Less than three years ago, Hernando County commissioners said their vision for a central commercial corridor along Cortez Boulevard excluded a septic waste business and told the company to locate elsewhere. Commissioners shouldn't forget that prudent decision when they consider a new proposal to turn undeveloped residential land into a rock mine. The site stretches between Cortez Boulevard (State Road 50) and Fort Dade Avenue, just west of the city of Brooksville.
The proposal, initially considered in 2011 but delayed by legal issues amid the ownership group, requires a change to the county's comprehensive land plan to designate 583 acres for industrial use. Cemex Construction Material Inc. will lease the site from the private owners, who include some of the county's more prominent business leaders, and mine lime rock to be transported to the company's cement plan 5 miles to the north.
Despite its location across Fort Dave Avenue from Cemex' current operations, heavy industrial use on the new site is problematic because of the close proximity of nearby residential properties. Allowing a mine to operate there also is counterproductive to the stated goal of turning Cortez Boulevard into an attractive business corridor between the Suncoast Parkway and the city of Brooksville.
A community meeting last week failed to persuade neighbors that the mine expansion is in the public's best interests. The company representatives talked about its role as the county's largest property taxpayer and its investment in the community. However, they neglected to mention that its the same company that three years ago tried to halve its tax obligations to the county and School Board, contending the value of its property and equipment dropped 50 percent because the housing bust diminished demand for its product. The prolonged fight contributed to the Hernando County Commission's constrained budgets for 2011 and 2012. The dispute ended when the company settled with the property appraiser's office eight months ago.
Payrolls and property taxes were secondary concerns for residents who worried legitimately about water quality, air and noise pollution and the value of their own longtime homesteads. The Cemex literature distributed at the outset of the meeting stated "numerous independent studies have indicated that property values have not decreased as a result of mining operations.''
Not quite. A Tampa-based real estate appraising firm acknowledged in a 2012 report to Cemex that it could find no relevant studies correlating real estate values to mine operations. Instead, the appraisers looked at 123 home sales over a 10-year period and said they found no statistical difference on sale prices among houses within 1,000 feet of the mine compared to those located up to a half-mile away. Those findings might have more credibility if the consultants hadn't referred to the location of the Brooksville mine as being in Dade County.
Many of the details have yet to be worked out because Cemex said the permitting process could take up to five years. Its plans call for mining to start in 2019 and continue for 20 years. After the lease expires, the owners will have the ability to try to restore the residential/commercial designation and market the property for development.
So, the owners have a vision for their property in 2039, but the commission needs to do likewise for its entire commercial corridor. Diversifying the Hernando County economy has to include broader strategies than blasting lime rock out of 15-foot-deep craters.