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Businesses view concurrency as potential disaster

Its name is 9J-5. It's not a toxic chemical or a deadly virus.

But it's threatening Hernando County development just the same.

Rule 9J-5 is the official designation given by the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for "concurrency." Concurrency is bureaucratic shorthand for the simple concept that government services such as roads, schools and sewers must be in place before a new housing development or shopping center can be built.

It may sound like a logical rule. But it is not the way that Florida has been developed through the years. And one need look only as far as State Road 50 to see that.

The traffic snarl that is SR 50 is what the state's 1985 Growth Management Act is supposed to prevent in the future. That law requires all government bodies to prepare comprehensive plans for future development, plans that conform to the principle of concurrency.

In other words, plans that would prohibit building along a road like SR 50 until the road was widened sufficiently to handle the additional traffic the development will bring.

At stake are millions of dollars in state money that counties and cities stand to forfeit if they do not comply with the comprehensive plan requirements.

But the widening of SR 50 and other roads like it all over the state are still years off. So what happens to development when the state tries to apply these new growth rules on an already existing game board?

"If (DCA officials) stick with their present line of thinking . . . there is going to be a moratorium. There's no question about it in my mind," said Ralph Shepard, chairman of the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council and an executive with Florida Mining & Materials Corp. And what would that do to an economy like Hernando's, which relies on construction activity and supplies to keep it going?

"It's going to be disastrous," Shepard said.

Hernando County commissioners approved the county's comprehensive plan last year. The plan would allow a road like SR 50 to become substantially more overcrowded before a building moratorium would take effect.

That provision was one of several that DCA officials cited when they subsequently rejected the county's efforts. Now the two sides are trying to reach an agreement on the plan.

The impact of 9J-5 is already being felt. Lenders say they are more conservative now when they loan money to developers.

"It is causing us to take a drastically more cautious approach because while the economic feasibility of the project may justify it, not knowing whether or not they will stop issuing building permits (along) roads that are at or near capacity is of great concern," said H.M. Shirley, head of Barnett Bank of Hernando County.

Already, Citrus County officials have agreed to DCA's demands to greatly restrict new subdivisions as well as commercial development along most of the county's major roads.

That has left developers and bankers there complaining about government intervention and moaning about falling property values. And their counterparts in Hernando are watching nervously, believing that their county will suffer the same fate as Citrus.

But many people in the two counties believe - or are hoping - that DCA will step back from its hard-line position on growth.

"There would be a complete uprising if they tried to hold to that," said Hernando Property Appraiser Les Samples.