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Planning now can save big later on road costs

Hernando Commissioner Jim Adkins' sticker shock is understandable. Why is Hernando County paying $283,000 for a home with a market value of less than $105,000? Blame Florida's generous condemnation laws. When a public authority needs private property it is the private citizen who benefits to the detriment of everyone else footing the bill. In this case, the county needs the right of way for the improvements to Elgin Boulevard.

It is hardly a new problem or one that is exclusive to Hernando County. In October, Pasco County acquired a 1,028-square foot house along Ridge Road for $216,444 including the seller's fees. The 43-year-old house had been purchased a decade earlier for less than a quarter of the sale price and its current market value was listed at $91,557 by the Property Appraiser's Office.

Hernando commissioners had to swallow hard and do likewise recently for the house at 12567 Elgin Blvd. Even with falling real estate prices, state law dictates the right of way costs must be based on the property prices that existed when a project is announced. In this case, that was in 2006 at the near peak of the market.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins dissented from the acquisition, but it was little more than a protest of the legal costs.

""Yes, it was a protest vote,'' Stabins said later. ''I was trying to send a signal to people out there that they don't have to hire lawyers to come out okay. We will negotiate very fairly and some of them will be better off taking it straight from us.''

Perhaps, but the county needs the land to improve its road network and homeowners are negotiating from a position of strength, which puts the remainder of the tax-paying public on the hook.

Exorbitant right of way costs are the bane of transportation planners and have been for decades. The expense of homes in Spring Hill pushed the route of the North Suncoast Parkway eastward even though the road had been envisioned as a high-speed alternative to U.S. 19. Regardless, the state still paid $94-million for rights of way to build the parkway, including $19-million for attorneys' fees and court costs.

It is part of the an annual battle for the Florida Department of Transportation to balance its road-building needs with available resources. It also is why County Administrator David Hamilton is open to the idea of reserving a right of way corridor along County Line Road to Interstate 75 to keep future condemnation costs at a more reasonable expense.

That is the key for Adkins and the rest of the Hernando Commission. It need not repeat the mistakes of the past. Commissioner David Russell correctly noted poor a planning decision decades ago that allowed development without connectivity to four-lane collector routes is handicapping the county today.

A commission unhappy with the high price of rights of way should work to ensure future commissions don't face the same fate because of planning decisions made today.

Planning now can save big later on road costs 12/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, January 1, 2009 2:47pm]
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