Hernando County is poised to put to the test the familiar axiom of the top three considerations in real estate: location, location, location.
Tuesday, county commissioners will be asked to amend Hernando's comprehensive land plan to allow an attractive conceptual plan for a city-sized community in an out-of-the-way location miles from the urban infrastructure required to make it work.
Paving the way for 13,000 people to be plopped down amid mostly remote serenity on nearly 4,300 acres stretching from Lake Lindsay Road and U.S. 98 to Citrus County is imprudent planning despite the promised amenities in what is billed as a sustainable community.
Advocates argue the variety of housing stock, employment center, pedestrian connections for community parks, a school, a civic building/library branch, town center, green space, wildlife corridor, golf courses and resort make the Quarry Preserve proposal worthy of the comprehensive plan change.
It might be — at a more appropriate site like the intersection of two major highways. But authorizing urbanization of a nearly abandoned quarry (150 acres will continue to be mined for eight more years) surrounded by land designated for agricultural use is an invitation to turn the county's rural northern tier into suburban sprawl.
Even the project's promise of being sustainable is suspect. The potential job creation is roughly a third of what it should be for this community, which means lots of traffic to and from Quarry Preserve each day as residents leave for work elsewhere.
Commissioners also shouldn't be bullied by threats that the quarry will remain an unmitigated eyesore without their blessing of this proposal. Alternative development can always come later if market forces dictate.
For the time being, however, planners would call this a leapfrog. Quarry Preserve, as proposed, will sit amid a rural area not contiguous to an urban setting or even on land designated as a lower-density transition area intended to bridge city and country. The city of Brooksville planning staff correctly described it as a walled-off suburban compound amid working mines and rural land.
It promotes government inefficiency because of the cost of delivering services to isolated sites. Consider the implications:
• Sheriff Richard Nugent has said his department can't afford to hire the personnel needed to patrol the place unless an extra tax is levied.
• Despite the promise of substantial mobility fees and impact fee payments — even though commissioners just lowered road impact fees to 2001 levels and can keep them at artificially low amounts if they choose — Quarry Preserve would trigger the need for $133 million in state highway improvements for which no funding is identified.
• The development would use its own temporary sewage treatment system until the county sewer collection system is extended to it. It's a less-than-ideal plan considering the history of problematic private systems elsewhere in Florida, including neighboring Pasco, where a public authority is attempting to acquire privately owned utilities in response to years of citizen complaints.
Quarry Preserve simply is ahead of its time. Over its planned 15-year buildout, the project would bring thousands of new home sites to a county that already has an abundant inventory of residential lots during a time when a Hernando Progress-retained consultant has told the county to expect flat-lined growth for 10 years.
The development's legal and planning team suggest the quality of the Quarry Preserve would add value to the county in which some of the empty lots and residential entitlements sit amid lime rock roads and septic-tank subdivisions. Such logic, however, fails to account for other government-approved, high-end developments that have failed to materialize. Quality is immaterial if the market isn't prepared to absorb it.
It help explains why, after more than two years of negotiations, the development team has been unable to persuade county staffers to green-light the project. There is a good reason: Quarry Preserve offers substantial planning concepts, but in an ill-conceived location at an inopportune time.
County Administrator David Hamilton even took the extraordinary step of publicly reinforcing his staff's position. "The county simply has no money in which to contribute to the needed infrastructure related to U.S. 98 or any of the other infrastructure related to this proposed development of regional impact,'' he told commissioners in a Jan. 5 memorandum.
Commissioners shouldn't leapfrog the real estate logic of location, location, location. They should reject this proposed comprehensive plan amendment, preserve the rural flavor of northern Hernando County and try to focus future high-density development and redevelopment in more urbanized locales.