commissioners, though he could not put a value on the expansion. Meanwhile, individual workers from Cemex Construction Materials Florida LLC lamented the possibility of unemployment or relocating if the Cemex mine could not expand. Though the company has touted job retention as a primary benefit, it has not said it would move outside of Hernando if it failed to obtain the land change.
The planning board members showed commendable diligence in calling the bluff, saying opponents had raised legitimate questions about declining home values, noise and air pollution, potential sinkholes and compatibility issues.
The proposed land use change covers 730 acres between Cortez Boulevard (State Road 50) and Fort Dade Avenue, just west of the city of Brooksville. State Road 50 is considered a key business corridor connecting the Suncoast Parkway to the city, and the location of the proposed land use change is directly across the highway from the Bayfront Health Brooksville Hospital.
The proposal from Cemex and three land trusts calls for the southern 156 acres along SR 50 to be turned into a regional commercial center with the other land designated for industrial use to expand Cemex's current mine location on the north side of Fort Dade Avenue.
Cemex would lease the land, owned by some of the area's most prominent business leaders, mine it for 20 years beginning in 2019, then turn it back over for reclamation and residential development.
A skeptical board even voted down a suggestion to approve the commercial district separately from the mine.
"What regional big box is going to move in there next to a mine?'' Commission Chairman Robert Widmar asked.
Good question. It's just one of the concerns elected county commissioners must give consideration to next month as they take up the case.