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Landowner seeks allies in land-use fight

Landowner Loren Hamm has been fighting Hernando County tooth and nail for more than a year over comprehensive growth plan changes that could devalue property he owns along State Road 50.

On the eve of his latest skirmish, Hamm is looking for an army of backers to help him.

Hamm, a 75-year-old St. Petersburg resident, has taken the unusual step of seeking out other property owners who are unhappy about land-use changes made by the county to comply with the state's 1985 Growth Management Act.

In a one-page, hand-written press release sent to local newspapers, Hamm asks that "any adversely or dissatisfied person affected by the most recent future land use planning in Hernando County" call a Pinellas County engineer who represents him.

The civil engineer, Walter Walker, is in turn asking callers upset about the land-use changes to attend a meeting Feb. 25-26 in Brooksville with county planners and state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) officials.

Hamm and another disgruntled property owner, Dorothy Bicket of Homosassa Springs, will try to convince the DCA and county planners to modify the land-use changes to their favor.

"I think (Hamm) is just trying to get more support, to get other people to come forward," said Walker, who has an engineering business in Dunedin. "I think he wants to let the (DCA) hearing officer know that it's just not one or two people affected _ it's a whole bunch of people."

Hamm could not be reached for comment.

Hamm owns hundreds of acres in Hernando and elsewhere.

But his argument with Hernando planners surrounds a 431-acre parcel he owns on SR 50, just west of HCA-Oak Hill Hospital. Mrs. Bicket's property also is on SR 50.

Both pieces of property once were zoned for commercial development, just like other parcels along the road.

But to comply with the Growth Management Act, which is enforced by the state DCA, county planners two years ago decided to change the allowed development use for most of both property owners' land from commercial to residential. The county at the same time also changed land-use designations on scores of other properties.

Property designated for commercial use generally is considered more valuable than property designated for residential use.

Last year, after several, sometimes tearful, pleas by the elderly Hamm, county planners agreed to designate a portion of his SR 50 property for commercial uses, but not the entire parcel.

For Hamm, it wasn't enough.

Partly in retaliation, he filed suit against the county, charging that it improperly sank a well on his property and trespassed in the process.

The suit is pending and is not expected to have a bearing on the Feb. 25-26 hearing.

The hearing tentatively is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Hernando County Government Center in Brooksville.

"All he is looking for is equity," Walker said, referring to Hamm.

"I think what he's probably hoping to do is get the DCA to say that the (county growth) plan is not in conformance, and to make Hernando County redo it."

Landowners interested in the hearing can reach Walker at (813) 733-1400.