At first glance, a plan to turn vacant land near U.S. 19 into a medical office complex seems logical. It's the definition of what planners call in-fill development — building on a vacant parcel that is surrounded by existing development and supporting infrastructure. It's certainly preferable to the sprawl frequently favored by developers seeking to turn thousands of acres of rural land into new suburban enclaves.
But this isn't just any old vacant parcel. The proposal to turn the 11-acre parcel next to the original entrance to the Spring Hill community into another office building is objectionable — not only for traffic concerns as a planning board ruled — but also for the loss of a sense of place for nearby residents and the destruction of a long-platted green space.
Monday, the Hernando Planning and Zoning Board correctly ruled against the zoning application from property owners Kenneth, Martha, Gary and Evelyn Haber. The Hernando County Commission should follow that recommendation.
The parcel along Spring Hill Drive is easy to find. It's next to the lighted flagpoles, brick sign, fountain and landscaping that designate the original entrance to Spring Hill that date to 1968 when Deltona Corp. installed it as a landmark for motorists. The proposed rezoning does not involve the physical sign and fountain, but it would eliminate the adjoining parcel of woods that separates the highway from houses inside the neighborhood.
It is a congested location abutting the westbound lanes of Spring Hill Drive, and the planning and zoning board cited traffic concerns in turning down the application. But more important — and apparently records of this were not made available to the planning board — a different commission turned down a similar proposal in 1988 and then withstood a legal challenge from a different applicant. It set the precedent that the original Spring Hill master plan designated the land as ''green belt.'' At the time of the lawsuit, the county legal's staff said the county accepted the Spring Hill master plan as the zoning map for the subdivision when the county wrote its first zoning laws in 1972.
Forty-three years after SprinHill emerged as a new community in rural western Hernando County, today's residents are justified in fiercely protecting their buffer from a busy commercial strip and in preserving a sense of heritage for a place created to capitalize on Florida's quality of life offerings.
The land use shouldn't change just because ownership did. Attempts to dissolve the buffer between U.S. 19 and the residential neighborhood should be disallowed and commissioners should reject this application to alter Spring Hill's identity.