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Crystal Cove dock issue raised

Questions about docks and the number of homes at the proposed Crystal Cove subdivision continue to nag city officials who are studying the controversial project.

A change to the city's long-range planning blueprint that would allow developers to build up to 599 homes on the 690-acre waterfront property topped the agenda at a Parks, Planning and Zoning Commission hearing Tuesday.

The city also is writing a new section of the plan that would set up development rules for properties like the Crystal Cove tract and other areas considered part of the coastal zone.

Because of the complexity of the issues, the planners have shelved any further action until another public hearing in July, according to city planner Thorniel Haugen.

Complicating the matter is the upheaval in the city's planning division. Development Services Director Reg Alford, who had been handling city reviews of the subdivision plan, was fired recently. And the department still is digging itself out from a bureaucratic workload left by the March storm.

The massive Crystal Cove project continues to be one of the highest priorities for city planners. The project has been on various drawing boards for more than two decades. The developer, Burnup & Sims, sought to ease government restrictions by becoming annexed into the city a year and a half ago.

But the developer's first attempt to have the project approved through the city died last year when the City Council refused to transmit the plan to the state because there were too many unanswered questions in the proposal.

Tuesday night's meeting showed those questions haven't gone away.

Former city council member Helen Spivey, who has been the chief opponent of the development, questioned the number of homes proposed for the site and questioned the developer's assertion that the subdivision would provide "moderately priced homes" with access to the water.

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Manager Cameron Shaw questioned why the Crystal Cove plan doesn't include any details of the number of private docks proposed.

Previously, several government agencies told Burnup & Sims that the dock issue had to be addressed up front rather than letting individual property owners seek docks.

Shaw also pointed out the new waterfront land created when inland lakes are opened to the Indian River Canal cannot be considered waterfront for determining how many docks will be permitted.

His comments were echoed in a batch of comments received this week by a federal agency that also is reviewing another facet of the Burnup & Sims development plan.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering a permit application to allow Burnup & Sims to open up the inland lakes, widen the Indian River Canal and fill or excavate 7 acres of wetlands.

While the corps' office in Jacksonville has received little comment on the application, comments submitted this week by the state Department of Natural Resources also question the issues of what will be considered waterfront and how many docks ultimately will be allowed in the subdivision.

DNR also raises questions about the use of culverts to connect wetlands in the project and the diameter of proposed storm drains.

Only two other formal comments had been received on the project by Wednesday, according to Mark Evans, project manager for the Army Corps on the Crystal Cove permit.

He said the small number of public comments surprised him because of the controversy the project has generated in Citrus County and said he hopes more people on both sides of the issue will submit their thoughts by the June 28 comment deadline.