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Board rejects plan to rezone land commercial

Developers want to add businesses along U.S. 19, but the planning board says the county should maintain what it is doing.

Urged to add more commercial property along U.S. 19 to make way for future growth, the county's planning board decided instead to send this message to the Citrus County Commission:

Stick to the plan.

The commission should turn down developer Charles Rutenberg's request to change the zoning of property he owns along U.S. 19 just south of the entrance to Sugarmill Woods, the Planning and Development Review Board recommended Thursday in a 7-0 vote.

The board wants to follow a plan devised in the early 1990s, controversial from its inception, that provides pockets of commercial zoning along U.S. 19 from Homosassa to the county's southern boundary. The idea was designed to prevent the strip malls, billboards and megastores that have choked U.S. 19 in other counties from creeping into Citrus.

The planning board also considered a similar request for property located on the southeast corner of U.S. 19 and U.S. 98, but it will not vote on that request until Aug. 19. Both property owners, who also must take their requests to the County Commission, hope commercial zoning will help them capitalize on the approaching Suncoast Parkway.

Rather than purchasing land already slated for commercial development, Rutenberg purchased medium-density residential property in 1997. That land use allows for some professional offices and other types of business on Rutenberg's property, but he also wants to build a ministorage facility.

Such a facility requires commercial zoning. But according to a county agreement with the state Department of Community Affairs, more commercial land cannot be added to the southern strip of U.S. 19 unless existing pockets, or "nodes," of commercial land are 80 percent developed.

The commercial node adjacent to Rutenberg's property is less than 18 percent developed.

The county agreed to the node concept after the DCA ripped apart the county's plans for U.S. 19. Citrus had zoned most properties along the corridor as commercial, but the DCA insisted on a plan that tried to combat urban sprawl.

Assistant County Attorney Richard Wesch, the legal adviser for the planning board, suggested business people are trying to rezone residential land along U.S. 19 rather than pay a higher price for commercial land.

"One is left to wonder whether this is a question of economics," Wesch said.

Planning board Chairman Miles Blodgett said that although Rutenberg's plans for the property were fairly moderate, the site could be sold to someone with a grander plan for it. And once the zoning is changed to commercial, most any business can locate there.

Inverness lawyer Clark Stillwell, who represented Rutenberg, told the planning board that the commercial node nearest Sugarmill Woods should have incorporated Rutenberg's property. He pointed out that while other commercial nodes are designed around important intersections, the node near Rutenberg's land is centered around Des Moines Lane, a dirt path that leads nowhere.

Sugarmill Woods resident Harry Jones pointed out that Stillwell himself helped design the nodes. Several Sugarmill Woods community organizations opposed Rutenberg's application.

"It is hard for us to understand how Mr. Stillwell, a supporter of the comprises we reached in 1993, could now be trying to upset it," Jones said.

Also at the planning board Thursday, the board agreed to allow Tealbrooke Golf Inc. to build a second golf course in Citrus Springs.

The course will be a nine-hole, par-three course adjacent to the El Diablo course it built just a couple years ago. It will be situated on a 107-acre, heavily wooded lot with old mining pits and a lake.

The developers expect to spend $40,000 to $50,000 simply cleaning up trash on the property, which is commonly used as an illegal dump site.

The plan passed 5-1, with planning board member Marion Knudsen dissenting.

"I'm not thrilled about another golf course _ no way," Knudsen said.