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State balks at plan for subdivision

Crystal River planners have their work cut out if they intend to approve the controversial Crystal Cove subdivision as proposed.

The city needs to adopt regulations to protect the coast, approve a manatee protection plan and reconsider the number of units planned for the marshy 800-acre property, the state Department of Community Affairs said in a report released this week.

The comments are the latest setback for the 25-year-old project. In recent months the massive subdivision has been in limbo as state and federal agencies issued stop orders, fines and finally denied permit extensions for crucial canal dredging on the property.

Several months ago, the city asked DCA to add the Crystal Cove property, which was annexed by the city in December, to the city comprehensive plan.

Approval of that comprehensive plan amendment was supposed to clear up the question of whether city or county growth plans would govern the development.

But DCA's comments breathe new life into the jurisdictional dispute.

The amendment suggested that as many as 599 residential units could be built as a part of the project, which is owned by Burnup & Sims Inc. That is a considerably higher density than the less-than-60 units that could have been built under county development rules.

Crystal River does not have the same development restrictions _ but DCA suggests in its report that the city adopt such regulations.

"We're saying to the city that the density proposed for that land is not suitable," said DCA planner Walker Banning. "The mere fact that this piece of property changed jurisdictions, that doesn't mean there's any indication that the property is more suitable for the proposed use . . .

"I think dealing with this is one of the very biggest problems facing the city," Banning said.

He said the city would have to prove that the county plan is wrong in order to get a density higher than the one unit per 20 acres or one unit per 40 acres that DCA previously approved for coastal lands in the county's comprehensive plan.

The property is in an area called the coastal high hazard area. Development in high hazard areas is discouraged because of the potential for flooding and wind damage in case of a hurricane.

"We're trying to point out to the city that, in general, the state policy is to not . . . encourage development in coastal high hazard zones . . . because you're putting more property, public and private, into an area that is subject to being destroyed by a hurricane," Banning said.

City Manager Merv Waldrop said he received a copy of the DCA's report Tuesday and was not surprised by its comments.

The project's density is Burnup & Sims' issue and not the city's concern, Waldrop said.

The city is in the process of adopting the county's manatee protection plan, but Waldrop said he is not sure other coastal regulations suggested by DCA are needed in the city's comprehensive plan.

"We're going to continue to discuss with DCA whether we need it or not," Waldrop said.

Burnup & Sims attorney Bill Roberts did not return phone calls Tuesday, but Waldrop said the developer is disputing the high hazard zone boundaries.

Helen Spivey, a former City Council member and chief opponent to the Crystal Cove plan, said she was pleased with the state's comments.

"So far the growth management plan works," she said. "I'm especially pleased with the part that relates it to the county's comprehensive plan that's already been approved by the state. That's been my feeling all along, that the county's plan has already been scrutinized by the state."

Spivey also continues to be critical of the way the city has handled the amendment process and said she hopes the city considers adopting some of the more stringent development regulations the DCA has proposed.

"If Crystal River didn't want to adopt (additional restrictions), they shouldn't have annexed lands in the coastal area," she said.

The city now has 60 days to decide whether to make changes in the amendment. Then DCA will again review the materials and determine whether the addition of the Crystal Cove property is consistent with the city's existing growth plan.

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