The Florida Department of Community Affairs isn't as malleable as the Hernando County Commission. For the second time this year, DCA kicked back the proposed Quarry Preserve project, telling the county and the landowners a new town in the middle of nowhere is a poorly planned encouragement of urban sprawl.
That is no surprise to the county's professional staff, which refused to green-light the project and warned of potentially exorbitant infrastructure costs for which no funding is identified. Twice, however, a commission majority paid little heed to the staff's cautions, and approved the land use amendment necessary to put 13,000 people on 4,300 acres in the county's rural northern tier.
Only Commissioner David Russell has demonstrated a consistent ability to see the proposed comprehensive plan amendment for what it is — unnecessary at this time. The rest of the commission, including Rose Rocco who flip-flopped, are blinded by the promises of high-end development on multiple golf courses, a town center, employment sites, a resort and other amenities on property scarred by years of mining operations.
Thursday, DCA notified the county it intended to find the proposed amendment in noncompliance with common development goals of curbing urban sprawl and promoting in-fill development. It is no wonder. Quarry Preserve, to be located in a mostly abandoned mining pit 6 miles north of Brooksville, is an urbanization of an area surrounded by land designated for agricultural use. It is the definition of leapfrog development.
The state noted the promise of a sustainable community is suspect; infrastructure is too far away and the ratio of proposed jobs to housing units is too low. Most damning, it characterized the development team's undercount of available home lots in Hernando County as unprofessional. The county simply has no need for additional residential sites over the next 15 years.
Quarry Preserve's team even flubbed its ballyhooed new town definition with imprecise land use locations within the master plan, a lack of connecting roads and gated residential communities in more than half of the project "which is not conducive to the creation of a new town,'' DCA said.
If it's a new town, it certainly is filled with old problems — the most glaring of which can't be glossed over with dubious promises of future prosperity. Urban sprawl, and the accompanying drain on government resources to provide services, shouldn't be the economic engine driving Hernando County's future.