As wrong turns go, this one may lead to a better place.
After conditional approval from the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission, the County Commission was left to decide if a recreational vehicle campground should be built on 24 acres at the northwest corner of Shoal Line and Osowaw boulevards, about halfway between Hernando Beach and Aripeka. Perhaps recognizing that commissioners would join nearby residents in opposing the project, the developer withdrew the application just a few days before the commission's land-use hearing on Wednesday.
The developer's decision to retreat, however, did not deter the County Commission from engaging in a relevant — and sometimes lively — discussion about the process that led to this hearing, and the property's long-term destiny.
After they accepted the aboutface by developer Dial One LLC and Branford Investments LLC, the commissioners reached a consensus that an RV resort, complete with a 26,000-square-foot store and fueling station, was wholly inappropriate for the site. The land is designated for conservation in the comprehensive plan, and this use plainly was not compatible with that intent. This would have been a commercial enterprise that violated the environment — the air, the soil and the man-made infrastructure of roads and sewers.
Commissioner Diane Rowden tackled those issues head on when she asked the question "How did we get to this point?" which was a direct criticism of the recommendations by the planning staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission. That's a very good question, and she was right to air it in public instead of behind closed doors with county staffers.
Other commissioners concurred with Rowden that this environmentally sensitive coastal land should be preserved for its natural habitat, if not for the enjoyment of all residents as opposed to those willing to pay a fee to park their RVs.
To that end, the county has endorsed an overture by the Southwest Florida Water Management District to purchase the property from the landowners, who include Gary Grubbs, a Hernando County businessman who, charitably speaking, has had his financial ups and downs. Grubbs also is backing a huge residential development in Hudson, SunWest Harbourtowne, which is just south of this property, and it could be a convenience for those residents if the state and the Pasco County Commission approve it.
Purchasing the property, which is so near the Gulf of Mexico and adjacent to the black bear corridor of the Weeki Wachee Preserve, for conservation or bona fide recreational use makes sense. The water district has much deeper pockets than the county, so it probably will fall to that agency to seal the deal. However, the Hernando County Commission should not hesitate to use some of the money from its voter-approved and under-funded environmentally sensitive lands tax to sweeten the pot.
Of course, the developer must be willing to sell, and to that end we urge him to do so, just as we urge the government negotiators to offer him a fair price.
This proposal did not sit will with the land, or the people and other creatures that live there. It also shines a light on a need to update the comprehensive plan to protect such areas from similarly unsuitable development.