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Subdivision delayed over low wildlife fee

Hernando County commissioners, unhappy with the amount of money a company is willing to pay to offset the environmental damage that its subdivision will cause, successfully delayed the project's approval Tuesday. Elviretta Corp., developer of the 1,090-acre Holland Spring project east of Spring Hill, reached agreement with the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to pay $222,000 _ or enough to buy a 74-acre wildlife refuge _ to make up for the habitat destroyed by the project.

But questions raised by commissioners and residents about the agreement were enough to delay until March 13 Elviretta's request for commission approval.

The amount of money the project should pay is complicated by the fact that it originally was approved in 1983. The developer is arguing _ and the DCA has agreed _ that the project should conform with the regulations in effect then.

The developer, however, is drastically changing its construction plans from apartments and condominiums to single-family houses to adapt to the 1990 housing market. That change requires county approval.

And if Elviretta wants to change its plans to make more money, Commissioner John Richardson said, then it should conform to new wildlife regulations as well.

Under those regulations, the developer should pay more than $800,000 _ or enough for a 275-acre refuge _ according to officials from the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. The subdivision site is valuable habitat to gopher tortoises, indigo snakes and other troubled species.

Commissioners told county planners that they want more information about why DCA officials were willing to settle for $222,000.

Tom Beck, head of state planning for the DCA, said in an interview that he thought $222,000 was the most money the DCA legally could require. But he said the county was free to set a higher rate.

Representatives for the developer also said they had moved 400 gopher tortoises at a cost of $70,000 from a portion of the project already under construction.

Several residents harshly criticized the $222,000 agreement between Elviretta and the DCA.

"I don't think that's even a drop in the bucket," Edeltraud Heddleson said. "It's disgraceful to the county. .


. That's a joke."